Around six and a half years ago, due to a severe head injury, I lost my senses of smell and taste. A few months after the accident, Lisa and I were out at a restaurant. As I went down the buffet line, I loaded my plate. But I skipped over a particular food that is known to be good for you—packed with vitamins and antioxidants and other healthy stuff. Lisa noticed that I didn’t put it on my plate, and the following conversation occurred:
Me: I don’t like it.
Lisa: But what does it matter, you can’t taste it.
Me: Yes, but I still know that I don’t like it.
Like many things in life, taste is often a learned behavior. With a 40 year history of knowing what I did and didn’t like prior to my head injury, it was easy to reject a particular food item even though I could no longer physically taste it.
We see the same principle at work with people who haven’t lost any senses. One kid hate veggies, but another loves them. Why? Isn’t the taste the same? Yes, but one kid has trained her mind and her palate to appreciate the veggies and to understand the long term benefits for her health and energy level. The other has trained her mind to believe veggies are something to be avoided at all costs, and that the temporary satisfaction of not eating something considered yucky is more important than the long term satisfaction that would come from eating the veggies.
The same thing applies to marriage. Why do some couples seem to be happy and content and others seem to be constantly tense and quarrelling? More often than not, it is because of the learned behaviors each bring into the relationship. While our families of origin can set a “default” behavior within us (after all, the family you grew up with is the first and most formative experience of family you have), your marriage is not doomed to be a messy mash-up of each spouse’s family of origin. We can choose to continue the good practices, but replace the not-so-good behaviors with new ways of interacting.
Positive learned behaviors set an environment for your marriage relationship that has a continual effect. The simplest things—regularly speaking gratitude, encouragement, and blessing into your mate’s life, listening with eye contact and attentive body language, saying “I love you” often, doing a chore that your mate normally does, being intentional about intimacy, living in forgiveness, conscientiously integrating your faith into your daily practices, and rejecting selfishness while embracing the Divine mystery of living as“one flesh” with your spouse—these types of words and actions make a relationship strong.
What are some of your spouse’s learned behaviors that have blessed you and made your marriage better? What behaviors do you need to learn to enhance your covenant union? It’s never too late to learn something new that will bring you and your spouse closer to each other and closer to God.