A couple came to talk to me.
"I just don't think I can do this anymore." Pam said. "Bryce never wants to have anything to do with me or the girls. He'd be just fine if we never bothered him and he watched sports all day. He's not even interested in sex. The only reason we're here today is because I said I couldn't live like this anymore. I suggested we start by talking to you."
Bryce added, "Pam and the girls mean everything to me. I don't want to lose them. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to save our marriage."
"Let's see if that's true, Bryce," I said. "Talk is cheap, so let's look at what you're really 'willing to do.' For example, how much time do you spend watching sports Bryce?"
"Probably 3-4 hours."
"A week? A day?"
"And how much time do you spend engaged with Pam and the girls in doing something meaningful?"
"I'm there all day long. They can talk to me whenever they want." Bryce said.
"So you're in the same house with them a lot, but it sounds like you don't spend a lot of time personally interacting with them--looking into their eyes, talking to them, that kind of thing."
"I suppose I could do better."
"Earlier you said that you would do whatever it took to improve your relationship with Pam—and I'm guessing that you meant to include the girls too. I have no attachment to how you accomplish this improvement, but I can offer some concrete actions that are very likely to help."
First I suggest that for the next thirty days, you try an experiment and stop watching sports. A couple of reasons come to mind: First, it takes up a lot of your time—time you could be spending with Pam and the kids. Second, it demonstrates that you're actually willing to do something to improve these relationships, instead of just talking about it. And I suggest stopping entirely because if you simply cut back, you'll be constantly finding excuses for watching, and your family won't feel like they matter enough. Does this make sense to you, Bryce?"
"Not at all," he responded. "Sports have always been a big part of my life. I don't see why I have to give up something I love. Football season is starting, and I'm in a fantasy football league, so I have to keep up with that. And I want to watch the Colts play. How can you ask me to give up something that's such a big part of me? It's not like I am doing drugs or having an affair."
"But you are. You might not be sleeping with another woman, but you are putting sports—among other things—ahead of your relationship with Pam, just like you might do in an affair, and Pam isn't even asking you to give this up. I am suggesting that if you want to do 'whatever it takes'—using your words—to save your marriage that this is simply a first step. There are still a lot more things both of you will need to do."
"What kind of a relationship do you want to have with Pam?"
"What do you mean?"
"Most marriages are 'ok'. That means that two people have figured out how to live together with tolerable levels of inconvenience. A truly great marriage is what you and Pam could have if you are willing to make each other the number one priority in your life. Making sacrifices—like giving up watching sports for a month—is a big step toward creating a loving relationship."
We all want our partner to make us the number one priority in their life, but we often wait for them to do that before we're willing to make them our priority. If we first treat them as our number one priority, they will feel that and respond by treating us differently, and when they do, we won't care who was willing to make the first move.
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