Over the past few weeks I’ve been attending a book club reading a fantastic book authored by The Arbinger Institute titled Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box. It’s been a truly fascinating book and even though it’s really a business book about relationships, I found it applicable for my marriage as well. 

In the book, the main character, Tom Callum is being mentored by a few upper management people at his new job. As they are taking him through the process of teaching him about self-deception, it occurs to him that he’s been unconsciously treating his wife poorly, expecting her to accommodate him and his needs without paying attention to her needs as well. The less attention he pays to her, the more his marriage sours; yet he doesn’t blame himself for this, he blames her. His self-deception gets in the way. Let me give you an example of something that happens in my own marriage.

My wife Elaine has a super power. She has this extra sensory perception of knowing the exact point in my business day at which I’m the most busy. Unfortunately, this is the point at which she decides to call me and see how my day is going. Too many times in the past, I’ve picked up the phone and in a rude and direct tone, blurted out, “What do you need?” I’m sure you know how well that goes over, but let’s dissect this a little further.

My wife is thinking about me during the middle of the day, and may even be missing me. She just wants to hear my voice and genuinely cares about how my day is going, so she calls me on the phone. This is a woman that I love dearly, and in most situations, I would appreciate hearing her voice, but when I’m in “work mode” I can become pretty focused. When I see an incoming call from my wife and I’m “in the zone” at work, my first inclination is to quickly answer the phone, see what she needs, and then get her off the phone as soon as possible. When this happens, I’m sure you can guess what her response is.

She just wanted to hear my voice and I’m answering the phone in a very rude tone that makes her feel unloved and unwanted. She in turn, becomes hurt and reacts in a rude tone back to me. After hanging up the phone, I’m unconsciously thinking to myself, “Doesn’t she know I’m busy?” While she’s thinking, “He doesn’t have two minutes to talk to me?”

Guess what happens when I get home that night? I walk in the door and Elaine is cold to me. She is still upset that I was rude to her on the phone. She says, “Why did you answer the phone if you were just going to speak to me like that?” I tell her, “I thought you might need something important.” From there is goes downhill super fast. Any chance this story sounds familiar?

Here’s where the self-deception part comes in. As humans, we tell ourselves little stories in our heads. Unconsciously, I have this thought in my brain that I’m a very important person. My day is filled with training agents on my real estate team and helping them succeed. I’m speaking with many different clients throughout the day, consulting with them and attempting to keep them calm during their home purchase or sale. I’m trying to make a living and support my family. Many people depend on me to keep this business going and then right in the middle of this, my wife calls. I quickly pick up the phone to see what she needs, and then I get mad at her because I’m busy. 

In reality, although my work is important, and I love what I do, I’m really not that big of a deal. The people on my real estate team are highly trained and they know what to do. I’ve gone on vacation from time to time, and everything runs smoothly. Sometimes it even runs better when I’m gone. With that in mind, why do I think I’m so important that I have to pick up the phone and be rude to my wife? Why do I think I’m that big of a deal? Honestly, I really don’t “consciously” think that way about myself so why do I speak to the most important person in the world to me with such disrespect? That’s the self-deception. 

While reading this book, I made a conscious decision that I don’t want to be like that. It occurred to me that when my wife calls, I need to either pick up the phone and talk to her politely, or possibly let it go to voicemail. I can then call her back when I’m not in the middle of something.

I honestly love that my wife is thinking about me in the middle of the day, and I really do like to speak with her. We can talk about our day and I tell her I love her, but sometimes I can fail to be in the right mindset at the moment she calls. My marriage is important to me and too many times, it’s these little things that cause a marriage to crumble. I really do want to be a good husband and I want a happy wife. You know what they say, “Happy wife, happy life!”