One day my wife, Erin, and I were driving from Springfield, Missouri, to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend a conference. In the days leading up to the trip Erin had asked me to consult AAA about the best way to get to Nashville. As a guy, I resented her request and felt I could get us there as well as AAA could. I spent several hours diligently studying maps. Finally, I found a route that was basically a straight line.
Several hours into the trip I was feeling great because my route was perfect. We were 30 minutes ahead of AAA's schedule. I was king of the road.
Erin and I were laughing and singing, and miles back she'd stopped asking me if I knew where we were. Then all of a sudden Erin said, "Did you see that sign? I swear it read 'dead end.'"
"Nice try," I joked. "You just can't admit that I was right and you were wrong."
"I'm serious," she said. "I think this road dead ends."
"This road does not dead end," I shot back. "Trust me!"
We continued to drive for about an hour while neither of us spoke, waiting for the truth to be revealed. The surrounding area began to be less populated until it became cornfields as far as the eye could see. And then it happened.
I barely stopped the truck in time to avoid crashing into the large "dead end" sign.
"That's impossible," I shouted in disbelief. "This wasn't on the map!"
The worst part was that Erin didn't say anything. She just sat there with a look of disdain, shaking her head from side to side. So I did what any man would do in this situation. I got out of the truck to survey the area.
As I gazed down at the Mississippi River, I could see my road form again on the other side. "It's not my fault the map didn't show a bridge wasn't here!" I shouted back at the truck.
As I reached for the map, Erin jerked it out of my hands. Sadly, I didn't even try to get it back. I was defeated. Sitting there watching my wife attempt to determine our location, I began to notice how scary cornfields look at dusk in the middle of nowhere. It didn't help that buzzards had begun circling overhead, squawking excitedly.
I started to remember a movie about murderous children who lived in cornfields. The worst part was that I couldn't recall whether the movie was based on a true story or not. The bottom line was that we needed to leave. Now!
Driving back, Erin and I didn't speak for quite some time. When she finally started to say something, I was certain she was going to give me a piece of her mind. And I deserved it. But she didn't yell or tease me. Instead she did something that began to unlock her most important relational needs, to help me understand them.
Erin spoke in a calm voice and said, "I believe we can learn a great deal about each other's relational needs by answering this statement: 'I feel loved when you '"
I gulped and nodded, grateful to have escaped what could have been well-deserved wrath.
"Well," she said, "I feel loved when you ask AAA about our trip route."
I learned something valuable that day. Relational needs require constant attention! Having relational needs met is what we'd like to have happen within our marriage. They're our wants, desires, and the things that make us feel loved or cared for.
So what's a great, easy way to look out for our mate's relational needs? Dr. John Gottman, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, discovered the difference between an unhappy couple who divorces and an unhappy couple who stays together is 10 minutes a day of "turning toward" each other. By this, he means that a couple must "turn toward" each other every day through positive words or affirmative interactions.
But Gottman also found that couples who stay together and are happy "turn toward" each other an additional 10 minutes more each day than unhappily married couples. So just 20 minutes of daily "turning toward each other" in substantial ways can make the difference between divorce and staying together in a happy satisfying relationship.
If I would have "turned toward" Erin to contact AAA, I'd have met her relational needs—and we would have arrived at the conference sooner and much more happily!
Greg Smalley, Ph.D., is president/CEO of the Smalley Relationship Center. For more information on the Smalley Relationship Center, go to www.smalleyonline.com.
Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.