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Don't Touch That Thermostat!

Our temperature differences were amusing … at first.

It was right after our honeymoon, when we set up house, that we revealed our true colors. Denny is red—not just the color of his beloved Nebraska Huskers football team, but also of molten lava, stove burners, and cinnamon candy. His body temperature runs hot at all times.

Like the Lions of my Detroit hometown, my color is blue, reminiscent of icicles, cold water, and peppermint gum. Although red and blue aren't precisely opposite each other on the color wheel, they're far enough apart to make problematic decisions regarding the perfect indoor temperature.

I hadn't seen this coming. We were married in Las Vegas. Outdoors. In July. No one, least of all Denny and me in our fancy duds, could claim it was anything but hot. Everyone agreed, from the pianist who flipped his music pages more than was necessary, to the guests fanning themselves ineffectually with their hands.

After the ceremony, Denny took me aside, held my hands, and solemnly declared, "You are my life, Mrs. Draper." Then, eyes wide with desire, he asked, "Wanna go for a swim?"

"I adore you, my beautiful husband," I breathed. "Where's my suit?"

The battle begins

Unlike the desert, where the temperature varies between mildly hot and volcanic, Colorado offers a wider range of degrees. It was only when we returned home that we realized this climatic difference had huge implications—not just to our household, but to our relationship.

While I was content to leave windows open to catch the summer breeze, maybe turning on the air conditioner when it hit 80 degrees, Denny wanted the maximum to be 70. Around the house we went, opening and closing windows and punching the up and down arrows on the thermostat until it smoked. A referee would have penalized us both for "illegal use of hands."

At one point, dizzy from the laps, I appealed to his natural, masculine protectiveness. "Honey?"

"Hmm?" he said distractedly.

"I'm cold."

"Hmm," he mumbled, thoughtfully passing me a coat.

To be fair, the lack of concern ran both ways.

"Deb, can I turn on the air? I'm roasting," Denny begged.

"That's because you're my hot-blooded Neanderthal," I replied, patting him lovingly on the head.

Our differences were amusing for the first few months. When one of us made an adjustment to the thermostat, the other would ask, "You're kidding, right?" and give an affectionate squeeze to the thermally challenged spouse. Over time, though, playful inquiries turned to incredulity, then irritation. With only a slight modification of words and tone our refrain changed to, "You've got to be kidding!" We accused each other of illness—him with a fever and me with lack of proper blood circulation.

Arguing got us nowhere. This was, at its core, nothing more than a difference of opinion, and quarrelling was as pointless as the "am-not, are-too" disputes of childhood. Our only hope to win, short of "unsportsmanlike conduct," was to garner sympathy.

Competition grows fierce

Because a picture is worth a thousand words, we first engaged in show-and-tell. I whipped out a portion of goosebump-covered flesh for his inspection; he responded by pointing to the sweat beading his brow. Neither of us was impressed by the other's display, and responded with an unsympathetic, "Uh-huh."

Around the house we went, punching the up and down arrows until it smoked. A referee would have penalized us both for "illegal use of hands."

Deadlocked, we turned to props. After changing into flannel pajama bottoms and a sweatshirt, I dragged an afghan from the closet, shuffling my feet to emphasize the thickness of my newly donned socks. Denny's counter-offensive was to strip to his boxers and position an oscillating fan three feet away.

It was, again, a stalemate.

Try as we might to avoid the inevitable, eventually I was forced to consider compromise. Ugh. Not again, I thought. I felt I'd done enough negotiating over other issues, such as sides of the bed, division of household chores, and which pieces of furniture were kept or sold in a garage sale. But I was cornered, so I plunged ahead. 

"Sixty-eight," declared Denny.

"Oh, please," I countered. "75."

"Seventy-one, and that's my final offer," he said.

"Ha! Seventy-three, and that's mine."

"Deal!" Denny's acceptance was so eager that I realized I'd probably been had, so I added a stipulation.

"Okay, but that's only when we're both home. When we're alone, there's no limit."

In theory, the compromise was mature, level-headed, and fair. In practice, it merely added another dimension to our battle, something the refs like to call "illegal substitution." When the fair and reasonable thermostat setting became unbearable for one of us, drive-by adjustments were made on the sly.

"Want anything from the kitchen?" I'd ask, stretching off the couch.

"A refill, please," Denny would answer.

The thermostat, coincidentally, is situated in the hallway between the den and the kitchen. Making my way deliberately down the passage, I'd lock sights on the target, extend my finger, and deliver a well-aimed poke to the appropriate button without breaking stride. Pretty slick, I'd smugly congratulate myself, but the jig was up when the furnace or air conditioner responded before I returned to my seat.

Hearing suspicious thermal activity, Denny would level a lie-detector stare at me. Despite my best efforts to achieve the perfect blend of doe-like innocence and pained offense at his mistrust, he'd bound away to read the evidence of my crime in LED.

We were foiled at every turn, and our options were rapidly diminishing. Locking the thermostat? One quick peek at the manual provided the key to unlocking it. Threats? Violence? Not acceptable. Separate houses? Appealing at times, but not realistic.

In the end, it came down to practicality.

Over time I've had to admit the laws of both physics and fashion suggest that it's easier for me to get warm by putting on more clothing than for Denny to cool off by shedding his. There's only so far he can go, after all, even in the privacy of our home. So when Denny's around, I leave the thermostat at the agreed-upon 73 degrees. In return, I get to share in his warmth. As I snuggle against his broad chest with his arms wrapped around me, I'm grateful God blessed me with a man who'll generously share his 98.6 degrees.

I can't help but wonder, though, as his steady breathing indicates a growing lack of consciousness, what rules apply when the spouse is home, yet asleep?

Hmm …

Deborah Draper, a freelance writer, has been married 5 years and lives in Colorado.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Compromise; Conflict; Marriage
Today's Christian Woman, Summer, 2007
Posted September 12, 2008

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