From my book, Marriage Minutes, available on Amazon.com
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Marriage Minute # 22 A True Alarm
I heard an amazing story, recently. It seems a landlord heard a smoke alarm going off in one of the rooms of the Boarding House he owned, so he went upstairs to see what the alarm was all about. He stood outside the door as he knocked, heard the renter
inside ranting and cursing about the noise of the smoke alarm, and when he could not get the man to the door, he entered on his own. What he saw was amazing. The renter (who was also the ranter) was standing up in the middle of a burning mattress, complaining about the noise of the smoke alarm, trying to remove the battery from the alarm, oblivious to the fact that this was not a “false alarm.”
You’ve heard of the “finest product of the brewer’s art?” This was obviously the “finished product of the brewer’s art.” He was about to drink himself to death and didn’t know it.
But this article is about marriage, isn’t it? Do some marriages die for this same reason? Do some people make the mistake of believing that all alarms are false? Well, how often do we hear someone say, “I didn’t think they really meant they were going to leave.” Or, how often do we hear, “I know I threatened divorce, but I didn’t really mean it.” Both of these are examples of not knowing what an alarm is really all about.
Sometimes, in working with married couples, I feel like the Veterinarian I once knew in Arkansas. He said that one of the saddest parts of his job was working
with the animal that had been neglected for weeks, or months, whose owner would expect the Doctor to restore to health overnight. He would say, rather bluntly, to the owner, “Here you are, you have done just about everything you could do to kill the animal, and now you want me to make it healthy in a moment?”
Alarms are meant to be taken seriously. It is tragic when someone has tried to send the alarm for years, not getting much response, and they finally leave the
marriage in despair.
Alarms are also meant to be given carefully and accurately. Don’t make threats that you don’t intend to carry out. To throw around the word, “divorce”, when you are really only wanting to scare your spouse is dangerous. Idle threats will eventually lead to
If your spouse is giving alarms to you, whether true or false, they are serious. The true alarm that goes unheeded can be regretted later, but it can’t be responded to when it is too late. The false alarm will backfire on the sender, and it, too, cannot be reversed when it is too late. The next noise you hear may be a true alarm.
The couple that doesn’t need alarms, and doesn’t abuse them, is the couple that will last the longest. This couple communicates clearly, and listens fully, and does the mutual perspective-taking that is needed to promote the health of the relationship.