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What Are Your Spouse’s Hot Buttons?

  • Kym Wright Crosswalk.com Contributor
  • 2009 3 Mar
What Are Your Spouse’s Hot Buttons?
Editor's Note: This article is the third in a series of articles by Kym Wright on marriage's "little kindnesses."   

Those things that irritate to distraction. The topics which make his blood boil. The situation which irks her beyond words. What are your spouse’s Hot Buttons?

I have noticed in life that some people just absolutely love to argue. It seems to be their way of life. Conflict excites them. Debating energizes. They thrill at the kill. They joy in verbal jousting. They find the fight fun.

Fighting, growling, power-struggles are not my cup of tea, so I tend to move away from those who love them. My tummy hurts, my head aches – the physical personifies the emotional. I’m a conflict wimp.  

To best show my great pantywaistedness, let me share a story that took place when I was around nine. The sun shone through the window as I faced the bathroom mirror brushing my long blond hair. Just then I heard my mother and sister “discussing loudly” in the next room. Listening closer, I realized they were talking about who was going to trim my bangs. Of all things to fight over!  

To me, the conflict featherweight, I thought this dilemma could be resolved very easily. I walked into the sewing room, grabbed the scissors, went back to the bathroom, and cut my bangs off to the scalp. Voila! Conflict resolved! No more reason to fight.

Little did I realize at the time, that I would have to live with that decision for months, as my bangs rejoined my life – front and center on my head. Perhaps it made me creative with hairstyles: I covered this new growth with fashionable scarves, or headbands worn very forward on my head.  

As I matured and married, I found that Spouse, on the other hand, is quite the opposite of me. He is a trained negotiator. He knows how to de-escalate problems, and when to escalate them to higher-ups. How to keep his cool and everyone else’s when the tensions are hot. When conflict arises at work – whether between coworkers or lawyers or clients – Spouse is called in to find solutions. He doesn’t get emotionally involved, but finds out what each side wants – person, team, company, or client – and helps everyone come to a happy compromise. Diplomacy is his heartbeat.  

I’ll never forget the day the bull went home. You see, we were trying our hand at being “Gentlemen Farmers.” We purchased a house on acreage, put up fences, built sheds and milking stanchions, and bought some farm animals: goats, sheep, horses, cows, chickens. We were quite the farmers.

And we educated ourselves. In order to get milk from a cow, we found out, they have to get pregnant and have the baby. Hmmm. So, we rented a bull. An angus bull. The ones that don’t like to be touched by humans. The antsy ones that give bulls a bad name.

So, when it was time for the bull to go home, the “real farmer” who owned him, asked how we planned to get this bull into his truck. We didn’t have a chute into which we could corral said bull. And he knew that we knew that this bull didn’t want to be touched. Or that we really didn’t want to touch him.

So, quickly assessing the situation, on turns the negotiator in Spouse. Out into the field he goes, with nothing to protect him but a bucket of feed. We watched, Mr. Farmer and me. I think I heard him chuckle. Rodeo season was over, so he was up for a good show.

We could hear Spouse talking to this bull who cocked his head and horns, and sniffed the feed. Keeping it just out of reach, Spouse began moving backwards towards the gate – and waiting truck. We had at least learned not to turn our backs on bulls. So, on they danced, what seemed a long time, always making headway towards the truck. Bull sniffing, Spouse inching and teasing. Mr. Farmer was intrigued.

Finally, a foot from the truck, Spouse hopped onto the tailgate, plopped the feed bucket down in the middle of the bed, and looked straight into bull’s eyes, “This is what you really want, Mr. Bull,” he said.

Well, if that bull didn’t hop his big self up onto the bed of that truck and start feasting. Spouse hopped down, and Mr. Farmer’s eyes about popped out of his head and his mouth hung wide! He picked up his chin and drawled, “In all my fifty years as a cowboy, I ain’t never seen nothing like that!”

Mr. Negotiator turns farmer.

On the home front, however, Spouse’s heart beats a little differently. More like mine. He doesn’t want to arbitrate, he really desires peace. He wants us to get along. For things to run smoothly. Gentle conversations. Encouraging words. He loves when we are all purring.

So, to honor him, we try to make the atmosphere meet his needs. When the older children were preschool age, we kept a pretty tight schedule: time to learn, time to play, time to clean. A mixture of going places and staying home. Of friends and play dates, and being by ourselves. But, before daddy came home each day, we spent a half hour readying the home and ourselves. I managed and they worked: “Pick up the blocks and put them away.” “Your dolls need to go in their dollhouse.” “Please put the cups in the sink.”

The children soon caught on to me, not only picking up the house, but refreshing myself for Daddy’s daily homecoming. I’d spiff up my hair, put on lipstick, and spritz on a bit of perfume. Soon, they were asking to change into clean clothes, fix their hair, and be pretty for Daddy’s arrival.

This is the stuff of memories and of life. We are training them for their future. To de-escalate those potential Hot Buttons in their Spouse’s life and make life more fun.

Marriage’s little kindnesses. We do this by finding out what our Spouse values, and building it into our lives. What makes him purr? And what makes her growl? If you’re like me, growling upsets my tummy and makes me feel unsettled, so I want to keep everyone purring.

In order to build a good marriage, and a great family, we don’t deny these hot buttons, nor do we try to change each other’s desires. What works best is when we try to work within the emotional preferences and parameters our inborn personalities have set, while not catering to moodiness, whining and fits.

No one said marriage was easy. But through observation and little kindnesses, we can make our marriages the best they can be.

Published March 12, 2009

After 30 years of marriage, Mark & Kym Wright now have eight children, and no more farm animals. She is a national speaker, author and writer. You can visit her website at: http://www.KymWright.com. Her online publication is The Mother’s Heart magazine, for wives and mothers with hearts in their homes.


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