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Testing Motives

April 16, 2020
Motive - Highway Sign image

One of my Marriage Counseling Mantras is TEST ASSUMPTIONS. You can read my rant about this here: https://homeworkwithst.com/2020/04/13/mis-information/

A companion, maybe even a sibling of that mantra is TEST YOUR MOTIVES. Of the two, I think testing assumptions is usually easier. Testing your assumptions will often require that you swallow your pride and ask the other person if what you think they mean is actually what they mean. This is sufficient to keep lots of people from testing their assumptions. That’s too bad, really. Swallowing pride leaves a little after-taste, but doesn’t usually give indigestion. And the pay off is so much bigger than the cost of swallowing one’s pride.

Testing your motives is harder. Getting to the core of why we want what we want, or do what we do is a much more difficult process. Because it’s a core issue, it takes deep thought. Objective deep thought. And that’s what makes it so hard.

I don’t mean to judge you, but most people are not good at either objective or deep thought. We’re more likely to be subjective and shallow. It takes less time and effort. And besides, I’m the center of the universe, aren’t I? Or at least one of the centers. So, as a universe-center, I don’t have to examine or justify my motives. I just go for what I want. Or I expect you to provide it. Or at least stay out of my way.

That’s a pretty pessimistic view. Unfortunately, it’s accurate for a whole lot of husbands and wives. Not you, of course. But you’ve probably got a neighbor or a family member who’s this way.

This kind of deep self-reflection takes a lot of maturity. This may explain why it seems to happen so seldom.

I read once that getting to the core or root of motive takes at least three “whys.” This intrigued me, so I read the article. Turns out it’s the same “Why?” question asked three times.

“I think I’ll go play golf.”

“Why do you want to go play golf?”

“Well, I love to play and I’ve got the time and money.”

“Why’s that?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why do you want to play golf, since you have time and money?”

“Because I love to play?”

“Why do you love to play?”

“Step aside. I’m putting my clubs in the trunk.”

You can see that answering the three “whys” takes some thought. And time. There are only a few things I can do at the same time I attempt to contemplate on this level. I can drive and ponder. I can sit and ponder. I can also play golf and ponder. Maybe golf was a bad choice for an example…

It’s not wrong to have desires. Unless your desires are wrong. This isn’t always an easy thing to call, though. Some things are clear. Refer to the Ten Commandments for a starter on this. But some things are more difficult to judge.

What about when my desire conflicts with yours? Or what about when a desire will bring short-term satisfaction, but will in the long run keep me from reaching higher, more important goals and objectives? What about desires that are OK in one context, but not in others? There are those, you know. While some things are always wrong, no matter the context, there are other things that are wrong in some situations because they’re inappropriate, though not morally wrong. Have I sufficiently muddied the water?

But the context I want to set this in is your marriage. Think back over the last 6 months and identify any conflict you had with your spouse. My theory is that the vast majority of marriage conflict comes from either untested assumptions or untested motives. As you look in the rear view mirror of your marriage, see if this isn’t true.

Untested assumptions almost always lead me to assign wrong motives to the other person, and that will result in some kind of defensive behavior on my part. Untested motives almost always leave me pushing for what I want without regard to the bigger picture, and in marriage, my spouse and her needs. Both cases are grenades with the pin pulled.

Getting to the real reason you want what you want isn’t rocket science. It takes work and thought, like I’ve already said. But it doesn’t take any particularly rare skill.

It comes down to asking yourself and then answering the question, “Why do I want this?” The three whys would be a good exercise for this.

Here’s a few other questions that are worth asking:
– “Is there any reason I shouldn’t do this?”
– “Who else will this effect, and how will it effect them?”
– “Will the result of going for this bring a short-term or a long-term benefit?”
(Not all short-term benefits are wrong, but there
are many short-term benefits that aren’t really
worth what they cost.)
– “What if I don’t go for this? What will that mean to my life?”

Ask whatever questions you want. The point is, ask yourself why. Don’t lock yourself up by going trough some big self-reflection thing every time you want something. You’d end up being a mess and making a mess. But building the habit of asking why is one way to keep your balance in a very dynamic world.

Simon Senik wrote a very insightful book a few years ago, titled Start with Why. It’s written to the business and organizational community, but it has tons of application in all human relationships. Part of his premise is that if you know your why, and can articulate it, you can persevere when the going gets tough. Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing can trump adversity. It’s an idea worth diving into. And a book worth reading, even if you’re not in business.

For your marriage, testing your motives does many things, but two of the most important things are that it honors your spouse, and it keeps you from being (I’ll use a clinical term here) a selfish jerk. And those two things can make your marriage better, no matter how good it is right now.

From → Marriage

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