A Behavior, by Itself, Isn’t That Harmful

Be Prepared for Relationship Complexities

We offer a Christian mentor program. We want mentors to be prepared to meet with couples. It helps to prepared by understanding relationship complexities that you’ll encounter.

One of the biggest behaviors I see with couples is an initial defensiveness. It goes something like this:

“You know I have to work late. Why is that such a big deal?”

The spouse says, “You should know why it’s a big deal.”

In other words, the behavior itself isn’t right or wrong. It’s how it’s perceived by the spouse.

It’s easy to build up all kinds of defenses for a behavior that, on the surface, isn’t wrong.

I mean, come on, working late isn’t a sin or anything. To your employer, that type of behavior is rewarded. Who doesn’t want an employee that puts in the overtime? People get promoted over that type of behavior.

My wife, Michelle, frequently works late. She sits at the kitchen table with her laptop and answers emails, works on documents and even takes international phone calls at odd hours. Is that so wrong?

The problem is when it impacts your marriage bond.

I used to lead a small group that consisted of church staff. Work-life balance became a topic of conversation. How do you turn down people that are in obvious need in order to spend time with your family? That somehow doesn’t seem Godly. Yet, I think that God wants us to consider our families a high priority.

The issue is that what seems so right on the surface, isn’t right when we consider the impact to our spouse.

It’s so easy to defend something that isn’t, in itself, wrong.

I’ve come to understand that it’s important to look at the impact of our behavior on our spouse and our family. What’s acting in love?

This becomes a tricky consideration of boundaries and the impact to your relationships.

If you want to build a relationship with someone, it might mean looking at the impact of your actions on the other person. If your spouse has a problem with your behaviors, you may need to change your behaviors in order to build the relationship.

At the same time, you need to examine your own thinking. It would be easy for me to accuse Michelle of not caring for me because she is busy working at the kitchen table. Is that really true?

Did I say that this gets complex?

When you are mentoring couples, this is something that comes up frequently. There is no right or wrong in many of these issues. There is only perception.

We were meeting with one couple and she felt that her husband didn’t care about her. When we asked how she came to that conclusion, she said that if he was 15 minutes late coming home, it demonstrated that he didn’t care. On the surface, that seemed odd. To me, this seems unrealistic, but it was very real to her. This was a deep emotional trigger that made her feel abandoned.

Tips for Marriage Mentors:

  • Examine the impact – What’s the consequence of your actions? If one person thinks this is a big issue, it’s a big issue.
  • Recognize the trigger – When you recognize that you are being triggered by something deeper, then it’s easier to forgive the actions. Sometimes, both people need to adjust their thinking.
  • What will build the bond? – It might help for both people to recognize that their thinking is harming the relationship.



This series is about what makes marriage mentoring complex. As a mentor, if you understand the types of challenges that you will see, it helps to not feel overwhelmed. We want to prepare you for common challenges.

Other posts in this series on relationship complexities that mentors will see:

Someone Doesn’t Want Help

This Is About That

You Don’t Understand the Impact

There Are Multiple Behaviors to Change