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Monday, November 2, 2015

A lesson in the physics of marriage.

I have this strange habit of gleaning marriage principles from some rather unlikely places. In today's case,we find ourselves at the curious intersection of George Gershwin and particle physics.

Don't worry, I'm not going to do a deep dive into quantum mechanics or particle wave theory. I am, however, going to introduce you to something called the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, named for early 20th century German physicist, Werner Heisenberg. Grossly speaking, Heisenberg postulated that at the quantum physics level (you know atoms and electrons and all that), the mere act of observing particles affects their behavior.

His theory was a particular application of something known in science as "the observer effect."

Observer Effect
The act of observation introduces changes to the observed.

It just so happens that this principle also applies to marriage.


I've written here before about the importance of watchfulness in marriage. In simplest terms, watchfulness is about keeping your marriage off auto-pilot. It means being attentive to and intentional about the most important human relationship in your life - the one with your spouse.

Watchfulness starts with watching yourself by being aware of how what you think, say and do affects your spouse. There's so much incidental damage done in marriage simply because we aren't aware of how much of an impact we have on our spouse.

Watching over your marriage means guarding and growing in every dimension of intimacy: physical, spiritual, emotional, financial (yes, that's a thing) - the whole of your marriage.

Watchfulness also includes watching over and watching out for your spouse. Is he/she being crushed by busyness? Are there relationships that are draining the life from your spouse? Does he/she take sufficient care of themselves physically? It's not that you attempt to control these things, like a parent might, but you are simply helping your spouse be watchful too.

Watchfulness in a nutshell: pay attention!

Enter George Gershwin

You might be surprised how much your spouse actually longs for you to watch over them, husbands and wives alike. Watchfulness tells your spouse that you care, that you value your relationship and that you are willing to put forth some mental, physical and emotional effort to maintain and grow intimacy.

George Gershwin, the famous early 20th century composer was ironically a contemporary to Heisenberg. Gershwin penned the famous song, Someone to Watch Over Me, in 1926, a year before Dr. Heisenberg introduced his uncertainty principle. A bit of historical serendipity for today's post. Here's an excerpt from the song.

Someone to Watch Over Me
There's a somebody I'm longing to see
I hope that he turns out to be
Someone who'll watch over me
I'm a little lamb who's lost in the wood
I know I could always be good
To someone who'll watch over me

Although he may not be the man some
Girls think of as handsome
To my heart he carries the key
Won't you tell him please to put on some speed
Follow my lead, oh, how I need
Someone to watch over me

The song may be a bit dated, but the principle remains. Everyone wants to be "watched over" in some way or other. It's part of the oneness of marriage.

The Double Blessing of Watchfulness

Not only does watchfulness help you take care of your marriage by keeping you off auto-pilot, but it also brings into play the "observer effect."

The mere fact that you are being careful to observe what's going on in and around you, your spouse and your marriage, will begin to affect positive change in all three.

Let's look at a few examples of how this could play out.

1) When A Kiss is NOT Just A Kiss

(I'm using an example here of a husband arriving home from work as an illustration, realizing that in many cases wives also work outside the home. The example could certainly work the other way around as well.)

Let's say a wife decides to be intentional about the way she greets her husband when he comes home from work by meeting him at the door with a long embrace and a passionate kiss. Let's assume for the example that his  homecoming had been little noticed by her in the past. The first day this new little ritual catches him completely off guard, but in the best way. Nice surprise! When it happens again the second day, he makes a comment about how much he enjoys this kind of welcome home. By the third day, he is anticipating that kiss on his drive home, eager to take her in his arms and reconnect physically in that small way after their day apart. For her, she now watches the clock in anticipation of his arrival and makes sure to be available during the time frame when he usually comes through the door.

It costs her 30 seconds, a little vulnerability, and a dose of intentionality, but this small investment pays great dividends for both of them.  It's a small example, but it shows how a small act of watchfulness can build anticipation, grow passion and create an atmosphere of intimacy.

2) A Compliment a Day

For another example, consider a wife who is struggling with self-image issues (no real stretch to imagine this common situation). Her husband, who sees her as beautiful and radiant, decides to get intentional about helping her see herself as he does. He sets it in his mind to pay her at least one sincere compliment on her appearance every single day. While she may never come completely around to his way of thinking, his frequent encouragement makes her feel cherished and attractive in his eyes.

Here are a few examples from my own marriage.

3) The Safety of Proactive Protection

I tend to be pretty proactive in my role as Jenni's protector. I don't do it in a heavy handed or interfering manner, but I do watch out to see that she doesn't get over-committed or over-stressed. She has come to value and invite my input in this regard, because she knows I have her best interest in mind. It makes her feel actively taken care of and safe.

4) Knowing What's Up

We are both attentive to what's going on in each other's lives and intentional to inquire about it. I'll ask her about her morning in children's church. She'll ask me about an important work meeting or project. I'll ask her about her church staff meeting or her lunch meeting with a friend. She'll ask me about my blog or offer her thoughts on a post. Paying attention to the details of each other's lives in this way, builds a cycle of intimacy and that fuels a deep and abiding connection between us. It's now become somewhat second nature to us both.

Maybe these examples don't ring true for you. That's not really the point in sharing these simple examples. You have to decide what watchfulness looks like in your own marriage and with your own spouse. 

There are dozens of ways in which being watchful over your spouse could cause a positive change in your marriage. The point is to pick something and start there. Think about what would say "I love you" to your spouse, and then do that on a consistent basis. 


Anonymous said...

I have the same habit of extrapolating .... well, just about any information towards a marriage principle. (nice to know I am not alone)!

So much good stuff here Scott, not sure what part is my fav!! I guess I would say that, even if it is just one of you that is the watchful one, let it be so. According to science (and the Lord) it won't stay that way!

Scott said...

Thanks Robyn. Yes I believe watchfulness is contageous!

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