While attending school at BYU, one of my best friends and his wife were living in a married-student housing complex. It was a great starting spot for their marriage. However, there was just one… slight… problem. The walls were paper-thin. They were privy to more information than they signed up for!
One night, when my friend got home from a long day of studying, he could hear the couple next door engaged in a heated argument. Sadly, he said this was an almost nightly occurrence. However, this night in particular, their emotions were running extremely high! As curiosity got the best of him, he leaned his ear next to the wall to find out the cause of all the contention. He heard a clear, defiant yell from the husband: “YOU KNOW I LOVE THE THIN MINTS!!!”
Apparently, while the husband was away, the wife had taken the last sleeve of girl scout, thin mint cookies and finished them off!
Although his response was not justified in any way (and was an extreme over-reaction akin to Andy Bernard’s from The Office), there are many possible factors that could lead to the husband’s outburst of anger in this situation. An obvious factor was the disappointing loss of his precious Thin Mints (and the terribly limited time frame one has to purchase more of them). However, I don’t think the girl scouts’ sweet, fund-raising efforts could solely elicit such an incredibly intense response from the husband.
My hunch is that something else entirely lies at the root of the Thin Mints Fiasco. It is likely that underneath the (evident) over-reaction, the husband felt not important, or disregarded by his wife.
My experience in hearing more than the average person’s share of couple’s fighting stories, is that most intense reactions from a spouse come from deeper, attachment-related emotions. Attachment emotions imply disconnection or absence from another person. Rarely is the content of the situation the root cause of the reaction.
I remember from elementary school that you can identify a preposition by whatever a worm can do to an apple. My guiding principle for finding an attachment emotion is “how would Harry Potter have felt when he was dropped off at the Dursley’s?” Or, if you are not familiar with the Harry Potter reference, what would an orphan feel being dropped off at the hospital? I know the comparison is strong, but it is very apt, and illustrates the power of the emotions that couples are trying to convey.
Here is a list of attachment-based emotions to guide you:
After reviewing the list and exploring your emotional experience, it’s probably evident that it’s not about the thin mints, where to go for dinner, or which way the toilet paper is facing. In couple’s arguments, it is entirely about feeling valued, important, thought of, and cared for. When we don’t feel that, we sort of go bonkers!
Rather than flip out, try sharing one of these emotions in a genuine and authentic way. Let yourself feel one of them. You don’t need to add anything else. Qualifiers tend to cheapen the emotional experience. Just say: “I am feeling alone right now.” That should make the situation more understandable and might lead to connection, rather than further disconnection.
For that couple’s sake, I hope the girl scouts came knocking on their door shortly thereafter and they stocked up on the thin mints! It is, after all, the far-and-away-number-one-rated-clear-cut-favorite-girl-scout-cookie! They are so good that they may drive a wedge between you and your spouse. Just remember: It’s Not About The Thin Mints!