Sometimes we abruptly belly laugh, especially when the laugh is about something everyone knows exists, but pretends doesn’t. An old episode of The Big Bang Theory is one of those times.
In the episode called The Indecision Amalgamation, Sheldon can’t stop talking about which video game to buy. Amy listens politely. She also asks him to please pass the butter. But, Sheldon neglects to hear her. He’s too preoccupied about his video-game choices: Does he buy the XBOX One or the PlayStation 4.
Finally, Sheldon notices Amy’s silence. He says that he doesn’t think Amy is paying enough attention to his conundrum. Amy non-defensively apologizes and begins to show more interest.
Nice, right? But, this is the funny belly-laugh part.
Amy begins to show interest, like “Oh my gosh, yes!” choosing the right video game is absolutely a tough decision. Watching this t.v. scene, I’m thinking to myself:
“Hey, Amy’s good. I could do better in my marriage. I’m too disinterested lately. I need to be more like Amy.”
Then, just as Sheldon is feeling cared for and heard, he asks Amy what he should do. Amy bangs on the table saying, “Please pass the butter!”
In his twenty-year-plus research, John Gottman, the guru of marital friendship, teaches us the importance of trying to turn toward someone, even when we’re too tired , too annoyed, or want a little attention ourselves. Gottman calls this unconditional positive regard.
We really do try for unconditional positive regard with our partners. But, frankly, our brains’ wiring is a bit against us. That’s the “Pass the damn butter!” bit.
And, it is called an emotional override. We know what is best to do but it is not even close to what we really feel. It’s the crossroads where emotional regulation, self discipline, impulse control, and so-help-me-god tromp in our heads.
To ease your discouragement, most happily thriving couples only catch 60% of their partner’s bids for care and attention. Sheldon did not catching Amy’s initial bid for attention ~ that is, some butter for her meal ~ and Amy did not meet Sheldon’s wish for video-game enthrallment. They were making competing bids simultaneously. Happens for all us, all the time.
So, if we only respond to another’s bid for attention 60% of the time, what do we do with the other 40%? We laugh at ourselves, not our partners. We learn the gift of compassion, repair, compromise, and self soothing.
This is all because we will inevitably blurt out “Pass the damn butter!”
Even when we mean well.