September 25, 2020

Dear Drama Observers,

Psychologist Henry Cloud writes that he once led an adult group comprised of ten individuals who met once a week for the purpose of enhancing their personal and relational growth. Henry’s teaching methods can sometimes be, let’s just say, unconventional.

One evening, he arrived at the group carrying a baseball bat. After announcing that this session would be a little different, he slid his chair into the middle and had everyone else move their chairs into a circle around him.

He then informed everyone that the group members would spend the next hour and half taking turns bashing him in the face with the bat. He picked one of the members, handed him the bat, and said, “Okay, you go first. Swing away.”

Unwilling to use Henry’s face for batting practice, the first member predictably refused. Henry then handed the bat to the next member who also declined and the declinations continued until everyone in the circle had voiced their unwillingness to participate in this weird face-bashing experiment, the purpose of which was yet to be explained.

Henry then had each of the members explain why they refused to pummel his face as instructed. Some of them said something like this: “Well, it’s wrong to hit people with bats. It’s against the law and I could get arrested.” Others said something like this: “Well, I’ve grown very fond of you and would never deliberately cause you pain. It wouldn’t just hurt your face, it would damage our relationship.

Henry then asked this question: Which set of members would you trust more with the bat—the ones constrained by their legal concerns or the ones constrained by their relational concerns? The vote was 10-0: the ones constrained by their relational concerns.

The point Henry was trying to make that evening was this: Love is a more powerful motivator than rules.

I thought about that principle this week while meeting with a couple. The wife had inadvertently stumbled across some social media exchanges between her husband and the wife of someone else. The messages weren’t sexual in nature and there was nothing explicitly out of line about the words being exchanged. And yet, and yet. The behind-the-scenes nature of these messages was certainly inappropriate and made her uncomfortable. Knowing how small things can blossom into big things, she asked him about it.

Her husband’s initial response was something like this: “Oh, I’m sorry. There’s nothing going on between us, but I can see how it might make you feel uncomfortable. If you don’t want me communicating with her, I won’t do it anymore.”

At first glance, that’s a fine response—just the kind of thing one would like to hear. He admitted what he did, acknowledged her feelings, and promised to change. And yet, and yet. Like a stew with a missing essential ingredient, his words left her with a taste of bland incompleteness.

Here’s why I think his response felt so incomplete: it was one that reflected rules more than love. He didn’t say it this way, but what came across was, “Communications between unmarried spouses is against the rules and you’ve caught me. But I don’t want to be a rule-breaker, so I’ll get back in line.” He probably sincerely meant it, but it just felt thin to her because if his only motivation moving forward was to be a rule-keeper, he may very well break the rules if he could do so without getting caught.

Imagine how different her experience would’ve been had he responded this way:

I really was just thinking of it as being friendly and it didn’t occur to me as being out of line. But now that you mention it, I can see now what I was missing before. If the tables were turned, I’m sure I’d feel the same way. I’m so sorry. That was hurtful to you and it bothers me when I hurt you. And I never want to hurt you because I love you. If I’m ever in a spot to do something like that again, I’ll remember this and won’t do it because of how much it hurt you this time.

I don’t ever want to do anything that might jeopardize our relationship because it’s so important to me and I don’t want to mess that up. Oh, did I mention how sorry I am?

The above statement would be the equivalent of saying, “No, I’m not going to hit you in the face with that bat because I care about you and wouldn’t want to cause you pain.” Then, if the husband’s external actions lined up with his expressed internal motivations, the trust that had been weakened could start to be strengthened.

A good exercise for this week would be to think about how you might apply this principle in your own relationships. But, word to the wise, you probably shouldn’t try that baseball bat thing because someone might take you literally.

Till next week.

2 replies
  1. Erica Carpenter
    Erica Carpenter says:

    Wow! This was a great article! I loved how you used the story of how Henry Cloud demonstrated the difference between being a rule breaker and a relational breaker for the motivation behind not swinging the bat. I also liked the explanation of how your client felt after her husband’s apology. The examples of what he said vs what it might have looked like had he said, clearly showed the differeence between rule breaking and relational breaking. It definitely makes me think twice about the words I will choose when I hurt another to let them know that our relationship means more than the rules I may have broken. Let’s face it, I’m not perfect! Lastly, I love how you said that “if the husband’s external actions lined up with his expressed internal motivations, the trust that had been weakened could start to be strengthened.” Love is not just about saying “I love you,” it also takes the actions behind those words to demonstrate that Love. Thank you, Dr. Godwin, for such a clear explanation and real life examples of how a person can demonstate their motivations behind their actions and how they apologize and move forward from their mistakes.

    • Alan Godwin
      Alan Godwin says:

      Thanks so much for taking the time to write such a thoughtful reply, Erica. I’m so glad to hear this has been helpful to you. Take care.

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