Margin for Error
My husband and I recently completed what may have been the most significant collaboration of our marriage, with the exception of creating three marvelous human being with our bare hands. Well, perhaps that’s not exactly how it worked, but you understand what I mean. We’ve written a book together. Two heads, two hearts, but only one set of hands on the keyboards. It’s only practical. Four hands could create a lot of words, but few would result in in chapters that made sense.
The topic of the book? Marital conflict. Trust me when I assure you we’ve personally tested every idea and approach in the book. We did it contemporaneously with writing the book.
At one point, we realized we’re incredibly qualified to author such a work. We’ve been disagreeing for years. Forty-plus years, to be exact. We’re both strongly opinioned people who are not hesitant to share our thoughts. Intensely, at times. But at least no one around here can say, “Gee, I didn’t know you felt that way.”
Those intense moments of fellowship, however, have not dimmed the intensity with which we love one another. It’s as fierce as it’s ever been.
Recently, however, during one of those “he said, she said” conversations, I stopped to consider whether it might be time to cut one another a break now and then. The issue at the heart of the discord was insignificant; it was a matter of principle. Or so I thought.
The Lord pulled me up short and encouraged me to examine which “principle” had placed me on my high horse, as my mom might say. “Was it love?” His Spirit inquired. “Or patience? How about selflessness or humility?
Um. No. It was the I’m right, I know I’m right, and you need to know that too, principle.
It’s not there. In the love chapter. Or the Beatitudes. Or the gifts of the Spirit. I looked. Ugh.
Because He’s a good, good Father, He didn’t leave me there. He brought a turn of phrase to mind. You two need to create a margin of error for one another. What does that mean? Isn’t it a financial term? Math is my third language (apparently High Horse is #2). But I looked it up. Here’s what I found:
Margin for (of) error:
- an extra amount of something, such as time or money, which you allow because there might be a mistake in your calculations.
- an amount (usually small) that is allowed for in case of miscalculation or change of circumstances.
An extra amount of something? Like humility, patience or love, perhaps? In case of a change of circumstances? Isn’t that where we live these days? At the corner of empty nest and why don’t you listen to me anymore?
When I consider our years together, I’m convinced we’ve beaten the odds of most who marry as teenagers. We had no clue what we were saying “I do, to” that day at the altar.
And when I consider our years, our age, while we’re certainly not old, I recognize we have a lot of stuff on our hard drive, better known as the brain. We walk into rooms without recalling why we entered. And there do seem to be more frequent, “You never told me that!” “Oh yes, I did,” conversations recently. So how do we fix it? How do we inject kindness, patience, and mercy into our interactions?
Create a margin for error. We must accept there is a possibility, no matter how slight, that you said it and I didn’t hear you. Abdicate the need to be right; send the high horse out to pasture. Release the dogma. Gumby up—be flexible enough to deposit a bit of extra love to smooth the path.
Here are a few tips to help create that margin.
- Face to face communication. Ditch the drive by interaction with 10 assorted and unrelated topics on your way out the door or while he’s brushing his teeth. The eye contact makes a difference in retention.
- Write it down. I’m a list maker. If it’s not on the list, I’m not responsible for it. If it’s there, it gets done. My husband doesn’t use lists, but science tells us something magic happens between the brain and the hand. We get it. It’s a done deal. Plus there’s a written record in the event you need evidence in court, “I’m sorry, your honor, I had to put him in time out. Dry cleaning pick up was definitely on the list! Please review my exhibit A!”
- Check for understanding. Confirm you both heard and understand the details in the same way. “So, we need to leave for the airport by 4:30pm. Is that right? You’re comfortable with that?”
- Let. It. Go. I can hardly type the words without hearing the Disney darling belting it out. Let it go. It’s not my gift. Ron once said to me, “It’s not enough that I eventually just agree with you. You want me to believe that you are right!” Why is that a problem for him? I mean, I was right, right? So it shouldn’t be difficult for him to acknowledge it. Don’t you agree? And then I hear the Holy Spirit, tapping His toe. I got it.
Another definition tells us that margin is a place of safety or something that makes a particular thing possible. Like loving one another, fiercely, all the days the good Lord gives us with fewer bumps and scrapes. Or scraps.
And you know I’m right about that.