Who Switched The Price Tags?

Tony Campolo tells the story of a group of criminals who break into a department store but don’t steal anything. Instead they went around and switched all the price tags. Just imagine the frustration and confusion! He goes on to talk about the propensity within ourselves to switch the price tags – things that are valuable become not valuable. Once worthless things become important. We start putting stock in things that are not important, or healthy, or helpful.

Couples often do that with each other. Hot button issues like sex and communication become bones of contention, or simply too explosive to see in perspective. We begin to notice the flaws in that other’s character and become unsettled. We fixate on what is lacking and feel unappreciated or unfulfilled.

Expectations have forced us to switch the price tags.

There was a time when you couldn’t wait to connect emotionally with that person, but somehow that doesn’t happen much anymore. We started by putting that girlfriend or boyfriend’s needs before our own. It was all about them. You appreciated that they loved you. But things have changed.

In counseling I am fond of telling people that if they want to be happy in their relationship they need to lower their expectations. I have recently taken a second look at that idea and realize that it is more about changing your expectations than lowering them. Happy spouses remind themselves constantly how fortunate they are that someone else would love them enough to dedicate the rest of their life to that person. When I start telling myself that I am lucky to have a wife like Annette it actually transforms how I treat her, and how often I am offended by her. This crazy chick went way beyond the requirements of friendship. Not only does she love me but she is willing to align her future with mine – a truly stupid thing to do.

The more I cultivate gratitude in my feelings towards my wife the better things seem to go in my relationship. As I change my expectations I change my attitude. It is my choice to take what she says wrong. It is my choice to be offended, or angered, or frustrated. Sure she can piss me off – she can be so female, sometimes. She is like a different, albeit extremely attractive, species. Annette is very, very different than I am and it is tempting to become frustrated or negative towards her when she says or thinks things that a man cannot understand or appreciate.  But here’s the clincher, as they say: the more I celebrate her uniqueness the happier I find myself. The more I try to change her, the more I flail misery around me.

The older I get the more I realize that happiness and contentment are things that I choose, they don’t come naturally.

5 thoughts on “Who Switched The Price Tags?

  1. Scott, you are so right, again. I think every couple should write in a journal every night something they are grateful for about their spouse.and thank them for it. They must have done something right. Its always easier to find fault in someone and if all a person hears is negativity why should they even try.

  2. Scott,

    Great post, I also think it helps to watch how we value, then devalue ourselves – something I struggle with (some crazy overvaluing at times). Towards the end of my marriage the good will was still there, but continuing to trust it looked harder and harder.

    Thanks for the insight.


  3. Here, here! Not to sound like a sappy widow (which I guess I am, though I was widowed at age 42 after 6 1/2 years of marriage plus my first husband left when I was 33, after 11 years of marriage, so I GET to be sappy, dammit!) ~ it takes choice and yes – work – to live in happiness and contentment. And sometimes we don’t realize that until it’s too late, due to either decline in relationship, divorce, death, etc.

    My late husband and I had both been married to people who ultimately chose infidelity over faithfulness, and I think it made us both tender towards and aware of the fact that good marriages can and do happen, and we have the choice to make it so. We worked hard at our relationship. (And I was glad about that long before he died 7 years ago.)

    One of the most helpful concepts came from a class we facilitated based on the Love and Respect film series. It was actually quite simple, but profound (especially for those of us raised in dysfunction): Trust the other person’s good will towards you.

    Of course, the good will must be there for us to trust it, but when we can live in that place of knowing that our good is their priority (and we can return it as well), it is a rich and fertile ground to grow many good things. It makes it easier to overlook an offence, misunderstanding, or mistake if we can remember that: “You have good will towards me, and I trust that about you.” It can make proving who is right or wrong much less of a felt need. And that’s a good thing.

    (Sappiness officially done. For now.)



    1. Monica (and Scott),
      Thanks for the sappiness. At 52 and post two marriages, I forget that there are and have been beautiful, loving and supportive relationships. I get blinded by the dysfunction around me. Thank you for reminding me that what is elusive is NOT impossible.

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