I sat in the centre seat of the airplane row and noticed a husband and wife pause in the aisle nearby, glancing at the seat numbers.

The woman pointed to the window seat. "I’m over there."

I let her in, then the man sat in the aisle seat.

"I’d be happy to trade seats with one of you, so you can sit next to each other," I offered.

"No need," the woman said. "We’ve been married 14 years."

I must have looked at her with a puzzled expression because she hurriedly explained. "Fourteen years, but they seemed like 14 minutes . . . underwater . . . holding my breath."

My eyes widened, and I glanced at her husband to gauge his response. Though he’d heard her, he stared straight ahead and didn’t comment. He didn’t even blink, but I couldn’t help but notice his jaw tightening.

Not so funny in real life

After takeoff, the in-flight televisions played a popular sitcom. You know the kind – one with a thin, beautiful wife; a chubby, clueless husband; high-maintenance in-laws who live down the street; and teens and kids who are smarter and hipper than everyone, especially Dad.

The sitcom jokes that made the audience laugh echoed my seatmate’s words. Unfortunately, in real life they weren’t quite as funny. What brings laughs on television causes pain and resentment in a real relationship. After 18 years of marriage, I’ve discovered three elements of sitcoms you don’t want to try at home.

1. Sassy dialogue

The words are often out before I can stop them, and I see the hurt on my husband’s face. What I try to pass off as a witty joke is often painful to John. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I find myself doing it . . . again.

I’m certainly not alone; many other women struggle with the same thing. Cutting remarks, hurtful jokes and sassy dialogue slide easily from our tongues. We’ve learned this harmful habit through 30-minute, prime time segments. TV dialogue has taught us to be quick and feisty with our responses. We win by putting someone else in his or her place. Yet contrary to what we view on TV, the one with the quickest, most biting words isn’t always right.

What’s missing from most TV sitcoms are honour and respect. Respectful dialogue includes considering your spouse’s feelings, thinking before speaking and building up your spouse with your words.

Respect isn’t only about words; it’s also about body language. Biting your tongue doesn’t help if you demean your spouse with your antics.

Being respectful is also about knowing what to say, whom to say it to and when. For example, your husband’s chequebook error shouldn’t be brought up over dinner with friends. Ask yourself, Is this something that needs to be shared in this way, with these people, at this moment? If not, keep it to yourself.

2. Mama knows best

On television, women know best. And men, of course, are the only stereotype left that can be the butt of a joke without causing an uproar or sparking angry calls to the network.

Even on TV, Mama isn’t always right, but that doesn’t stop her from manipulating people to get what she wants. On any given night, viewers find sitcom wives hiding the truth, acting overly dramatic or being outright sinful . . . and still getting their way at the end. And not only are sitcom wives sneaky, but most of the time they also run the show, modelling for today’s women how to take charge.

Marriage – despite what’s seen on TV – works best when the husband takes the leadership role. For wives, that means trusting in our husband’s love and seeking his advice even if we think we know best.

3. Thirty-minute resolutions

I remember the first time John and I got in a fight. It was just a few weeks after our wedding. The disagreement had been minor (so minor I can’t even remember what it was about), yet my heart felt as though it had been cut open with a knife. As I lay in bed with my back to John, one thought filled my mind: This is it. It’s over. So much for marriage.

In TV land, most problems centre on a wacky misunderstanding or minor jealousy, and they are happily wrapped up in 30 minutes or less. The husband usually gets a hare-brained idea, and after things go horribly wrong, the brilliant wife makes things right. The half-hour concludes with confession, a purging of emotion and a coming back together – followed by one last joke and a final laugh.

The work needed for a real marriage

The conflicts we watch daily are solved with little or no effort. And the TV couple usually grapples with only one problem per episode, unlike real life where spouses, kids and work provide multi-faceted conflicts within a day. Solving real-life problems takes work, and when our conflicts and misunderstandings don’t wrap up as quickly, easily or neatly as on sitcoms, we feel our marriage is hopeless. We’re certain our only choice is to move on. No wonder the divorce rate is so high today.

No conflict, of course, is solved as easily as on TV. The good news is that while real-life problems might take longer than a half-hour to solve, real people come out on the other side stronger and more united.

Tricia Goyer is a bestselling, award-winning author of more than 50 books, including contemporary and historical novels and non-fiction titles offering hope and encouragement. She is the founder of Hope Pregnancy Ministries in northwestern Montana and a mentor to teen moms. Learn more about Tricia by visiting her website, TriciaGoyer.com.

© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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