You Get a Car and You Get a Car and You Get a Car!


Say you go to watch a taping of your favorite TV talk show. It’s exciting. You get to see the studio, the set, the crew, and your favorite host in person. It’s a treat. But this is what you expected when you signed up for the tickets. You might have hoped there would be a new car giveaway on your day, but you don’t really expect one.
When you arrive, you learn that today’s guest will be one of your favorite authors. We’ll call her Mary Smith. What a thrill! You’ll get to see her in person and maybe catch some chitchat during the commercial breaks that folks at home won’t see. You didn’t expect this. You feel lucky.
As the interview concludes, you’re told there is a copy of the author’s new book under your seat, and it’s all yours. Wow! You didn’t expect this. It doesn’t happen very often, and you are one of the lucky ones it happens to. You feel even luckier.
Anything unexpected and valuable (to you) will make you feel lucky, maybe even blessed. It will put a smile on your face. It may even unconsciously bring back the warm glow of your mother picking you up, holding you in her arms, and taking care of your need for food or a fresh diaper or just some help getting up a burp.
But imagine you are at the studio the day your favorite host points to the person in front of you and says, “You get a car! And…”
She points to someone on your right. She says, “You get a $25,000 kitchen makeover! And…”
Now she points right at you and announces, “You get a copy of Mary Smith’s new book! And all the rest of you get…”
You probably don’t feel lucky at all. You got to see a favorite host. You got to see a favorite author. You were there behind the scenes. And you’re going home with a free copy of a book you know you want to read.
But this feels unfair. It triggers an awful feeling in you, also from your childhood, of when you first encountered getting less than others. And your survival instinct knew instantly this could be very dangerous. And danger always trumps positive emotions like feeling lucky or blessed or cared for.
Even if the next words out of the host’s mouth are that everyone else gets a KitKat® bar, it’s unlikely your book will warm your heart the way it did when everyone got one or the way meeting Mary Smith did when no one got a book. It’s unlikely you will feel as happy for the recipients of the first two prizes as you would if you were told to expect only two winners, because you now expected a prize as your favorite TV host pointed at you, and you expected one just as nice as theirs, because you expect people you care about to treat you fairly. Even if 296 other people in the audience got less than you, you got less than you expected.
What does all this have to do with your marriage? Those other 296 people are the folks who are not married. Someone loves you, so you always get more than them. And how you feel about it depends entirely on what you expect and whether you believe getting less than your spouse or less than some other married person is unfair, even when it’s more than those other folks get.
You get a dinner! And you get a kiss on your way to work! And maybe you even get a bigger house than you can afford or take care of on your own! Your kids get two parents! Your pets have someone else to feed them! You get money from Social Security if your spouse dies before you! Or if she outearns you! You get a companion for most of your vacations!
You are incredibly lucky. And — this part is the most amazing — the more you realize how lucky you are, the luckier most spouses will make you.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • Patty, what a great easy to understand analogy!
    My husband is kind, loving, humorous, a great father, loves me, has wonderful values. He is also very messy, lazy about household chores, and his ADD often means he is impatient and mishears many communications. I am sorry to say the first years of our marriage I focused on the negatives as much as the positives and often wistfully dreamed of old boyfriends with focused minds who didn’t buy the same item ten times and forgetfully leave it in plastic bags buried in the garage.
    Likewise, I have many assets my husband loves and deficits which drive him crazy and he, too, focused as much on the deficits as assets in our early years together.
    Now, however, we see the faults as the price of admission to this great marriage. We also have learned, when irritated by each other’s faults to replace the annoyance with a grateful thought about something we love about our spouse – and verbalize only the gratitude not the annoyance to each other. Truly our love has grown exponentially since we began this action.
    As importantly, our child is learning to love people with their imperfections and to live with a grateful heart. We were gratified when her teacher told us she was the first student who’d ever expressed gratitude toward her routinely “thank you for the effort you put into this lesson plan. Thank you for the special props you brought into class today, etc”

  • It is such a treat when I visit your blog and see a new post. I only discovered this site a couple of months ago and have checked back weekly for your words of encouragement. I, like everyone else, struggle with gratitude. It’s something I work on daily. I find myself uttering the words “assume love” or “assume the best intentions” in my mind whenever I feel something isn’t fair; not only with my husband but with children, family, friends, even with my boss! It reminds me to be patient, it pushes me out of my self-pity mode. It makes me not only appreciate what I have but reminds me how much I have. Thank you for this site. It is truly a blessing!

  • Great reminder Patty – I have made it my new year’s resolution to practice appreciation and this analogy illustrates very well what has happened too often in my head (in the past!).

By Patty Newbold

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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