Change Becomes You
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Change Becomes You

Are You a Thermometer or Thermostat in Your Relationships?

A successful marriage and happy home may just depend on who controls the temperature.

In every relationship I have ever had, successful or not, there seems to be two pretty distinct roles: Thermometers and Thermostats. And while they have similar uses and even have things in common (I’ll come back that), just like people, they are actually very different.

Old School Thermometer

A thermometer is a very useful tool. It measures the temperature and can tell you if something is too hot or too cold. We have them in our cars, on our phones, and many other easy to find places to let us know the temperature of a given area. However, a thermometer is limited in its usefulness. It reads the room, but it does nothing to effect a change of temperature when needed. If you are a thermometer in a relationship, you are probably very good a gauging the mood of your spouse, your kids, family members, or friends. You instantly sense when you walk in a room if you wife is upset and your internal thermometer goes straight up. Likewise, you are also aware when things are “chill” and everyone can just relax. Thermometers recognize hot and cold and they may even try to avoid one extreme or the other, but because they are just thermometers, they do not have the ability to change the temperature of the room. All they can do is wait around for the climate to change. This passiveness can seem negative, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes having a little patience and letting the other person “blow off steam” is just what a relationship needs. A thermometer doesn’t contribute to the climate so he/she is not escalating or making things worse, but unfortunately their inaction may also do nothing to contribute to a positive change either. It is hard to know. There are many people that play the role of thermometer in their everyday lives. They are helpful and have valuable information but they cannot change the climate or the conditions by themselves.

Thermostats, however, are much different. Thermostats can tell you the temperature, but perhaps more importantly, they have the ability to control the temperature. These people have the unique ability to adapt the climate to what it needs to be (or what they want it to be) for a given situation.Thermostats make the climate comfortable or uncomfortable, hot or cold. They have the power and ability to change the climate to a more desirable one or can make it miserable for everyone involved! These “thermostat” people in any relationship are the ones that make everything go. They set the tone in the kitchen in the morning as the day gets started. They control the mood in the car on the way home from dinner. Just about anywhere. There is a reason people in the South say:

“When Momma Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy!”

Chances are, when the thermostat of the relationship is unhappy, the thermometer knows it instantly. Often, they feel helpless to do anything about it until the thermostat decided to change the climate. On the flip side, a thermometer also knows when the thermostat is happy and can anticipate a fun filled adventure ahead. Our thermostats are passionate, emotional, energetic partners!

How do you know which one you are?

Up to this point, it may seem as if the thermometer cowers to the thermostat in some imaginary game of who is in control, but that is not necessarily the point. Everyone of us has the ability to change the climate of our relationships. Truthfully, very few relationships, marriage or otherwise, are the roles of the two mutually exclusive or permanent. In any given relationship, without exception, you will play the part of both the thermometer and the thermostat.

Like most good relationships, what we have in common can be the key to success. In this case, that is easy, they both can tell the temperature of the room. Recognizing the temperature of any situation is essential. Is this the right moment to have a difficult conversation? What does my spouse need from me right now? A listener? An encourager? A counselor? A good thermometer can tell this almost instantly.

Are you one of that helps set the tone, or do you sit back and wait to see what happens?

The climate is different in every home. Many couples disagree over the temperature. Healthy, happy homes have flexible roles and are ever changing. So the question remains, are you a thermometer that just measures the temperature of your relationships and does nothing to change them when needed? Or are you a thermostat that controls the climate and makes the necessary changes that are needed to keep your relationship healthy? Everyone has the power to be both.



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Dr. Robert Thornell

Dr. Robert Thornell


As a husband, father of five in a blended family, and an educator for 25+ years, I have seen, heard, and experienced a great life. I just love sharing ideas!