Are You a Thermostat or a Thermometer?
Leading at Home

Are You a Thermostat or a Thermometer?

Posted by Regi Campbell on August 10, 2012

Most of the marriage conflict I hear about comes from a husband or wife getting upset about something the other one said. A moment of insensitivity, a thoughtless comment, a selfish reaction to a spouse who wants to do something you don’t want to do and BAM! You’re upset. She’s upset. Someone’s not speaking. The other one’s perplexed. “How did this happen? How did we get here?”

At the root of it may be emotional maturity. Or the lack of it.

What we think of as maturity comes with age and experience….when we learn to respond and not just react. Children react to everything. A sister touches a sister, and there’s a fight. A cookie is taken away or a goldfish is dropped on the floor and it’s on!

Maturity has arrived when we learn to control ourselves and act in a socially- acceptable manor. When we learn to say “please” and “thank you”, we stop crying when we spill something, we eat one doughnut instead of a half a dozen….that’s maturity.

But emotional maturity is a little different. It’s not directly connected to age or experience. I know a 17 year old who has incredible emotional maturity. And I know a 57 year old who is an emotional child. He’s never made a mistake in his life. If it’s ‘wrong’, it’s someone else’s fault. Never his. Not one bit.

An emotionally mature person is someone who has self-control. They take responsibility for themselves. They can take in something that’s said to them and not ‘bow up’ or ‘blow up’. They’ve developed a “buffer”…a file that allows them to download data and look at it and then respond. They consider not only what they’re about to say, but how it’s going to affect the person who’s going to hear it.

What I’m talking about here is controlling the behavior that flows from your emotions, not being emotionless. Controlling what you say and do out of your emotions rather than letting your emotions control you.  Not having yourself “at risk” all the time…that’s emotional maturity.

There’s one thing we can do to develop emotional maturity. And it’s huge.

Stop taking things personally.

Most of the time, what “sets me off” is something that’s said that wasn’t meant toward me personally. I just took it that way. My emotional level goes up, my functioning level goes down and I say something mean in return. I start a fight…. all because I thought I was attacked. When I really wasn’t.

I’m not talking about detaching here. Nor am I talking about “controlling your emotions”. God made us to feel things. People who don’t “feel” are worse off than the emotionally immature. The Buddists say “Not flattered by praise, not hurt by blame.” That’s detachment, not emotional maturity.

I’m talking about being a ‘thermostat’ instead of a ‘thermometer’.

A thermometer goes up or down in reaction to the environment it’s in. Hot temp instantly reads hot. Cold air drops the thermometer in lock-step. No buffer. Its reading is completely in reaction to its surroundings.

But a thermostat responds. It sets the climate. It takes the reading from the thermometer and manages its reaction. Through its response, it creates a safe, comfortable environment for everyone around. A husband who becomes a thermostat becomes comfortable with himself…and his wife. And a dad who stops reacting and starts responding will raise kids who are more confident, less “on edge”, and who love him more.

Resting in the fact that God truly loves me….that He’s adopted me into His family and that I can’t be “un-adopted”, why not relax in my own skin? Why get all worked up by what my wife said that sounded like criticism? So what if she wants to go help a friend and wants me to go with her?  Am I so freaking important I can’t “honor my wife” and go along with something she really wants to do? Should I take it personal that she has an opinion different from mine? Or has an interest in something I’m not into?

Stop reacting. Start responding.

It’s up to us, men, to establish and maintain a safe comfortable climate in our homes.

Step up and lead.

Be a thermostat.


Question: Are you a thermostat or a thermometer?  If you’d like to discuss, please leave a comment here.

Responses (3)

Shannon Ward
Shannon Ward Posted: August 10, 2012, 4:52 pm

I think that a Barometer could also be added to the discussion. My wife and I have always appreciated the analogy of a thermostat and a thermometer, however you can relate the ebb and flow of communication, physical intimacy, and emotional responses to where our relationship barometer is pointing. If spiritual, relational, emotional, and physical needs are in sync with each other, we have good pressure, and calm or healthy relationship patterns. But if these things are out of whack or failing, the bad pressure takes over, and storms may be ahead.

Regi Campbell
Regi Campbell Posted: August 13, 2012, 7:05 pm

In my marriage, I’m the one who most influences the ‘barometric pressure’ by how well I respond to the issues of life and relationships. My wife is the ‘steady eddie’.

Tony Caruso
Tony Caruso Posted: December 9, 2012, 2:18 am

It is the difference between being proactive vs. reactive.

Thanks for sharing and giving us pause to reflect on being men who set the tone.

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