“Marriage is wonderful but you have to work at it.” Those words came from a simple man who understood life and really understood his marriage. Through the years I have contemplated his advice to me: “you must work at your marriage.”
My friend probably didn’t know that he was espousing sound psychological theory. In fact, it’s called the Zeigarnik Effect, the view that the human mind tends to remember tasks which are incomplete or unfinished.
The Zeigarnik Effect explains why a waiter or waitress can remember the orders of multiple people around a dining table and get the order exactly right. In fact, this scenario is where the name Zeigarnik Effect comes from. In 1927 Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik (Zi-gar-nik) studied this phenomenon. How could waiters remember multiple orders? How long did they retain the memory?
This is what he learned. He found that the waiter or waitress could remember the order for as long as it was an open order. When the order had been filled and the task finished, the waiter could no longer remember it. In the intervening years, others have studied Zeigarnik’s hypothesis. They have found that this works for students studying for tests as well. Students are able to recall material better by studying for a while and then taking a break to play a game or to do something else. (I tried to no avail to convince my mother of this. She never heard of Bluma Zeigarnik!). As long as the task is unfinished, we tend to remember and to deal with the situation better.
This is where my friend comes in. He knew that marriages should not be taken for granted. They should be worked at. A good marriage is an unfinished task. So is our life in Christ. As long as we see the task as unfinished, we continue to learn and grow. Paul saw this as well.
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold. . . But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12-14).