I got a little frustrated with my husband recently. It wasn’t a big deal. He did something that annoyed me and I over-reacted. But, in the midst of our aggravation, we don’t always maintain perspective. So when the phone rang, I quickly picked it up and gave him a piece of my mind.

Only I hadn’t checked the caller ID on my cell phone. And it wasn’t him. I had just leashed my sarcastic tirade on a new acquaintance! Luckily it was a bad connection and the caller hadn’t heard my rant (at least she said she didn’t) but I was bright red from embarrassment.

And the lesson hit home loud and clear – always check to see whose calling before answering the phone!

In processing how much more embarrassed I would have been had she heard my actual words, I had to ask myself the obvious question. Why do I care more about what a relative stranger thinks of me than I do about my husband?

Clearly I had my priorities backwards. If I was going to lose my temper with anyone (not a behavior I’m advocating), it would be better to do so with a stranger or a mere acquaintance than with my life’s partner.

And over what did I react so strongly? Without humiliating myself further with the petty details, let’s just say that it was something trivial, something so minor in the grand (and even small) scheme of things that many would say it didn’t even merit a reaction at all (I’m blaming it on the jet lag and exhaustion).

But I’m actually grateful – not for my bad behavior but for the relatively painless wake-up call. It brought me back to reality. It gave me perspective. It refocused me on more appropriate behavior.

It’s too easy to take our close relationships for granted, not to be careful enough because, after all, he’s “stuck with me.” Or he’s the convenient recipient of my frustration just because he’s there or because I feel so comfortable I’ve let down my guard.

But I don’t want my husband to feel stuck with me! I want him to be excited and joyful about our relationship. And that’s what I need to communicate – no matter how I feel at any particular moment.

But even more, I need to feel excited and joyful, whatever the circumstances. That’s where the really important effort takes place – and the really valuable rewards. Frustration and anger drag us down into people we don’t want to be, into selves we certainly have no desire to actualize.

For relationships that are precious to us, we need to be on our guard against these dangers. There’s too much at stake not to answer the phone – and every other situation – with a smile and a cheery hello. And to mean it.