When couples come for therapy, I typically ask each spouse, “ What do you do to hurt your spouse personally and the marriage in general?” It is amazing how capable people are to place blame anywhere but with themselves. There are times when you might feel so emotionally distraught that it is hard to think of what YOU have the power to do.
Here are five alternatives. Memorize them! Live them!
When the going gets tough, remember your earliest positive beliefs and thoughts about your spouse. Your spouse is not your enemy; he is your forgotten team member. Instead of giving her a list of failures, give your beloved a list of validations. Do this and it will remind your beloved that he/she is a valuable member and reward you with a better player. Praise and recognition is more motivating for change than criticism or harping could ever be.
Remember the person you were when you and your spouse fell in love. What were you like? Describe yourself to yourself on a piece of paper. You may find you are writing words like fun, happy, lighthearted, fit or thin, confident, attractive, generous, adventurous, smiley, youthful, hopeful, excited, patient, flexible and eager to listen…Now, make your list of the qualities you see now. Does it read like this: tired, angry, bitter, resentful, depressed, sluggish, complaining, and rigid? Why are you operating from the second list and not the first? …. Now, don’t blame your spouse for this.
You have the power to change your attitude back to what it was when you first fell in love. Nothing will attract your old spouse to you but the old YOU! After all YOU are the one he/she fell in love with.
Never too late for a re-do!
There are times in marriage when nothing seems to be going right and neither of you can agree on who is to blame. You have both hurt each other. Mutual forgiveness means that for the sake of the marriage you take one for the team and decide to let go of your anger and your desire to be right. You agree to let things in the past die and you start over. It can be as simple as a decision. It is never too late for a re-do.
Dump your prideful ways and listen!
Most of the time people behave badly when their spouse tells them how they’ve hurt them or gives them any criticism. Most people are not able to really listen in the face of criticism; instead they just get defensive and attack back.
Just listen! By that I mean listen without speaking. Don’t explain, excuse, or defend yourself. After you have heard it all, find some part that holds water and OWN it! Accept that you have let your spouse down. Admit that you were insensitive, wrong, whatever. It is not productive to prove you are right. What matters is that your spouse feels heard by you.
Ignore the sometimes not-so-small stuff!
Some of the very characteristics you hate today in your spouse are the ones that actually attracted you in the first place. One man said, “My wife takes life like a joke. I can never have serious conversations with her.” But, when asked later what was the biggest thing he appreciates about her, he said, “She is light hearted and always cheers me up.”
God puts inside of each one a secret attraction to an individual that He knows completes him/her. If you can recognize this when you look directly at the person you married and see how the parts purposefully intersect and compliment each other, you can have the best team possible. You complete each other by God’s design.