Beneath her youthful exterior and fresh-faced exuberance, Meredith Andrews is a focused artist who knows exactly what she wants to say.
My wife and I fought a lot early in our marriage. We had a shouting match almost every day about something.
Typically I caught myself and turned my emotions off. I’d wait for my wife to say something that was slightly irrational in my opinion, and then pounce like a lion. She would usually just walk away in anger.
I would quickly try to reconcile, admitting to the one or two things I had done wrong. “I probably raised my voice a little.” Then I would proceed to list the seven or eight things she had done wrong. “I repent of my two sins. Now you repent of yours. Then we can forgive each other and move on.”
She would respond, “My emotions aren’t a light switch! I can’t just instantly forgive!”
I would answer, “I’m trying not to let the sun go down on anger. But you are still sinning.”
And so we rode the downward spiral.
After a year of fighting, we were both sick of our marriage. Both of us said, “I don’t believe in divorce, but if I did . . . ”
One night she said, “Before we were married, I was confident. I liked myself and thought most people liked me. After a year of marriage to you, I feel like I have lost all self-esteem.”
For the first time, I saw a glimpse of just how pharisaical I had been. I had not washed my bride with the water of God’s Word. Rather, I had viciously attacked her in her weakness, using his Word like a swift sword of justice. I also had downplayed my sin and excused my weaknesses.
Something finally clicked that night.
When Jesus teaches us how to love each other, he tells us to focus first on our own sin before moving too quick to help others with theirs. He says, “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). Even if we think our spouse is 99 percent wrong and we are only 1 percent wrong, we first should turn our energy and effort on our sin—the sin closest to us, the sin for which we are responsible.
Even if we think our spouse is 99 percent wrong and we are only 1 percent wrong, we first should turn our energy and effort on our sin.
If my wife and I both had a speck of dust in our eyes, the speck in my eye would look larger because it is closer to me. Ignoring our own sin to focus on someone else’s is like having a 2×4 stuck under your eyelid. We compare our sin to others, thinking they are wicked, while we aren’t so bad.
I realized how ridiculous I was to poke at the speck in my wife’s eye with a plank sticking out of my face. I said to her, “All I’ve done is criticize you. So, for the next year, I promise not to bring up any of your sins or faults. If you ask me a question, I will answer it honestly. But I will only initiate talking about my sin. For now, any sin I see in you, I will just pray about.”
I’ve made many promises in my life, and broken too many of them. But God helped me keep this one. My wife and I would get into an argument. As soon as I caught myself, I shut my mouth and listened. I didn’t attack her. I focused on receiving and embracing her correction.
It was hard. Often I was boiling inside. But when the conversation ended, I prayed. I would start out complaining, telling God how he needed to change her. But eventually I would confess my own sin to him. Over time, I started to soften, break, and be humbled by how much God was constantly forgiving me. The radical mercy of Christ, flowing from the cross to me, began to change me as a husband.
It became easier to listen to my wife, easier to be compassionate, easier to admit my faults. After weeks of this pattern, she rebuked me one day. I quickly admitted she was right. She stopped mid-sentence and said, “You know, this isn’t all your fault. I’ve sinned, too.”
It took more than a year, with counseling, to work through our baggage. But the tenor of our marriage changed over those months. For the first year or so, we had been in a race to defend ourselves and attack each other. We wanted to score the most points by landing the best rebuke. We wanted to win the argument.
Now, for the last fifteen years or so, we typically race to see who can repent first. Rather than rushing to the other person’s specks, we try to focus on our planks first. In the process, we have become humbler, because we are more conscious of our own brokenness and need for grace. We have become more gracious, because we are so much more aware of how much Christ is constantly forgiving us. We have become gentler, because we realize how tender it can be to get sin out of our own eye.
God saved my marriage not by fixing my wife’s problems, but by helping me see my own and showing me mercy where I am wrong. After years of apologizing, extending grace, and learning, we now are far more likely to repent and forgive than to fight and scratch.
Olan Stubbs is director of Campus Outreach Birmingham, Alabama, at Briarwood Presbyterian Church. He is a husband and father of four. He writes more at his ministry blog, which can be found at https://cobirmingham.org.
A man accompanied his friend home for dinner and was impressed by the way the friend entered his house, asked his wife how her day went, and told her she looked pretty. After they ate dinner, the husband complimented his wife on the meal and thanked her for it. When the two fellows were alone, the visitor asked, “Why do you treat your wife so well?”
“Because she deserves it, and it makes our marriage happier,” replied the host.
Impressed, the visitor decided to adopt the idea. Arriving home, he embraced his wife and said, “You look wonderful!” For good measure he added, “Sweetheart, I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”
His wife burst into tears. Bewildered, he asked her, “What in the world’s the matter?”
She wept. “What a day! Billy fought at school. The refrigerator quit and spoiled the groceries. And now you’ve come home drunk!”
This old joke underscores a vital point: gratitude in marriage can become so rare that when it appears, we may think there’s something wrong. As marriages move past the honeymoon stage, couples go from appreciating and every little detail about each other to taking each other wholly for granted. The antidote? Without question, it’s gratitude.
Ready to infuse your relationship with more gratitude? The following tips are based on research and have proven effective for countless couples.
One of the most revealing experiments to ever connect gratitude and happiness was conduced by Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and psychology professor Michael McCullough of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. They took three groups of volunteers and randomly assigned them to focus on one of three things each week: hassles, things for which they were grateful, and ordinary life events.
The first group concentrated on everything that went wrong or irritated them. The second group honed in on situations they felt enhanced their lives. The third group recalled recent everyday events such as, “I went shoe shopping.”
The results: the people who focused on gratitude were happier by far. They saw their lives in favorable terms. They reported fewer negative complaints, and they even reported experiencing better health. They also offered more grace to others and did more loving things for people. Those who were grateful quite simply enjoyed a higher quality of life.
The point is obvious: your life is never more filled with joy than when you are conscious of your blessings. People who feel grateful are more likely to feel loved as well as do loving things.
Writer Henri Nouwen said it this way: “it is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of complaint.”
Once we decide to be more grateful, gratitude appears. So bring more gratitude into your life by choosing to be thankful.
Nothing extinguishes gratitude more quickly than complaining—especially in marriage. Yet it’s so easy to fall into the trap of grumbling. We grouse and moan almost out of habit.
So how can you curb complaints? Will Bowman, a Kansas City minister, has the answer. He challenged his congregation to go 21 days without complaining. He based his challenge on research suggesting it takes at least 21 days to form a new habit. People who took the challenge were issued a little purple wristband as a reminder of their pledge. If they could themselves complaining, they were to take off the bracelet, switch it to the opposite wrist, and start counting the days from scratch.
Whether you’re ready to take the 21-day challenge or not, we suggest trying something that may require a little more courage—if only for a week. Make a pact to help each other stifle grumbles by inviting nonthreatening feedback. For us, that means we agree to form the letter C with our hand and show it to each other whenever we notice the other person complaining. And when we see our partner giving this signal we simply respond with, “Thank you.” That’s it. We don’t condemn or correct.
Try this for seven days and we guarantee you’ll see your complaining diminish while your gratitude rises.
Simply write down three things you’re grateful for once a week—and share them with your spouse. And if you’d like to put a new spin on it, try a shared gratitude journal. It’s easy. You simply pass it back and forth every so often, allowing each of you to read each other’s entries and be inspired by what you’re both writing. No need to set strict timelines on when you do it. Make it casual. And of course bring it up in your conversations when you’re ready. You’re sure to note a measurable increase in your shared happiness when you keep a gratitude journal.
The single most effect way to turbocharge your joy, says Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, is to make a gratitude visit.
Write a thoughtful testimonial thanking a teacher, pastor, or grandparent—anyone to whom you’re deeply grateful—and then visit that person to read him or her the letter of appreciation. If you do this, you’re sure to feel a surge in joy wash over you and see the same in the person you’re appreciating.
And if you’re willing to take this to a new level as a couple, make a gratitude visit together.
“It’s been presumed that when good things happen, people naturally feel joy for it,” said Fred Bryant, a social psychologist at Loyola University of Chicago. His research, however, suggests that we don’t always respond to these “good things” in ways that maximize their positive effects on our lives.
Bryant is the father of research on savoring, or the concept that being mindfully engaged and aware of your feelings during positive events can increase happiness in the short and long run. What does he recommend for savoring the moment?
And Finally . . .
Gratitude is a power booster to being happy in love. But if you’re struggling a bit to turn the dial up on the gratitude in your marriage, imagine life without your partner. It’s a jolt to the heart, but it may be the jolt that sparks appreciation that’s lain dormant too long.
You don’t need a tragedy to have your heart crack with gratitude. If you’ve taken each other for granted more than you’d like, it’s time to rekindle gratitude for the gift you are to each other. And if your relationship has been bruised upon the rocky shores, it’s all the more important to know that struggles end when gratitude begins.
Excerpted from Making Happy by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott © 2013. Published by Worthy Publishing, a division of Worthy Media, Inc., Brentwood, TN. www.worthypublishing.com. Used by permission. Tell us what you thought of this excerpt on Twitter: #MakingHappy @WorthyPub
Jim and I (Doug) meet with too many couples who have created a script for their marriages that substitutes Jesus’s promise of abundance and fullness and replaces it with busyness, activity, and stress. The following are three course corrections you can make to move from busyness to abundance in your life and marriage.
The little word “yes” is a dirty word that gets you in trouble and adds fuel to your pace. To slow down your life and marriage, you’ll need to learn how to say no to really good things so you can say yes to the most important things.
One immediate action you can take to combat busyness is to make a list of all the responsibilities you currently have that are causing busyness and stress. Give it some good thought and make sure your list is exhaustive. After you’ve finished the list, show it to your spouse and allow him or her to add anything you’ve forgotten or ignored. Then go through the list one responsibility at a time and ask yourself: “If I stop doing this, what will the consequences be?” All of your choices have consequences, and those choices are what made you so busy.
Remember you only have 1,440 minutes a day. You can’t be all things to all people.
In another column, write the consequence next to the responsibility stressor so you can see what you’re dealing with. After that column is complete, start crossing responsibilities off your list. It will feel painful at first because you’ll be personalizing the corresponding consequences (even though nothing has happened yet). Be honest enough with yourself to admit that if you can’t find a responsibility to cross off the list, you may be more broken than you realize. You can’t do everything! Remember you only have 1,440 minutes a day. You can’t be all things to all people. Here’s the good news, though: You can talk to Jesus and ask him to give you both the wisdom and discernment to make better choices.
There are lots of different types of noise that clutter our minds and busy our lives. The question for you to ponder in your own life is, What do you consider noise? We view noise as anything that distracts us from intimacy, listening, and reflecting.
One noise that is especially obnoxious is what I (Doug) call mobile-phone noise. It’s always calling my name. I actually like it a lot—too much, in fact—and that’s the problem. It was stealing my attention from those who were closest to me. Because of that, I now have a self-imposed, self-regulated rule about answering my phone when my wife, Cathy, or any of my kids are in the car with me. I just let it ring until it switches to voice mail. I don’t want that noise competing with those I love most.
It might be a new concept for you to think about your mobile device as noise, but consider this: One study revealed that the average time spent answering a text message is less than 30 seconds, and the average person looks at his or her handheld device 85 times a day. These noisy intruders enter our lives uninvited and distract us from relationships. They can even wound those we love. For example, when you look at a text message while you’re with your spouse, you interrupt a relational connection. By simply glancing at the text while you’re engaged in conversation, it can send the message, “This phone is more important to me than you are.”
At this point you may be thinking, What does this have to do with busyness and the long-term success of my marriage? Everything! All those intruding noises are competing for those finite 1,440 minutes you own each day. The trade-off for spending some of those minutes texting or using social media isn’t worth the sacrificed intimacy when you could be spending that time with your spouse. To prevent marriage drift, you must take advantage of opportunities for connection and put the phone down. That text, game, or photo can wait.
It’s not uncommon for couples to establish a few noise-reducing rules for their marriage, and we would challenge you to come up with some that work for you. In addition to my no-phone-while-my-family-is-in-the-car rule, Cathy and I have a rule that we don’t look at our phones when we’re in bed. Our bed is a sacred place, and not just for sex. It’s for conversation, snuggling, prayer, and laughter. We don’t need the added noise competing for those precious minutes, and neither do you.
Here are two important words that may help you: power button. It’s okay to disconnect from your devices so you and your spouse can connect. If you’re going to find silence, you’ll have to pursue it, and saying no to your mobile device more often will definitely help.
Start with giving your spouse just 1 percent of your day. That’s 15 minutes of face-to-face, knee-to-knee connection. This means turning off the television, shutting down the computer, and putting your phone in jail. These few minutes, set aside every day, will make a big difference over the course of weeks, months, years, and decades. Your marriage can become rock solid if you slow things down, block out noise, and commit to a daily time together. Most of us pack too much into those 1,440 minutes a day, and it leaves us harried, stressed, and lacking intimacy with our spouses. Let’s change that. Fifteen minutes isn’t much, and we know you can do this!
Our dear friends Fadi and Kim actually give each other at least 30 minutes a day. Every morning before work, they sit down together with cups of coffee and have an intentional time of connecting with each other. They’ll often end that morning time with a prayer, a hug, and a kiss. Then they go their separate ways and run a business, chauffeur four kids, ride horses, work on their house, entertain friends, do home with the kids, and much more. You get the drill. When things begin to settle down at night, they sit for 15 minutes and have a glass of wine together to close out the day. Fadi calls this routine their “beverage bookends.”
Do they share other times throughout the day? Sure, but these bookend moments are intentional and protected: the phone goes unanswered, and their children know not to interrupt them. Fadi and Kim—and others with strong, healthy marriages—know the importance of these focused times together and make them happen so their marriage doesn’t drift. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time for it to be the powerful time.
There’s a great story in the Bible where Jesus challenged a woman named Martha to slow down and focus on what mattered most. He essentially told her that her busyness was quenching her chance at abundance. That’s our message to you: If you want to win in marriage, you have to figure out how to slow down, pay attention to what’s in your heart that’s causing you to hurry, and learn to say no to the intruding noises and priorities that are stealing some of those precious 1,440 minutes from you.
Busyness doesn’t have to define you or your marriage. In marriage you’re called to love, not race; serve, not rush; and care, not hurry.
True love requires time, and time is something busy people don’t have. Allow your love to stop, stroll, and even meander. That type of love will defeat busyness, win over stress, and keep you headed toward your intended destination.
© 2017 Jim Burns and Doug Fields. The First Few Years of Marriage: 8 Ways to Strengthen Your “I Do” is published by David C Cook. All rights reserved. Published permissions required to reproduce.
God led me to your sight this morning and for that I give Him all the glory. Thank you for your heart for a Godly marriage. Julie
©2018 Growthtrac Ministries. Growthtrac Ministries is a 501(c)(3) Christian, non-profit charity.