Change Your Thoughts to Change Your Marriage
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Mitch Temple's book, The Marriage Turnaround: How Thinking Differently about Your Relationship Can Change Everything, (Moody Publishers, 2009).
Do you think your marriage should be making you happy? Are you trying to change your spouse? You may be carrying around a lot of marriage myths like these in your mind without even realizing it.
Our culture is full of commonly held false assumptions about marriage. If you believe them without examining them, they'll affect your marriage in ways that can be dangerous. But if you change your false beliefs about marriage to reflect biblical truth, you'll change your marriage for the better.
Here are some of the marriage myths you can overcome:
"The grass is greener on the other side of the fence." Although other men may seem better than your husband or other women may seem more appealing than your wife, everyone is human. Any other person you may choose to leave your marriage for will end up being just as flawed as your spouse. You're far better off using your time and energy to work on your existing marriage than leaving -- causing yourself and others deep pain the process -- only to see new problems spring up in a new relationship.
"Attitudes don't really count." Your attitudes determine your feelings and behaviors, so they actually affect your marriage profoundly. If you think negatively, you're likely to feel badly about your marriage and act in bad ways toward your spouse. But if you think positively, you'll often feel good about your marriage and choose good actions that will benefit your relationship. If your attitudes are on the right track, then the rest of your life -- including your marriage -- will be, too. So choose a hopeful attitude about your spouse and your marriage, every day. That will motivate you to make the positive choices that will improve your marriage.
"I need to change my spouse." No matter how much you'd like to change your spouse, you don't have the power to change another person. So instead of wasting your time and energy trying to change your spouse, ask God to help you understand, accept, and appreciate your spouse more. Get to know your spouse's unique personality better. When you're frustrated by one of your spouse's behaviors, pray about it and trust God -- the only One who can change your spouse -- to work in your spouse's life. If you want to change your marriage, focus on making changes in your own behavior, which will then change the dynamic of your relationship for the better and possibly inspire your spouse to change his or her own behavior.
Keep in mind that there are some aspects of your spouse that will remain the same, such as: gender, different communication styles, genetic influences, life history, and personality. Do all you can to show your mate that you accept him or her. Your unconditional love may motivate your spouse to change for the better (in ways that he or she can) at the right time and in the right ways.
"I didn't marry my soul mate." Marriage isn't a matter of finding the only person in the entire world you should marry or despairing that you've missed out if you haven't found that magical person. The truth is that you could have married any number of people and had your marriage would out just fine. Rather than worrying about finding a soul mate, focus on becoming one. Over time in your marriage, you and your spouse can become each other's soul mates by growing closer to God and each other.
An important part of building a soul mate relationship is simply showing up -- physically and emotionally -- no matter how hurt or hopeless you might happen to feel at a particular time. Also remember to keep your expectations of each other realistic. Your spouse is a real person who can't possibly measure up to a mythical idea of an ideal soul mate. Focus on your spouse as he or she actually is, and make up your mind to discover your soul mate -- and become one.
"My needs come first." You know you have a consumer attitude toward your marriage when you catch yourself thinking or saying things like,
* "What am I getting out of this marriage, anyway?"
* "I deserve better" or
* "What's in this for me?"
But the more you focus on getting your own needs met in your marriage, the less likely that is to happen because your attitude will undermine your relationship with your spouse and make him or her less likely to want to meet your needs.
Research has shown that the marriages that work best are those in which both spouses decide every day to make sacrifices for the good of the other. Ask God to help you overcome your selfish nature and develop a desire to serve your spouse daily. Pray for the compassion and empathy you need for your spouse. Be willing to help your mate whenever he or she needs it -- no matter how inconvenient it will be for you to help. Remember that, ultimately, it's God who meets your needs. Sometimes He just uses your spouse to do so. Whenever you're concerned that one of your needs isn't being met, pray about it and trust God to help you.
"Happiness is everything." There's simply no such thing as a happy pill you can take for your marriage. Sometimes you and your spouse will go through circumstances that make you feel happy, but sometimes you'll encounter challenges that will make you feel unhappy. Just as your circumstances will constantly change, so will your feelings. So decide to base your marriage decisions on something much more reliable than your feelings -- base them on timeless biblical truth. If you live by God's truths revealed in the Bible, you'll discover that right living -- doing the right thing, even when it doesn't make you happy -- will actually lead to more happiness in the long run because you'll be making decisions that protect you from lots of unnecessary pain.
So instead of spending your energy pursuing things that create happiness, direct your energy toward pursuing God above all else, and happiness will naturally come into your life. Rather than expecting your spouse to make you happy (which is futile), focus on serving your spouse, and enjoy the improvements that will bring to your marriage.
Be sure to forgive your spouse every time he or she hurts or offends you. Withholding forgiveness will prevent you from experiencing happiness in your life. Rely on God's help throughout the forgiveness process. When you decide to follow His call to forgive despite your negative feelings toward your spouse, God will give you His peace that you never could have experienced otherwise.
"It's okay to be rude -- we're married!" Although you may feel so comfortable around your spouse that you think anything goes in your relationship, being rude will only harm your marriage. Marriage doesn't give you a license to mistreat each other. Take your little annoying habits seriously because they may be big deal to your spouse. Ask God to help you stop whatever habits bother your spouse, from putting your feet on the furniture at home to making sarcastic comments about him or her in public.
Be patient while your spouse tries to change his or her own annoying habits. Recognize the significant effect that rude behavior in your marriage has not just on the two of you, but also on others in your lives, like your children. Do all you can to treat your spouse the way you would like your spouse to treat you.
"I shouldn't have to ask." Your spouse can't read your mind, so he or she doesn't automatically know what you need. If you need something from your spouse, you usually do have to ask for it -- and sometimes you have to ask several times until your spouse fully listens and understands.
Pray about your need first; then ask your spouse. Make suggestions instead of demands. Be flexible and don't push for a decision until he or she is ready.
When your spouse brings a request to you, don't get irritated or defensive. Instead, be thankful that your spouse cares enough to work on your relationship. Listen carefully, giving your spouse your full attention and refraining from making judgments or drawing conclusions until he or she is finished speaking. Seriously consider what your spouse is asking. Think and pray about it. Ask questions to clarify what your spouse needs. Remember that God calls you to put other's needs above your own.
"Conflict is bad." Conflict can be disruptive and scary, but like a good thunderstorm, it can clear the air. If you and your spouse use conflict constructively, it can help you each solve problems in your marriage and grow as people in the process. The key to effective conflict is learning when to engage and when to walk away.
Avoid destructive types of conflict, like criticism, contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling, and blaming. Use conflict to help clear contaminants out of your marriage and move you both in a positive direction. Follow these guidelines for fighting fair: Start the argument with a positive, respectful approach rather than with loud words, harsh statements, or judgmental accusations. Don't deny problems. Choose your battles, letting minor issues go. Schedule important discussions for the right times and places.
Avoid trying to do deal with issues during times of great stress or grief, and create an environment where you can be calm and not disturbed. Listen well. Don't use sex as a weapon in your arguments with your spouse. Never threaten divorce. Control your anger. Call a time out if either you or your spouse is becoming too angry, but be sure to come back later to discuss the issue again.
"A crisis means we're over." Every marriage experiences problems. Whenever you and your spouse encounter a crisis, it doesn't mean that your marriage is over. In fact, a crisis can actually strengthen your marriage if you trust God through it and learn from it. Pray for the help you need during a crisis. Commit to doing whatever it takes to work through the problem at hand.
Establish mutually agreed upon rules of interaction, such as no shouting or blaming. Cut off relationships with other people who have a negative influence on your marriage. Ask God to give you the discernment to know what to say and what not to say, when to speak, and how to say what you need to say.
"All pain in our marriage is bad." Pain is never pleasant to go through, but it can actually be a gift because it directs your attention to problems that need to be solved. When your spouse is in physical or emotional pain, never underestimate how much he or she may be struggling. Support your spouse without judging him or her; understand that your spouse won't be able to respond to you normally when in pain. Pray for your spouse. When you're in pain yourself, let your pain drive you to rely more closely on God and discover His grace.
"Marriage is just too hard." While marriage is definitely hard sometimes, it doesn't ever need to be too hard. Start making small, consistent investments in your marriage every day to make your marriage easier. You and your spouse can make deposits into each other's emotional bank accounts by doing or saying loving things for each other. Do what you can to cut down on the withdrawals you each make from each other's emotional bank accounts (ways you hurt each other).
Spend time doing simple activities together that you both enjoy, like walking or writing letters. Invest the time and energy necessary to keep romance alive in your marriage. Pray together and for each other often. Instead of relying on your own limited strength to maintain a close marriage, rely on God's unlimited power to guide and help you every day.
Adapted from The Marriage Turnaround: How Thinking Differently about Your Relationship Can Change Everything, copyright 2009 by Mitch Temple. Published by Moody Publishers, Chicago, Ill., www.moodypublishers.com.
Mitch Temple serves as the director over marriage programs at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He represents Focus at national events, seminars, media interviews, and radio programs. Mitch is a published author in various professional journals, and co-author of two marriage books. He served for 23 years as pulpit and counseling pastor, specializing in crisis, business, and marriage and family-related issues. He and his wife of more than 25 years have three children and live in Colorado.