Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family?  Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.

There are 1,007 small things that bug me about my wife, Christie. There are at least twice as many small things about me that bug her. Thankfully, we both have succeeded, more or less, in keeping the small things in the Small Things Bucket that we keep tucked in the corner of our garage, out of sight!

As I listen to people complain about their mate, I often wonder, "Is this really that big of a deal? Is this really something you want to make an issue about?"

Most people don't stop to ask themselves these all-important questions. They meander through life allowing every annoying thing their mate does—and there are plenty of opportunities for annoyance—to get to them. As you can imagine, it doesn't take many collected annoyances to color how they feel about their mate.

Our complaints color how we view someone. Imagine how you might feel about your mate if you rehearsed these thoughts:  

  • "She's always late."
  • "He never keeps the checkbook balanced."
  • "She can't seem to cook my steak right."
  • "He lets the kids get away with murder."

Positive thinkers, and positive mates, don't slip into this kind of language. They live by the saying, "Let it go." If it really isn't that big of a deal, "let it go." If it is not something that needs to alarm you, "let it go."

This is often easier said than done. There seem to be some people who are thick-skinned. They allow little to ruin a perfectly good day. These people are too busy improving their own lives, to nit-pick on their spouse. Their life is, of course, much better for it. Marriage is much more enjoyable and relationships in general are more pleasant.

My wife, Christie, is one of those positive, optimistic people who rarely complains about others. She rarely complains about circumstances. If I complain about the rain, she'll see it as a reason to buy a beautiful umbrella. If I whine about the cost of a home repair, she'll note how thankful she is we have the money to make the repair. She is a specialist at keeping the small things, small things.

Recently I received this email from a woman complaining about her husband. Consider how her attitude might impact you, and what you would say to her.

Dear Dr. David. I'm writing because I'm not sure what to do. From the minute my husband walks in the house at night to the time he goes to bed, he does something that bugs me. I'm not sure why, but I don't like the way he chews his food, the volume he turns the television up to, even the way he dresses. He has so many habits that I simply don't like. I used to tell him what I thought, but my words seem to go in one ear and out the other. In fact, he tunes me out which also annoys me. Whenever I do say something, he often says something sarcastic back to me. My feelings for him are going down and I wonder what will become of us if this keeps happening. Please help.

First, recognize you are responsible for your attitude. Your "bad" attitude seems to be self-reinforcing. In other words, the more you notice what bothers you about your mate, the more you see. The more you see, the worse you feel.

There are a million things about all of us that are annoying—it's amazing any two people can live together in harmony. Thankfully, we have the power to choose how much we let those things get to us. We never need to be a continuous victim of another's behavior.

Second, critically review your list of complaints. Are your complaints really that big of deal, or do they seem bigger because you focus on them. It has been proven that what we focus on becomes larger. Thus, if we focus on the positive things about a person, we are attracted to them; if we focus on negative traits, we're often repulsed by them. The choice is ours.

Third, pray about your list. What issues really are issues, and which ones must be put into the Small Things Bucket to be kept out of sight, and hopefully out of mind? Ask God to convict you about this list—which issues are really worthy of further attention? Be mindful of the Scriptural counsel: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3)

Fourth, endeavor to keep the focus on yourself. Steer clear of others' problems, focusing on your self. Avoid picking on your mate. While I am in no way advocating ignoring significant issues, (addictions/ emotional abuse/ character issues) I encourage you to work on the person you can really impact—you!

Finally, after separating the small from big issues, and your issues from his, deal with the big ones constructively. Certain you have put things into perspective, discuss the larger issues with your mate in a respectful manner. It does little good to allow concerns to fester. Brooding builds barriers of resentment. With a heart of compassion, go to your mate with your concerns. Seek solutions for the big issues that work for both of you, letting the rest go. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts about keeping things in perspective. Please also feel free to contact me at the Marriage Recovery Center.

 

Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.

 
November 30, 2009