Strengthening the Positive in Your Marriage
- Tuesday, June 21, 2011
"How do you know you still love him?" I asked.
"I just know that I do," she said. "I don't really want to lose him. He's brought me such joy during our marriage."
"It does sound to me like you love him. Maybe part of the issue is what you focus on."
"What do you mean?"
"What we focus on tends to become magnified," I said. "It's like a dog with a bone. First, the dog has the bone. After a while, the bone has the dog. The dog thinks he's so smart when he gets the bone. But after a while, he's still holding onto the bone and there's no meat left on the thing."
She laughed, nodding in recognition.
"We can be like that when it comes to marriage," I continued. "We cling to old feelings instead of allowing new ones to enter the picture. We need to allow ourselves time and space to grieve, to be sure, but we must also allow positive feelings to return."
"Are you saying that when I constantly think and talk about my anger toward him, that anger becomes bigger?"
"Not only that, but you lose the opportunity to feel other emotions, like joy, love, kindness, and gratefulness."
Sarah and Steven have a chance to save their marriage, but they have a lot of work to do. They'll have to decide if they want to weather this storm or start over on their own. Time will tell, but for today it looks like they have an opportunity to start rebuilding their relationship.
The Bad-Day Blues
Have you ever had a bad day and then allowed it to overwhelm you? Many times our situation is not as terrible as it feels at the moment.
Many of us allow our emotions to take over and cloud our judgment. As a result, the problems escalate to the point where they seem insurmountable. Psychologists call this catastrophizing—taking a normal, troubling situation and blowing it out of proportion to the point where it is much worse.
Judith Viorst, author of the delightful book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, caused us all to laugh and think when she introduced us to Alexander, a kid with one problem on top of another. Alexander had a negative cloud hanging over his head, and nothing ever seemed to go his way.
Alexander is like us in many ways. From the moment he awakens, he's met with trouble. Nothing goes right, and he develops a sour attitude, expecting more problems to befall him. He wakes up with gum in his hair, and unlike his brothers he has no prize in his morning cereal. Hoping for better luck, he wants to move to Australia—the land down under—where things might be upside down and bad luck will turn to good luck.
As we read of Alexander's misfortunes, we can't help but smile. Is it because we've all been there? We've all had days and weeks when things didn't go our way. We've had times, perhaps even seasons, when we've sulked and counted our problems instead of our blessings. We recognize Alexander's myopia—his tendency to focus on his problems while ignoring things that might actually be going his way.
How is Alexander's story applicable to a marriage in crisis? During marriage crises, everyone else's life can appear better, smoother, happier, and kinder than our own. We may even believe our mate is having an easier go of it. We sulk, cry, and become agitated, all the while forgetting to notice the good things that may be happening. We see only the bad—and the bad becomes intensified. Before we know it, an entrenched bad mood gains momentum as we rehearse what's not going our way.
Can we let go of our negative thinking? Of course, but doing so takes practice. Instead of rehearsing all the things that aren't going our way, obsessing on the aspects of our marriage that trouble us, how about trying the following?
Identify things about your mate that you still appreciate.
Refuse to spend hours arguing and bickering.
Agree to share with your mate the traits you still appreciate about each other.
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