Thanksgiving: Be the Change in Your Marriage

My thoughts manipulate my attitudes and my attitudes color my thoughts.  How I think determines how I feel and how I act in any situation at any time of day.  What attitude I choose to wear works in tandem with the direction my mind will allow me to go.  If I could just keep those two pieces of my Mood Chooser under control everything else would fall into place.

I think back to last year at this time when I made a list for my husband detailing what I love about him.  I worked on it while he sat in the same room, and every so often he would ask what I was doing.  I explained that I wanted to make a list for him, no secrets, but to please let me finish.  Easily agitated and anxiety-driven, this drove up his Stress-O-Meter and rang the bell at the top.  He began to ask more frequently about my project, and I reassured him that the list contained good things.  No complaints, no "to-do" items (I am not a "Honey Do" list girl!).  He would like it.  He would love it, in fact.  Still, he felt uncomfortable so much so that I could feel it.

My husband's nerves went into overdrive that night because of past experience.  He wasn't used to hearing about his good side.  In fact, after many years of matrimony, child-rearing, bill-paying, the daily grind, huge and relentless work stress and myriad personal and marital strife, less than loving thoughts and attitudes stood between him and me.  Sound familiar?

All of our married life, we had a table full of blessings in front of us, but we focused the spots on the tablecloth and the dish that didn't turn out quite right. We owned years of shared history, inside jokes, terrific times together, two children, and lots of memories to put in the scrapbook, but the pictures we drew in our heads looked dim.  Our sketches of each other showed ill-tempered, complaining and unhappy faces with speech balloons that did not contain very many uplifting words.

Hurting spouses (all hurting people, for that matter) often overlook the good.  They can experience it, but it does not remain with them.  Why?  They wait for the bad to resurface, the negative reactions to display, the harsh words to rise in the air, and the disdainful glances to come across the room at them.  When one spouse starts hurting for any reason, the other spouse often follows suit.  And sometimes, no matter how much one spouse tries to win over the other's hurts, the damage is done.  Thoughts and attitudes have cemented in place, stubborn things!  The taking has outweighed the giving.

Each of us looks for the other to respond to our obvious need for attention.  For positive attention.  We act like spoiled children at these times because we have stopped talking about how we feel due to other life matters overtaking our time and stripping us of our patience.  We don't remember to reserve quantities of quality time for the person we joined with at the altar years ago with the purpose of sharing the best of ourselves.

The best of ourselves goes to everyone and everything else.  At best, we share our leftovers, and those don't sit well in the heart.

Last year, I listed it all.  Everything I could think of about my husband that thrilled me, that made me smile to myself, that made me adore him, that made him my hero, and that made him mine.  I jotted down what made my heart beat fast, what made me catch my breath, and what it felt like to hear his voice on the other end of the phone.

I'd like to say it took little thought to come up with a nice, long list.  In reality it took quite a while ... because I was out of practice.  Several months before that, I couldn't have thought of more than 3 or 4 good things.  I thank God for the nudges that encouraged me to start focusing on the good in the man I love so dearly.

Every single one of us needs to practice positive thoughts and attitudes toward our mates.  When couples first meet and enjoy that 2-ish-year period of infatuation -- blind love ... remember? ... they thrive on words of affirmation from new love.  They make sure to say the right things.  The best things.  They take special care in how they look, they dress nicely, they speak lovingly, and each of them build up the other to such a high level it feels dizzying and almost  unreal ... because it isn't real.  The compliments and focus paid to each other in new love doesn't take into account any of the idiosyncrasies or bad habits the other person displays.  People often masquerade during courtship anyway, hiding as many flaws as they can and acting agreeably more often than they would with anyone else.  Then, real life begins to ease its way in to the romantic, too-perfect cocoon and the fall from that lofty place begins.  Some falls happen quickly, others take years to come to a stop.   This, in part, is why people divorce.  They don't know how to climb back to the top after they have stopped polishing the climbing skills that got them there in the first place. Every one of us can review, relearn and reinvigorate our marriages with new thoughts and attitudes.  Positive spousal response depends on individual circumstances, but knock on God's door and ask for some help:  softening of hearts, molding of thoughts, repositioning of attitudes.  It's worth every minute.

Our thoughts can only control the relationship blueprint as far as we will let them.  We can change the view by redirecting our minds to the better ideas, the nicer comments, the considerate actions and the loving mindset.

On the same line, we haven't colored our attitudes with indelible markers.  We have the ability to shade them differently or change them completely.  They will change when we make them change.

Both of these efforts take work, time, and diligence.  Once thought starts a make-over, attitude can't stand to feel left out of the transformation and settles down, too.  Put attitude under the bright lights and notice how quickly thought follows it.  Try it and feel the difference.  

With Thanksgiving approaching, I remember that not too long ago, I found my thoughts and my attitudes in a tangle.  I can't remember many of the complaints or negative thoughts I held.  I can't remember what kind of attitude I let stomp around without holding the reins on it.  I remember only the face of my husband during those awkward and stiff times of togetherness, as if he was just getting through it and hoping for better.  I know my face showed the same thing.

This year, I give thanks for many things, but mainly, for the view of marriage I have now.  I give thanks for the beauty of a relationship carved out of impossible circumstances and salvaged from the damage we inflicted on it in tirades and whims of selfishness and short-sightedness.  I give thanks for the ability to feel what other people feel and to talk with them and give them hope.

In case you wonder what kind of good I mean, I share with you a selection from my list:

  • I love you for the perseverance you show in all areas of your life.
  • I love you for the way you speak in “logic”, even though I want to laugh when you say it.
  • I love you for your gentle touch though you have such large and powerful hands.
  • I love you for the way your voice softens and your blue eyes grow darker when you lovingly explain something to a child.  Or to me.
  • I love you for the way you felt that you were at the end of your rope, but you didn’t fall off and didn’t run away.
  • I love you for putting up the hood on your sweatshirt when you’re cold.
  • I love you for trying to understand no matter how unclear you think I am.

I love you for brushing hair out of my eyes.   I love you for your ability to speak your mind, when I can only write mine.  I love you for being the opposite that attracted me.  I love you for using too much tape when you wrap packages.  I love you for the words you choose when it matters most.  I love you for wanting to draw pictures to explain things.  I love you for your singing voice.  I love you for sharing your life with me.

Every good word you can share makes a difference.  Don't wait for your husband (or wife) to make the first move or even the next one.  Don't be shy or second-guess your effectiveness.  Be as stubborn in making positive changes as you were in holding the grudges and in feeling hurt.

Be the change in your marriage.

Please do it now.

About the Author: My name is Amy and I write about what I've learned about faith, family and flaws, and because of them.  I find how God has blessed me through the rain, and held me up through the storms, and I have a deep desire to share those experiences for the benefit of others.  Our experiences come so that we might reach out to others on the path. You can find me on the web at http://www.out-ona-limb.blogspot.com