What if the fairytale story of Cinderella and Prince Charming would have been true? Do you think that after they married they would have “lived happily ever after?” It’s a nice thought. But in reframing this “love story” the answer probably would be “NO.” The “happily” wouldn’t be forever if they didn’t continue to nurture and grow their love. Just because we marry, it doesn’t mean our future together will be a good one.
In the fascinating book, When Prince Charming Falls Off His Horse: Keeping the Happily Ever After in Your Marriage Jerry and Judy Schreur about wrote this issue. It’s a fascinating book because it points out many of the problems that Cinderella and Prince Charming could have encountered in their future. We never really think about this when we read this story.
But that’s also true of us when we marry. We think the “happily” of our love story will just keep growing. However, that is fairy tale thinking. Love doesn’t just “naturally” grow without tending to it. We have to be intentional to bridge and marry our differences together so they don’t separate us.
Many of these differences were hidden before we married each other. And as they emerge we often view our spouse much differently than we did before! This can lead to negative feelings —even contempt. We touched on this point in the previous Marriage Insight titled, The Acid of Contempt Can Kill Marriages. It can and too often it does!
We also gave one of the “antidotes” that we’ll explore further in this Marriage Insight. We believe it can help us empty out this acid. It is termed: Reframing.
What is Reframing?
“Reframing is seeing the current situation from a different perspective, which can be tremendously helpful in solving problems, making decisions and learning. When people get stuck in a recurring issue… it is rarely because they are missing a certain step-by-step procedure to fix things. Instead, it is often because they are stuck in how they see situation.” (Carter McNamara)
Daniel Dashnaw expands this issue a bit further.
“When you change your point of view and come up with a new and different meaning to your partner’s behavior, you create a space for change to happen.”
What does reframing involve?
“It means ‘seeing’ one another, the relationship, and even ourselves with new eyes. And this is not easy after having been in a relationship for a long time. It might mean noticing some really great things that were missed. And it might also mean seeing some bad stuff one might rather avoid (in one’s self and in the other person). It also means growing in ways that are not very comfortable.” (Brandi Lust)
Here’s a portion of what Jerry and Judy Schreur wrote on this issue:
Reframing Our Choices
“Many of the choices we make in marriage are tough ones. We can choose commitment in the face of a desire to run away. We can choose understanding when it is we who crave to be understood. Also, we can be afraid that after we do all the right things, there will be no fun, and there will be nothing left but the hard work of staying married. But that isn’t necessarily the case. You can choose creativity.
“Creativity is a vital component of any growing marriage. In choosing creativity, we add some of the excitement that the years have worn away. We don’t try to re-infatuate ourselves. But rather we take what we have, look at it differently, add something new, and together make something different exciting.
“…Choosing creativity means choosing to change your view of your relationship. …When we decide to change our perspective, we need to begin to accentuate the positive. Many of us are in the habit of finding what is wrong with our marriage partners. We spend a lot of energy letting them know where they fall short. When we creatively rework our marriage, we start by looking for the good in our marriage. And we look for the good in our partner.
To better illustrate what creative reframing entails, below are a few testimonies where spouses used this method in conflict situations they had with their spouse. We’ll include a few examples of our own near the end.
Creative Reframing Examples
Lydia Sohn writes about a “rough season” she and her husband went through in their marriage. It was during this time that she prayed to God for wisdom. Should she leave her husband James? She asked God to tell her what to do. And then she wrote something that most of us can relate to… but with an “answer” she came to at the end. Lydia wrote:
“Usually, there was nothing but silence on the other end. But on rare occasions I would hear one word whispered to me over and over again. Whenever I quieted my mental chatter to journal, sit in silence, or go on a long walk, I heard it: gift.
“James was my gift? How in the world could that be? This person who didn’t tell me I looked pretty when I dolled up for a night out? This person who left dirty clothes all over the house and had three toothbrushes crammed into our toothbrush holder because he kept losing and finding them? How could this be a gift?”
Lydia tells of her struggle to look at her husband as a gift when she is angry with him. But then she writes the following benefit she has discovered in reframing the way she views her husband James:
“Obviously, this method may not work for everyone. People in genuinely abusive relationships. Or they have ones that inhibit the authentic expression of themselves and may not be able to magically change their situations through positive thought. But if your situation resembles dissatisfaction, it’s worth taking time to consider whether it’s an invitation for greater intimacy, fulfillment, and self-healing.
“As for James and me, our conflicts have by no means vanished. However, the nature of our arguments has altered tremendously. I used to see conflicts as red flags, and engage in them with one foot out the door. I now view them as opportunities. My whole self is present, committed, and willing to be changed by this marriage.” (From Lydia’s article, How One Word Transformed My Marriage)
Another Reframing Example
Jerry Schreur tells the true story of a friend who expands this point the following way. His friend puts it this way:
“‘I realized that I’d come to the place where I expected Sandy to annoy me. So I was looking for those things. It was as if I didn’t expect to like her anymore. And besides, it was easier to blame her for the lack of feelings I had toward her. So I continued to look at her with a mixture of contempt and disgust.
‘One day she stopped fighting back. Then she told me, ‘I can’t ever please you. So why should I even try?’ I thought about that for a while, and I started to notice little things she did well—like how good she was with the kids. There’s also how kind she was to me when I was overworked. And I noticed how she didn’t complain about my parents. I began to spend more time thinking about those qualities, and before I knew it, I liked her again.
“‘Together with the help of a counselor we began to look for the good things in our marriage. The poison that had seeped into our lives has almost disappeared.'”
And then Jerry writes:
“Changing our perspective also involves something that’s key to creatively re-making our marriages. We need to reframe our negative situations or negative character qualities. Reframing means placing a new frame around the same picture. The frame changes the setting for the picture and gives it a different look. It doesn’t change the picture itself. It changes the way we look at the picture. And it changes our interpretation and our perception of the picture.”
On this same issue, Judy Schreur writes:
“Reframing is a key element in reworking in our marriage. You may have a hard time believing it, but Jerry isn’t perfect. Some of his negative qualities really bother me. Instead of concentrating on the negative, I try reframing it. I look at it from a different perspective. One example is that Jerry loves to spend money. Tomorrow is a long time away for Jerry. But I think about it often and want to save for the future. We could, and have, in fact, argued long and hard about our differences in this area. But many years ago I began to see Jerry’s spending habits differently.
First I noticed that he gave a lot of money away. So he wasn’t irresponsible. In fact, he was rather generous. I also noticed how he liked to help people in small ways by taking them for dinner with us, buying a part for their car, and little things like that. So instead of seeing him as irresponsible, I began to admire his generosity to others. It literally changed the way I viewed him.
To this, Jerry adds:
“Judy and I could share story after story of how reframing has helped us. Reframing doesn’t mean we gloss over areas that need work. It means that we try to look at behaviors and situations in a new light. We try seeing the positive in them and then change our perspective. When we choose creativity, we choose to build our own model. It doesn’t have to conform to our friends’, or families’ ideas of what a marriage ought to be. It’s your model and yours alone.
“Too many times we long for a marriage that never was—a golden time when we were blissfully happy and the real world never intruded on our marriage. The truth is that time probably never existed. Time has obscured the images of the past. And when you compare your life now with your life then, now seems wanting. But my guess is that it never was perfect. And yearning for a return to those days doesn’t help the both of you build a better relationship in the here and now.
“We want our marriages to be fresh and exciting. When you shift your paradigm, when you throw out the old model of what a marriage was supposed to be, and create something new—you CAN find new excitement and satisfaction.
“Dream with your spouse about what your marriage would be like if you could build it from scratch. Talk about how it really could be if everything you liked about it now was even better. Try to visualize the picture in your mind. Share that dream, and then work toward it together.”
Our Own Reframing Examples
There are so many examples we both could give on ways that we have reframed negative situations as they arose. But here are a few of them. (We will actually expand upon these examples in the Podcast of this Marriage Insight.)
Cindy: Using HUMOR has been a great reframing tool for me. Oftentimes I will start to react negatively to a marital situation. But then the idea comes to me to use humor to make my point instead. (I’m not talking about demeaning humor. I’m talking about making light of the situation.) It catches Steve off guard. He expects me to get mad about it. But when I use humor instead his defenses go down. We are then able to approach the situation in a healthier way. (I’ll give examples in our podcast.) I/we can’t always use this reframing tool. But when we do, it works great.
Another tool I use is TRUST. I used to think Steve did a lot of aggravating things just to get at me. My view of many of his actions was skewed by my own interpretations. Steve would swear to me that he didn’t do those things to irritate me. But I was sure he was more sinister than that. Eventually, God impressed upon me to listen to his explanations. Don’t judge; listen and trust his motives. (I’ll explain more in the podcast. But this type of reframing has helped our relationship greatly!)
One of the reframing tools that has helped me/us, is my getting rid of my NEGATIVE SELF TALK. This was important in our marriage because I convinced myself that I was a poor communicator. I could talk fine on the radio. (I talked on Christian radio for a living.) But I wasn’t confident of engaging in long conversations with my wife. I was afraid to engage in any deep conversations for fear I would look stupid.
And yes, I agree that this doesn’t make any sense. But it was real to me. However, if I was going to meet Cindy’s need (and mine) to grow our marriage I needed to stop feeding my negative self-talk. When I did the results were phenomenal. I love talking with my wife now. We have a great talking relationship! (I’ll explain more in the podcast of this Marriage Insight.)
Reframing Requires we Make Bold Choices
As we look at this whole issue, it’s important to note that reframing our thoughts and actions in times of conflict will require that we make bold choices. We are prone to sin. We are prone to think and do things that we shouldn’t. So, instead of allowing ourselves to fall into times of “stinking thinking” or poor behavior, we will instead make the bold choice to approach the same situation in healthier ways.
Hopefully, your spouse will want to participate with you in this mission. But even if he or she won’t, it’s the right thing for you to do. You don’t have to go down a stupid route, just because your spouse does. Refrain from going down a negative route. And then reframe as you believe God would have you.
In closing, we want to give you one example (of many) where God calls us to do some reframing work within our minds. If you think this isn’t a biblical concept, think again. In God’s Word we are told:
“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me —practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9 ESV)
May God bless you as we participate together in this mission of loving our spouse as God does.
Cindy and Steve Wright
— ADDITIONALLY —
To help you further, we give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. It gives you the opportunity to help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below:
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