What do you look for in marriage? Are you looking to live your life with your soul mate?
“An enduring marriage requires possibility thinking, elasticity, and resilience. It needs continual attention and adaptation. It requires a shift in interest as our partner’s interests shift. Marriage, to remain good, involves a lifelong project of adjusting and readjusting our attitudes. For this is the only path to finding positive options to our most perplexing circumstances.” (Drs Les and Leslie Parrott)
One “shift” we often need to make in marriage is to adjust the way we see our spouse. This is especially important during tough times. As Drs Les and Leslie Parrott point out in their book, When Bad Things Happen to Good Marriages (no longer being printed), “we often find what we look for” —especially when it concerns how we look at our marital partner. On this issue they write:
What We Look For Example
Once a year we teach a course on marriage to undergraduates at our university. Soon into the semester we give them a simple exercise to demonstrate a simple fact about attitudes. “Look around the classroom and show the person sitting next to you everything you can find that’s the color green in this room.”
Everyone immediately starts talking. “Okay,” we interrupt. “How many of you came into this room looking for green things before this exercise?” No hands go up. “What we have done, in only a few seconds, is given you a ‘green mind-set.'” We go on to tell them that all of us see whatever it is we prepare our minds to see.
Our perception, how we view a situation, is the result of our attitude. Once we have a particular mind-set, we see everything and everybody in a certain way —either more positively or more negatively —even if our perception isn’t accurate. That’s why in marriage and in life, we so often find what we’re looking for.
If you think your spouse is lazy, you can find plenty of evidence to support your case. If you think your spouse is efficient, you can find experiences to back that up, too. Whatever you have it in your mind to find, you will.
Not long ago I was convinced Leslie had taken a fifty-dollar bill from my wallet. I was certain because I took special care to place it at the back of my other bills earlier in the week when I went to the bank. And now it wasn’t there. “I didn’t touch your wallet,” she protested.
But during the entire afternoon everything she did seemed suspicious —the tone of her voice, her gestures. I was convinced she had taken the money and probably forgot. But that changed in an instant when I suddenly recalled using the bill two days earlier when paying for groceries. A mind-set is a powerful thing.
Some people find a problem in every solution. “Yes, but…” is their common refrain, especially in marriage therapy. “Have you tried reflecting your partner’s feelings before you try to make your point in a conversation?” we might ask. “Yes, but that doesn’t work because he doesn’t listen to me,” the client responds.
“Have you considered trying to understand him before getting him to understand you?” we say in another attempt. “Yes, but he doesn’t talk to me.”
Looking for a Solution
One of the reasons some people can’t find a solution to their problems is that they aren’t looking for one. They’ve developed a mind-set, in fact, that filters solutions out.
Husbands and wives around the world are divided into two camps when it comes to their attitudes: those who have a positive mind-set and those who have a negative mind-set. By force of habit, each of us is either basically positive or basically negative.
The negative person defends his attitudes with the rationale of being realistic, while the positive person looks beyond the current state of affairs and sees people and situations in terms of possibilities. The choice is theirs, or should we say yours.
If you want to do what you can to have a positive attitude, you’ll need to learn how to change a negative mind-set. You’ll need to open your eyes to things you probably haven’t been looking for.
From there, the Parrotts explain:
How to Change a Bad Attitude:
We offer the following four steps, which have proven effective for many couples who want to turn a bad attitude good.
Step 1: Look for the Positive.
This simple step can be revolutionary for some couples. It involves trying on a new mind-set, one that looks for good things about your partner and positive solutions for your predicaments. Each of us sees whatever we have prepared our mind to see. This step, then, becomes vital to changing a bad attitude.
If you have a negative attitude you can’t seem to shake, you’ve created a convincing mind-set. Maybe you see your spouse as sloppy, selfish, or insensitive. Whatever the negative trait, the idea is to look beyond it. See if you’re wearing blinders that prevent you from seeing his or her more positive qualities that balance out the negative ones. See if your mind-set is making one bad quality worse than it really is.
Step 2: Refuse to Be a Victim.
Perhaps you’re feeling sorry for yourself because you don’t have the financial resources your friends do. Or maybe you didn’t grow up in a home that provided good role models for marriage. Maybe you or your partner has been laid off. Or maybe you have a physical illness where you feel the right to feel sorry for yourself. Whatever your situation, no matter how tough, you will gain nothing by being a victim.
Self-pity is the luxury no marriage can afford. It’s guaranteed to drain all the energy from you and your relationship. Any amount of self-pity is more than enough. Don’t allow self-pity to sabotage your attitude. Choose to step out of the victim role and determine your destiny.
Step 3: Give Up Grudges.
Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, is a terrific example of someone who put this third step into practice. She was never known to hold a grudge against anyone.
One time a friend reminded her of a cruel accusation that someone had made up against her years earlier, but Clara seemed not to remember the incident. “Don’t you remember the wrong that was done to you?” the friend asked. “No,” Clara answered calmly. “I distinctly remember forgetting that.”
Nothing keeps good attitudes from emerging more than carrying a grudge. Bitterness and resentment are the poisons of positive thinking. So in your desire to build a better attitude, it’s important to follow Clara Barton’s example and give up your grudges, no matter how well justified they seem. Whatever the cause, bitterness clogs the veins of a positive attitude, and it must be expelled in order to give life to good thoughts.
Step 4: Give Yourself and Your Marriage Some Grace.
Some negative attitudes are so habit-forming they become like big ruts that we can easily find ourselves in, 20 years down the road. It takes serious effort to change these negative thinking patterns, so give yourself and your partner grace along the way.
If your attitude change isn’t as quick or as consistent as you’d like, go easy on your spouse and yourself. Remember that each new day presents another opportunity to start fresh. And each day that you make this effort to improve your attitude brings you closer to the marriage you desire.
We hope you’ll pray, reread each point, and ask for truth to be revealed. Make up your minds to “adjust and readjust’” —to open your mind to “possibility thinking, elasticity, and resilience” so your marriage can be the best it can be as the Lord teaches you how to love your spouse as He does.
Steve and Cindy Wright
Two additional articles that explain a bit more on this topic, which we recommend you read. The first is written by Sheila Wray Gregoire, and the second is written by Paul Byerly:
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