In Part 1 of this series on navigating a difficult marriage, I talked about two things. The first thing is that marriage is about building up and nurturing the "us". This requires all the attentiveness and care you would have given to yourself when you were single. The second thing is that enjoying the positive qualities and attributes of your spouse is the key to having a successful relationship with them. Close your eyes to the faults, because finding faults is not your job. Instead, daily appreciate your spouse for all that he or she is. Such an attitude will truly cause your marriage to flourish.
Understanding Your Job Description
Did you know that your marriage came with a job description? It's inherent in every marriage, and actually it's quite simple. Love and support your spouse in a way that causes you both to grow together. That's it! Everything that you do in your marriage only needs to fulfill this job description. Should you stand firm on a certain issue, or let it slide? Whatever helps you best to love and support your spouse, in a way that results in growth for you both. Love and support are the two main things we as a couple supply for one another. The way that we give love and support should be in such a manner that fosters growth.
Try to avoid methods that hinder growth, such as conflict avoidance or non-communicative silence. In my marriage, I love conflict avoidance, but my husband thrives on "hashing it out". Eventually, I found that avoiding the fight every time was taking the easy way out, and neither of us could go on as a result. The issue would continue to fester until everything exploded out into the open. After that, things could finally get resolved, even though it was incredibly messy. Non-communicative silence is unhelpful in a similar way, leaving the problem unaddressed and the both of you stunted as a result. Sometimes though, silence in a more patient, watch-and-wait attitude can be useful – as long as your spouse interprets your silence correctly, or vice versa. We are cultivating something capital and crucial: the "us"! Love and support in an atmosphere of growth are the essential ingredients this living entity needs.
What's absolutely important to remember about this job description is that it does not include many things. It leaves out many things… because they are not part of your job description at all. Things that are not included in the job description are as follows:
- trying to change your spouse
- trying to better your spouse
- pointing out when your spouse makes mistakes (because they really need someone to help them with that… no. No, they don't. Least of all you.)
- making sure your spouse behaves well (that's more like the job description of their parents)
- teaching them things (unless you are actually also their teacher, in addition to being married to them)
- controlling your spouse
From time to time, you may feel really tempted to include some of these items in your job duties. You may even believe that you are the only person who can accurately point out your spouse's mistakes, or who can best make sure that they behave well. You may think, "No one else is going to tell you the honest truth, honey, 'cause no one can see it as well as I do!" However, reality and time-tested failures have shown us that treating your spouse like this causes your relationship to wither and die, not flourish. If you haven't already, just try correcting or controlling your spouse for an extended period of time, and tell me how it goes. For many of us, the verdict is already in. Adding any of these items to your marriage is completely unnecessary. If you provide enough love and support for your husband or wife in a manner conducive to growth, every other issue will take care of itself. Growth in time gives healing and maturity to every person.
But wait, you might argue. My wife does some of these things to me. That's unfair! Why shouldn't I retaliate with the same behavior that she exhibits toward me? My friend, I know that what I'm asking of you is extremely difficult, seemingly impossible. But…abstain. Don't retaliate. If you have to, count to 10. Pray, or meditate. Punch a punching bag. Crack a funny joke. But someone has to break the cycle. It takes two to perpetuate the cycle. But it only takes one to break it. You can break the cycle. You can.
The "us" is counting on you to give it your all. So, go out there and rock the socks off your job!
The Power of Your Opinions
You possess a tool that wields great power. Not only in your married life, but in every human relationship that you have. What tool is that? Your opinions about others.
Let's take, as an example, a teacher teaching children. Suppose you are trying to teach a child a certain topic, let's say you're trying to teach him how to multiply numbers. You present it this way and that way. The child fails to grasp the concept. You spend Monday to Friday teaching him what it means to multiply numbers, but at the end of the week he still doesn't get it. What do you do the following week? You might feel worn out or a little frustrated. You might start to think, maybe there's something inherently problematic with this child that's keeping him from understanding multiplication. "He's just bad at math!" his parents might say. Come next Monday, as you approach him again with the same topic, how do you think the odds are stacked, for him or against him? Not only does he need to struggle with his confusion about the topic and his own frustrations at his inability, he also needs to struggle with your doubts too (as well as those of his parents). You now hold the opinion that he is inept at math, based on past experience. A legitimate opinion! But it's an opinion that will absolutely help to hold him back, to keep him from succeeding.
Now, enter in my old high school math teacher, Mr. Teachman (yep, that's his real name). He had a motto he lived and taught by: "No such thing as a bad math student." He affirmed that, since none of his students were inherently bad at mathematics, he only needed to do two things. Tap into his student's yet unfound ability to learn the math concept, or find that one certain pathway of teaching it to that particular student. Accomplishing either of those was only a matter of time. Sooner or later, the student would succeed. Failing yesterday is not an indicator of what today will bring. Mr. Teachman held the opinion that all his students would succeed, and because of this, all of them did. He still holds the reputation of being one of the best teachers my high school ever had, period. Other teachers would come and observe him while he taught us math. For us students, Mr. Teachman was such a great teacher because he so easily and simply believed in us. It brought out all sorts of potential we didn't know we had.
Your beliefs and your opinions about your spouse can shape what kind of spouse he or she becomes. Remember, you're both growing together – no person is static. Do you think that your husband is just not smart enough to get a good job, or your wife is too lazy to get things done satisfactorily around the house? Your thoughts unchanged will come true, but it won't be because of your spouse. It will be because you refused to change your opinions. If you don't budge from the way you think, will any job your husband gets ever be "good enough"? Will the level of cleanliness in the house ever reach "satisfactory"? No. Your spouse will have failed before they ever started. Friend, it's the same with other beliefs you have. Do you believe your spouse always causes you trouble? Do you believe he or she is a difficult person to live with? Do you believe that he or she will never change?
Let's together throw these opinions into a pile, and light them on fire. They will never help our relationships grow. Forget about yesterday. Forget about last year. The past is gone, and it's not coming back, so let's put it behind us for good. Today, let's adopt a new way of thinking. Start by erasing the word "bad" from all descriptions of your spouse. Your spouse is not a "bad spouse". Let us not forget that! Rather, let's channel our inner Mr. Teachman here… My spouse has untapped potential. Finding it is only a matter of time. I believe that if I find the right method of approaching them, they will respond differently than they have before. This time, we will understand each other. It takes effort and diligence, but with practice you can wield the power of your opinions for good. Your opinions can be used to build up your spouse. You can trigger positive changes in your marriage that blow you both away.
Navigating marriage is a long and arduous expedition… But it's also the adventure of a lifetime! This is a relationship that will, and should, continue to challenge you, keep you growing, and bring you to new places. Think about what you can gain from cultivating this "difficult" marriage: a time-tested relationship that is a stronghold for you both, and a beacon for others around you – your children, family, friends, community.
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