People say marriage is so complicated.
While I think we are all complicated people, I don’t think how we love is always as complicated; it’s just not always easy. I think the more accurate description is: marriage is so close. When we get married, everything about you and everything about them collide. Your differences and similarities are now in ultra-close proximity. We all bring baggage into marriage, figuratively and literally. You push buttons, they push buttons, and you are left wondering, what was all that about? Your differences are also having to dance on the regular. Perhaps you are extremely time-conscious, while time is more of a loose construct for your spouse. Or maybe your extroverted spouse drags you to parties, and your idea of a party is a party of one, two tops, or four on New Year’s Eve. Or maybe they like to talk about their feelings, all of them. While you would rather talk about your one feeling, never.
Or maybe the collision of the two of you has been a blast.
Regardless of whether the closeness of marriage has brought you closer together or pushed you farther apart, proximity, plus personality, plus baggage, equals the narrative you are telling yourself about your spouse. So, what are you telling yourself about your spouse? It’s crucial to know how we characterize our spouse because we operate as if it’s the truth. And that’s important because how you think about your spouse will determine how you treat your spouse.
Dr. Helen Fisher’s brain study of couples who reported being madly in love after an average of 21 years found one of the commonalities of happy couples’ brains was an area of the brain responsible for positive illusion. Positive illusion is the ability to focus on what you love about your spouse and not focus on what you don’t. And this positive illusion does so much for everybody involved.
Positive illusion has been associated with:
*Higher marital satisfaction
*Higher personal satisfaction
*Decreased risk of relationship ending
*Higher sense of security
*Regulated feelings regarding the relationship
Happy couples get this. And here is the great news: If you have characterized your spouse in a negative light, you can change your mind. We can start to think more positively towards our spouse with just a little intentionality. I have found the most effective way to focus your thoughts about your spouse is through the lens of Philippians 4:8. And this works if you follow Jesus or not. I call it the 4:8 filter.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (Philippians 4:8 NIV).
For all of you truth-tellers and realists, I want to point out the first word on the list to guide your thoughts: true. God, in no way, wants you to live a lie. If you have been or are being hurt, that needs to be dealt with. Truth is a great protector of people. If a spouse is being abusive, then the truth confirms that is never okay. So, take heart, this is not about seeing what is not there or ignoring something harmful. But the truth also helps us acknowledge what is good about our spouse and our situation. The 4:8 filter helps you know it.
Changing how you think about your spouse can change how you treat your spouse. That is why one of the five intentional thoughts I give in my book, “ Us In Mind: How Changing Your Thoughts Can Change Your Marriage”
Intentional Thought #2 “See the best.”
When you are frustrated with your spouse, repeat to yourself—see the best, and then consider what that means. And to help you do that, I want to encourage you to look at your spouse through the lens of Philippians 4:8. Because when you are remembering what is true, noble, and right about your spouse, petty things matter less. When your spouse keeps arriving 10 minutes late, forgetting something at the supermarket, telling the same story twice, getting frustrated, falling asleep in the movie, breaking a dish, rolling their eyes, burping, talking too loud, or talking too little, those things simply don’t matter as much. When you see the big picture of what you love about your spouse, it keeps the little annoying things from robbing the relationship. You let go of the dumb stuff that steals the joy from both of you, things that in the end, just…don’t…matter! Don’t let the things that don’t matter, matter to your marriage. See the best.
This post originally appeared on MarriedPeople.org and is reprinted with permission.