I'm so glad you are tuning in to this new series on eight fundamental habits in great marriages (which tend not to be present in bad ones). I think we can safely say that if you do the things that great marriages do and eventually you will have a great marriage. Last week, we learned that the second habit for great marriages is to schedule a regular weekly meeting to talk business and organize the family. If you missed it, click HERE. This week, we continue with habit #3 for great marriages.
The third habit is to express every positive thought, feeling, action immediately.
How many times do you think to yourself, "She is really beautiful," or "I love that he helps me with _____________"? But do you actually say it? One thing I have found is that great marriages are always positive. ALWAYS! In fact, I would bet that there has never been a great marriage where the partners were negative, sarcastic, and angry at each other. Yes, difficult and even tragic things will eventually crash into your marriage, and you and your spouse will need to fight to find a way to be positive about each other and your relationship. One way to build up a positive emotional reserve is to practice voicing every positive, encouraging, or loving thought about your spouse-every time! Let them know by sending a note, telling them, sending a text, making a call, leaving a voice message, sending an email, making a social media post, giving a gift, taking a picture or something like that. Yes, I said every time.
Do not let moments of joy, love, or delight just slide by. Instead, let the other person know how you fell. These little positive elements are incredibly powerful in building a welcoming and positive environment for your relationship to dwell in. Do this at least once a day and don't let a day go by that you do not add to the positivity of your relationship. This is so simple that people miss it, especially during the good times. You will have dozens of joyful and positive thoughts about your spouse, so don't just think or feel them and say nothing. Let the other person know that you are really delighted with them at that moment.
The classic example of this for me was one couple who almost got divorced because the husband never told his wife all the wonderful thoughts and feelings he was experiencing about his wife. His wife was being starved for affection and was ready to leave. I convinced him that he needed to tell her all the joyful and loving things that he was feeling for her. He would regale everyone else about how wonderful she was, but he would never tell her. When he started telling her, it was a complete game changer for their marriage.
I also remember working with one marriage where the wife was constantly disappointed in her husband because she was always focused on what he was not doing. He should do this or he should have done that or he should know that this needs to be done, etc. I eventually asked her if these were things that she would know to do if she were in his position. She said, "Of course!" So, cautiously, I said, "You are really criticizing your husband for not being you. You realize, of course, that he is a different person than you, and God gave him different gifts, temperaments, and experiences than you." This was a light-bulb moment for her. Her husband was a wonderful man and a wonderful husband and a great father in so many ways, but she had stopped seeing those things and was just laser focused on what he was not doing that she would know to do. When she started to force her gaze to be on the good things that he was doing, she began to see more and more good things. He blossomed even more under her praise and appreciation. It turned their marriage around from being headed to divorce court to a delightful match of two different people.
One of the realization that you must come to is that a marriage is a separate thing from the man and woman in the marriage. This separate thing must be built through the words you say, the actions you do, the attitudes you emote, and the thoughts you think. The more positive you are about your relationship, the more positive the relationship will be. You are literally creating a positive environment for you and your spouse to dwell in by the positive, helpful, and encouraging things you say and do. There will always be negatives that want to dominate your attention and spoil the way you think about your spouse -- don't let them. Be positive about the good things in your spouse's life. Be positive about the good of the relationship. The more positive words, actions, and attitudes that go between you and your spouse, the better the environment the relationship will be in. Think of this like a huge air conditioner. When the air conditioner kicks on during a hot day, it seems like this little delightful breeze of cool air will not do much good in the whole house. But over time, the continual flow of cool air from the air conditioner causes the whole room temperature to change.
Yes, there are many things that your spouse is not doing or things that they are negatively doing that damage the relationship. If you are not careful, your attention will be riveted on just the negative and you will think, "I can't be positive until this thing changes." Do not let your focus be on those things. Focus on what they do well, on what they bring to the relationship. You can work a different process to focus on why they are a good person. Don't say to yourself, "They already know that I think this is great." Actually say it. Most people in our world are starved for affection and encouragement. You should be the greatest source of positives.
Be specific about what you tell them:
I like how hard you work.
I like how great that meal was.
I was just delighted watching you work with the kids.
I was so overwhelmed with joy watching you taking out the trash.
I really like the way you look right now.
I appreciate that you would let me purchase this thing I want.
I was just thinking back on the time we did... and it I was filled with joy!
You are incredible with the finances.
You are amazing that you can figure out kids' school schedules.
Have I told you recently that I think you are terrific for my soul?
I look at you and see a great provider, thanks.
I look at you and appreciate that you speak so kindly to me when I know you may want to yell. Thanks!
Thank you for going to work every day.
I love the fact that you are so conscious at work.
Look at who you are becoming... this competent, wonderful ________________.
The journey we are on has been wonderful, thank you.
Don't keep it to yourself. You don't have to worry about praising people too much as long as your praise, appreciation, and compliments are tied to a specific action or quality they are exhibiting. Don't we all want to be a part of a relationship where 98% of the time we get warmth, acceptance, and love? Don't we all move away from people and relationships that are constantly negative? Make your marriage something that you and your partner want to move toward. Be constantly positive.
This will be strange for you to get started but do it anyway. Your spouse will wonder what has come over you and what you want for your positive statements and actions! "Nothing," is the answer. You just want to let your spouse know all the positive things you are thinking about them. You want to let them know that you delight in them.
Give it a try then let me know what your spouse does in response! Just remember, if you are the one reading this, you go first. You can reach me at email@example.com.
Join me next week for the fourth habit of great marriages.
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Marital Intelligence, subtitled “A foolproof guide for saving and supercharging marriage,” is based on thousands of hours of marital counseling and observation by the author. Stieglitz is a counselor, speaker, mentor, professor, and leadership consultant based in Roseville, Calif. He is currently a professor at Western Seminary, a district superintendent for the Evangelical Free Church of America, and a church consultant for Thriving Churches International. He also directs his own ministry, Principles to Live By. Stieglitz says there are only five problems in marriage: (1) Ignoring needs; (2) Immature behaviors, (3) Clashing temperaments, (4) Competing relationships, and (5) Past baggage. With each issue, he carefully and consistently lays out biblical teaching on the subject, and then includes helpful anecdotes, solutions, and self-tests to help the reader.