1. I am responsible for my own attitude.
Trouble is inevitable, but misery is optional. Attitude has to do with the way I choose to think about things. Two wives have husbands who have lost their jobs. Wendy said, "My husband hasn’t had a full-time job in three years. The good part is not being able to afford cable TV. We’ve done a lot more talking on Monday nights. We’ve learned a lot. Our philosophy is ‘Let’s see how many things we can do without that everybody else thinks they have to have.’ It’s amazing how many things you can do without."
On the other hand, Lou Ann said, "My husband hasn’t had a job for ten months. We are down to one car, no phone, and we’re getting food from the food bank. Life is miserable at our house." The difference in these two wives was basically a matter of attitude. We choose to think negatively and curse the darkness, or we choose to look for the silver lining behind the clouds.
2. Attitude affects actions.
The reason attitudes are so important is that they affect my behavior and words. I may not be able to control my environment: sickness, alcoholic spouse, teenager on drugs, aging parents, etc. but I am responsible for what I do within my environment. My attitude will greatly influence my behavior.
If I look for the positive in my marriage, then I’m more likely to talk positively; to give my spouse affirming words, and to do something that has the potential for enhancing life for both of us.
On the other hand, if I focus on the negative, I’m more likely to give my spouse critical, condemning words. My behavior will fall into one of two categories: I’ll do things to hurt my spouse, or I’ll withdraw and consider leaving my spouse. Yes, my attitude affects my actions.
3. I cannot change others, but I can influence others.
It’s true, you cannot change your spouse, but you can and do influence your spouse every day. If you are still trying to change your spouse, then you are probably a master manipulator. You reason, "If I do this, then my spouse will do that." "If I can make him miserable enough, or happy enough, then I’ll get what I want." I hate to discourage you, but you’re on a dead end road. Even if he changes, he will resent you for manipulating him.
A better approach is to be a positive influence on your spouse. You influence by your words and actions. If you look for something your spouse is doing that you like and give him verbal compliments, you are having a positive influence on him. If you do something for him that you know he will like, your actions influence him in a wholesome way. Your model begins to rub off on him. The reality of the power of positive influence holds tremendous potential for troubled marriages.
4. My actions need not be controlled by my emotions.
For the past thirty years in Western Society we have given undue emphasis to emotions. When applied to a troubled marriage, this philosophy advises, "If you don’t have love feelings, admit it and get out of the marriage." "If you feel hurt and angry, you would be hypocritical to say or do something kind to your spouse." This philosophy fails to reckon with the reality that man is more than his emotions.
We have feelings, yes, but we also have attitudes, values, and actions. If we jump from emotions to actions and ignore attitudes and values, we will destroy our marriages. Stop, think, look for the positive, affirm it, and then, do something that has positive potential. Actions that are guided by values and positive attitudes are more likely to be productive.
5. Admitting my own imperfections does not mean that I am a failure.
Most troubled marriages include a stone wall between husband and wife, built over the years. Each stone represents an event in the past where one of them has failed the other. These are things about which people talk when they sit in the counseling office. The husband complains, "She has always been critical of everything I do. I’ve never been able to please her." The wife complains, "He’s married to his job. He has no time for me or the children. I feel like a widow." This wall of hurt and disappointment stands as a barrier to marital unity. Demolishing this emotional wall is essential for rebuilding a troubled marriage. Admitting your part in building this wall, does not make you a failure. It means that you are human and are willing to admit your humanity. Confessing past failures is the first step toward a growing marriage.
Adapted from Loving Solutions: Overcoming Barriers in Your Marriage by Dr. Gary Chapman. To find out more about Dr. Chapman’s resources, visit www.fivelovelanguages.com