We decide to get married because we’re looking for something and we believe we’ve found it in our spouse. But a few years into the marriage, we’re still looking for something and we’re wondering why our spouse is withholding it. What happened?
There’s a general principle in life and marriage, and it’s this: we tend to find what we’re looking for. It was true when you were dating, and it’s still true now in your marriage. But what happens is we change what we’re looking for.
In the beginning, we were looking for the person of our dreams, so we tended to focus our attention on the things that met that expectation. Despite what we saw in the other person, we were able to make it fit our picture of what we were looking for.
But after a few years, we find that marriage isn’t going the way we expected. We begin to focus less on the person of our dreams and more on the person of our dilemma. We focus less on how our partner fulfills our dreams and more on how they frustrate our dreams. For example:
- Instead of focusing on their great sense of humor, we focus on how they never take anything seriously.
- Instead of focusing on how serious they can be, we focus on how they never have any fun.
- Instead of focusing on how they love a good party, we focus on how they never want to spend a quiet evening at home.
- Instead of focusing on how they love a quiet evening at home, we focus on how they never want to be around our friends.
Where once we were looking for what our spouse did for us, now we’re looking for the things they don’t do…and that’s exactly what we’re finding.
Finding what you’re looking for in marriage is a lot like hunting for mushrooms. That doesn’t mean that your spouse is some kind of fungus, nor does that mean you have to be tripping on mushrooms to get along in marriage. Here’s what it means:
When I was a young boy, growing up in rural Southern Illinois, I looked forward to hunting mushrooms. (Yeah, we were hurting for things to do.) Every spring you would find me and my family, empty bread sacks in hand, marching into the woods to find mushrooms.
Little did I know that this simple past time would teach me something about finding what I’m looking for in marriage. Here’s what I learned:
1. Look in Your Own Woods.
As a kid, there were certain woods known for having a lot of mushrooms. Those were the woods I wanted to be in. The problem was, those woods were restricted. They were private property and only certain people were allowed in. There were a few times when I would sneak into the restricted woods, but the experience was ruined by the fear of getting caught and the inability to openly say anything about it.
To find what your looking for in marriage, you need to look for it in your own marriage, not outside of your marriage. It’s easy to enviously look at other spouses or other marriages and think, “That’s what I want. If I only had that spouse.” But those woods are restricted. They’re posted with a “keep out” sign, and longingly gazing over the fence will keep you from enjoying what you have. Besides, you don’t know everything there is to know about those woods. I’ll guarantee there are disappointments there too.
2. Take Your Time.
I use to race into the woods, eager to find the first mushroom. If I didn’t see any, I would race to look else where. But my parents would come behind me and find mushrooms in the place I had just looked. Why? Because they weren’t in a hurry. They took their time in searching for what they were looking for.
Finding what you’re looking for in marriage takes time. Just because you don’t see it right away doesn’t mean it’s not there. Slow down. Give your eyes a chance to adjust. Even though it’s not obvious, it could be right in front of you.
3. Don’t Get Distracted.
It’s easy to get distracted in the woods; especially if you’re a kid who’s a little ADHD. I would start off telling myself, “I’m looking for mushrooms. I’m looking for mushrooms.” Then, before I knew it, I would see a vine to swing on, or a creek to explore, or a tree to climb. Distractions always seemed to cut into what I was looking for.
Sometimes in marriage, we don’t find what we’re looking for because we’re too busy looking at other things. Things like:
- That annoying habit of theirs
- The last time they forgot something important
- The fact that they can’t see you need help unless you ask for it
- The way they feel about your family
Don’t walk over the blessings in front of you because you’re distracted by smaller frustrations around you.
4. Look Under Things.
When you’re a kid, you want things to be obvious. I didn’t want to work that hard at finding mushrooms. I wanted to walk into the woods and see mushrooms in plain sight. But that’s not the way it works. A few mushrooms would be easy to spot, but most were hidden under leaves or fallen limbs.
The things you’re looking for in marriage are not always in plain sight. Sometimes they’re covered up by things like personality, up-bringing, or personal preference. It doesn’t mean the things you’re looking for aren’t there. You just have to look past some things and look a little deeper.
5. Size Doesn’t Matter.
No, it’s not what you think. After a day of mushroom hunting, each person would tally up their find. I wanted to be the person who found the most mushrooms. This mattered more than being the person who found the biggest mushroom, because finding the big mushrooms was easy.
In marriage, those who can find the most good things about their spouse and their marriage win. Some of those things will be big things like, “They always sacrifice their needs for mine.” But most will be smaller things like, “They put their dirty clothes in the hamper and don’t leave their shoes laying around.” The more good things you look for, the more good things you will find..and the better your marriage will be.
6. Enjoy the Excursion.
Sometime we would find the mother-load and come out of the woods with a sack full of mushrooms. But even when we came out of the woods with little or no mushrooms, there was something about walking through the woods that made us feel better than when we went in. Even if we didn’t get all we wanted, we could still enjoy the excursion.
In the course of a marriage, there will be times when everything feels right and it feels like you have hit the mother-load. There will also be times when it feels like you’re getting very little return for your effort. The key is to realize it will all average out. This will allow you to enjoy the excursion more than counting the infractions.
So, when it comes to marriage (and mushroom hunting,) the question is not, “Are you finding what you’re looking for?” The question is, “What are you looking for and how hard are you looking for it?” For example:
- Do you focus more on your spouse’s good traits or bad traits?
- Do you expect the best or the worst from your spouse?
- If your spouse does something to hurt your feelings, do you automatically give them the benefit of the doubt or do you assume it was intentional?
- Is your list of what frustrates you about your spouse longer then the list of things you appreciate about them?
Your answers to these questions will reveal what you’re really looking for and why you’re finding it.
When you ask yourself the above four questions, how do you do?
Copyright © 2016 Bret Legg