How to Be More Resilient in Marriage

IS YOUR GLASS HALF-EMPTY OR HALF-FULL?

I tend to be a glass-half-full person. But there are still times when demands, difficulties, and disappointments can easily drain my glass. It happens to all of us.

But resilient people seem to be more impervious to the glass-half-empty mindset. They seem more steady and unflappable in the face of things that would drag others down.

The other day I read a book called “The Power of Optimism” by Alan McGinnis. To be honest, I had been avoiding this book because it sounded like one of those books that would promise rainbow and unicorns to anyone who would just think happy thoughts hard enough.

But once I started reading, I was pleasantly surprised and wound up reading the book in one afternoon. Thought the book is more than 20 years old, it offered very realistic and practical insight for anyone who wanted to redirect their pessimism and become more positively resilient.

HOW TO BUILD RESILIENCE

Here are some things I picked up from this book that can help you be more resilient in marriage…and in life.

Don’t be surprised by trouble.

You don’t have to go looking for trouble, but you don’t have to be caught off guard by it. We live in a world where things go wrong…even to the best of people. And acting like trouble will never happen won’t make it go away.

So, face reality and be realistic. When trouble comes, don’t stick your head in the sand. Address it.

Realize there’s always something you can do.

When trouble comes, approach it as a problem solver. Change what you can change. If you can’t change something…work with it or work around it.

You don’t have to change everything or get everything right all at once. Don’t be a perfectionist. Take incremental steps toward change. The small steps add up to big change. Also, remember that if something you try doesn’t work, it’s not a failure…it’s a learning curve.

Take time for renewal.

Life can be hard, and it’s easy to wind up depleted, burned out, and exhausted. So regularly do things that will put some fresh wind in your sails.

Hang out with fun and hopeful people. Read a good book. Meet new people. Take a regular sabbatical for rest. Play with a child. Do whatever recharges you and renews you. This a key part of resilience.

Take control of your thinking.

So many of us have thinking habits that work against us, rather than for us. Here are just a few of the thinking habits we need to control:

  • Catastrophizing. – This when we take a negative experience and we blow it up out of proportion and make it worse than it really is.
  • Generalizing. – This is when something happens, and we act like this kind of things always happens to us.
  • Filtering. – This is when we tend to filter out positive things and only look at the negative things.
  • Personalizing. – This is when we take everything as if it’s a personal affront…even if it has nothing to do with us.

There are just a few of the unhelpful thinking habits we can have. For more on this, I encourage you to listen to Quick Counsel episode #56.

Express more gratitude.

Focusing on the negative is easy. The negative seems to scream at us from every direction. But if you start experiencing and expressing gratitude for the good things in your life, it will shift your focus from the negative to the positive.

Learn to savor the good things in your life. Good food. Good company. A cool breeze. Children playing. The roof over your head. The list is practically limitless. So take note. Make a list. It will change your attitude and make you more resilient.

Stretch yourself.

Did you know that your brain can continue to grow, and stretch, and amass knowledge…no matter how old you are? So learn new things. Watch documentaries. Pick up a new hobby. Take a different route home. Learn a new language. The more you stretch yourself, the more resilient you’ll be.

Swap hostility for happy.

Our world seems awash in hostility. Whether it’s special interest groups, news outlets, or Congress, hostility is everywhere you turn. Don’t add to the hostility. It will wear you out, ruin your health, and get you nowhere.

Replace anger and frustration with interest and compassion. Rather than giving grief, give the benefit of the doubt. Rather than judge someone, pray for them.

Celebrate more. Listen to music that pick you up. Watch movies that make you laugh.

If you’re having trouble with being happy, try the following:

  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Find out what starts your day off well, and do that often.
  • Regularly get in a brisk walk or some exercise.
  • Even “act-as-if” you’re happy, and it just might rub off on you.

Share more good news than bad news.

Complaining is a habit, and many of us have learned that habit well. Don’t feed your negativity by sharing it. Talk more about the good things than the bad things.

You can choose your focus and your communications. So don’t be like the news outlets that share 95% bad things and 5% good things. Turn that around and learn to share as many good things as you can.

Lean into love.

By this, I’m talking about actively loving others by serving them, encouraging them, and helping them. When you lovingly serve others, it helps them, but it changes you. Loving others may be the highest contributor to resilience.

A FINAL WORD…

If you’re a glass-half-empty person, the above steps can actually help to rewire your brain and keep you from being shaped and stopped by the difficulties of life. These actions will make you more resilient in marriage…and in life.

And if you’re already a glass-half-full person…couldn’t you use a little more?

The List – Stop Showing Appreciation

Note: We are currently in a series called “The List.” The list refers to a list of ways you can lose your marriage and is based on information gleaned from over 20 years of counseling records and marriage failures.

IT HAPPENS

If you’ve been married for any length of time, there probably have been times when you’ve thought things like:

  • They used to tell me “thank you” when I did something for them.
  • They used to leave me little notes.
  • They used to tell me how good the meal was.
  • They used to brag about things I had done.
  • They used to jump in and help without me asking.
  • They used to hold the door for me.
  • They used to tell me how good the yard looked after I finished.

And so you wonder, “Where did that go? Were they just faking that behavior in the beginning? Have I done something wrong? Have they stopped caring for me the way they used to? Why did they stop showing appreciation?”

WHAT IS APPRECIATION?

Appreciation is the grateful and thankful recognition of a person and their efforts.

It can be as simple as…

  • Thanking them for a great meal.
  • Bragging on what a great job they did.
  • Leaving a note to encourage them.
  • Acknowledging them in front of others.

And it can be as elaborate as…

  • Throwing a party to celebrate a milestone in their life.
  • Planning a weekend around their favorite activity.
  • Saving up for that special gift they desire.
  • Putting together a special book of things and memories about them.

Appreciation is putting action to your gratitude. It’s making your thankfulness visible and tangible.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Showing your appreciation to your spouse is important, because…

Appreciation is something they need.

How do you know if your spouse needs your appreciation? Check and see if they’re breathing. If they’re breathing, they need your appreciation! We all long to be appreciated. Appreciation is to our hearts what air is to our lungs. Without it, we’re lifeless. That’s how important showing appreciation is to people.

Appreciation makes a lasting impact.

Most of us remember a time, years ago when someone encouraged us with their kind words and actions. And most of us remember a time, years ago, when someone failed to encourage us with kind words and actions. The point is, we still carry the memories of these moments to this day! Whether or not you show appreciation will have a lasting impact on people.

Appreciation is simple and effective.

If you’re looking for the simplest and easiest way to build up your spouse, improve your marriage, and make points in the process…then show more appreciation. Showing appreciation costs you nothing, but it means everything to others. It takes very little of your time, but it lasts a lifetime for others. Appreciation is the IRA of relationships. Simple, regular investments will lead to big returns.

WHY DO WE STOP DOING IT?

If showing appreciation is so simple, easy, and effective, why do we tend to let it slide in marriage? Well, like many other things in life, our relationship with our spouse just gets too familiar, too comfortable, and we get lazy.

When we were dating, we intentionally worked hard at giving compliments, being encouraging, and showing appreciation, because we really wanted this person in our life. But after we’re married and we have the person we wanted, we then turn our attention to other things. We begin focusing on homes, kids, jobs, hobbies, etc. and we fail to pursue our spouse as we once did. We let our foot off the gas of the relationship and begin to coast. And we each begin to feel less and less appreciated.

WHAT CAN WE DO TO SHOW MORE APPRECIATION?

So, what can we do to get back in the appreciation game and show our spouse more appreciation? To do this, you will have to change two things…your actions and your attitude.

Your Actions.

You can start by going back to doing things you used to do when you were dating.

  • Compliment them on things they do, on their talents and abilities, on their character traits, etc.
  • Be intentional about saying “thank you” for the things they do.
  • Brag on them.
  • Leave notes of encouragement.

Use your imagination. Pay attention to the things they like. Be interested in the things they’re interested in. You know…act like you’re dating again.

Your Attitude.

There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “You never miss your water till your well runs dry.” This is so true in marriage. I can’t tell you how many people sit in my counseling office after losing their spouse to divorce or death and talk about what they miss about that person, and what they never really appreciated about that person.

We tend to take our spouses for granted and treat them as if they’re always going to be around. But, if you really want to appreciate your spouse, then live as if you might lose them at any minute. Think about the hole that would leave, the things you would miss, and all that you would long to have back. Let that attitude and those thoughts guide you in showing appreciation for your spouse.

A FINAL WORD…

I’m aware that there are spouses that might be reading this thinking, “My spouse is so hurtful that there’s not much there I can appreciate!” I know this is the case for some spouses. And I’m not saying that just showing appreciation for the few crumbs of good things you find will magically turn your marriage around…although it could help a little. But showing appreciation is not just something to do in marriage. It’s something needed in all relationships. So you can still practice appreciation and improve the other relationships in your life.

But for those who would say their marriage is not bad but it could be better, then I encourage you to work at showing more appreciation. It might just be the water that begins to revive a wilting marriage.

1 Kings 20 – Disregarding God

Have you ever done something good for someone, only to have that person disregard you? When that happens, your response is often, “How could they do that, after all I’ve done for them?!”

This is the theme and feel of 1 Kings chapter 20. Twice, God rescues King Ahab of Israel by giving him victory over King Ben-Hadad of Aram…despite overwhelming odds. There should have been no way King Ahab could have survived, let alone been victorious in these two battles. But God intervened and gave Ahab the victory so that he would know the Lord was really God. (1 Kings 20:13, 28)

Yet, after all God did for Ahab, Ahab disregards God by disobeying His command to kill King Ben-Hadad. And Ahab disobeyed, not because of humanitarian reasons, but because of his greed. (1 Kings 20:34)

Then, after being confronted with what he’s done and the consequences of his disobedience, Ahab cops an attitude. (1 Kings 20:43)

You read this story and think, “What’s up with this guy?! What a jerk!” But, before you judge Ahab too harshly, you need to ask yourself, “Have I ever been guilty of the same thing? Have I received help, blessing, and rescue from God, only to later disregard Him? Have I failed to recognize my indebtedness to Him?”

As He was with Ahab, God has been gracious toward us…daily. We’re not even aware of all the times He’s rescued us, protected us, and provided for us throughout life. The honor and obedience He deserves from us should be a small token of our gratitude.

Today, take time to recognize God’s goodness toward you and take some time to respond to Him in gratitude and obedience.

Developing a Thankful Attitude in Marriage

We all have things about our spouse we don’t like. Things like…

  • How they leave their shoes lying around.
  • How they make noise when they eat.
  • How they tend to procrastinate.
  • How they go off on rants.
  • How they always/never want sex.
  • How they’re too tight/loose with money.
  • How they’re too introverted/extroverted.
  • How they drive.
  • How they crunch on the ice in their drink. (My wife’s personal favorite)

We all have our own list, and we just keep adding to our list as time goes on.

MORE DIFFICULT TO BE THANKFUL

It’s easy to see the things we don’t like about our spouse, but developing a thankful attitude doesn’t come as easily. Sure, there are some people who seem to be naturally thankful, but most of us have to learn to develop a thankful attitude.

DEVELOPING A THANKFUL ATTITUDE

Because developing a thankful attitude doesn’t always come easy, here are three steps you can take to develop a thankful attitude toward your spouse:

FIND.

People tend to find what they’re looking for. If you’re looking for the things you don’t like, you’re sure to find them. So if you want to develop a thankful attitude in marriage, you have to train yourself to look for things for which to be thankful.

I encourage you to keep a small, pocket-sized notebook with you. Then, once or twice a day, think of something you’re thankful for about your spouse and write it down. It could be things like:

  • They are a good provider.
  • They are a good parent.
  • They take good care of our home.
  • They always keep the grass mowed.
  • They have a good sense of humor.
  • They keep me organized.
  • They love me.
  • They are faithful.

Some of the things you come up with may seem like you’re grasping for straws. But noting even the smallest of things will prime the pump of thankfulness and help you see more and more things to be thankful for.

Make it a daily habit to find things to be thankful for.

FOCUS.

Training yourself to find things to be thankful for is just the first step. Next, you have to train yourself to stay focused on those things. After acknowledging something your thankful for, it’s easy to then quickly turn back to complaining.

I call it “yes/butting,” and it sounds something like this…“Yes, my spouse is good with the kids, but they never want to spend time with me.” Do you see how quickly “yes/butting” squelches the thankfulness?

When you find something you’re thankful for, then stay focused on that throughout the day. Don’t get side-tracked.

FEED.

Finally, once you’ve begun a list of things you’re thankful for about your spouse, then continue to feed that list with new things each day. You may think that it will be a very short list, but you’ll be surprised. Once you begin to train yourself to find things to be thankful for, your list will grow and your attitude will change.

A FINAL WORD…

Now, I’m not naïve. I know that this will not make all your problems go away. Those problems will still be there. But at least the problems will be balanced with some better things. And since you probably don’t need any help spotting the problems, you should spend more time finding things to be thankful for.

So, keep your eyes and heart open for things to be thankful for, and happy hunting!

2 Samuel 7 – Melting the Father’s Heart

Picture this…

One day, a father gives his boy a shiny new bike. While riding the new bike, the boy realizes his father doesn’t have a bike of his own. The boy doesn’t take into account that his father has a car and all the possessions he desires. He just knows that his father was so good to him to give him his new bike, and he wants his father to have one.

So the boy tells his father he’s going to get him a new bike and begins to save his money for one. This melts the father’s heart. So the next day, the father brings home an even bigger present for his son. Overwhelmed all the more by his father’s generosity, the boy climbs into his father’s lap and tells him he’s the greater dad in the whole world!

This is a picture of what’s happening in 2 Samuel chapter 7. David is grateful for what God has done for him and wants to give back to God. This attitude of gratitude melts God’s heart, causing Him to bless David all the more. Realizing he can’t out-bless God, David sits before God and acknowledges God’s greatness.

This chapter, like the story of the boy with the bike, reveals a tender interaction between a father and His child. In both stories, the father’s heart is melted by the child’s attitude of gratitude.

Gratitude leads us to want to give, which leads us to become more like our Heavenly Father. This melts the heart of God because what parent doesn’t melt when they see their children trying to imitate them?

Do you have an attitude of gratitude that prompts you toward generosity…and melt’s the heart of God?

Age: It’s Natural

Note – Though this post does not specifically target marriage, it addresses something every marriage has to deal with.

Age. Whether you’re young or old, everyone grapples with their age. The young wish they were older. The old wish they were younger. Even the terms “young” and “old” are relative to our age. When we’re ten, thirty seems old. When we’re thirty, fifty seems old. And when we’re fifty, we’re just hoping we can make it to retirement!

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Joshua 5 – Little Things

“Little things are important.” “It’s the little things that mean the most.” These are sayings most of us have heard all our lives. The reason little things are important and matter so much is that big things are made up of little things. Little things require a lot of thought, discipline, commitment, and sacrifice. That means that little things are actually “big things.”

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Deuteronomy 16 – Replace Your Attitude with Gratitude!

Ok. I’ll admit it. I can be a whiner and a complainer. I don’t like this about myself, but it’s true. It’s too easy for me to complain about all the things that are wrong, or difficult, or inconvenient. I have so much to be grateful for, but too often instead of having an attitude of gratitude, I just have an attitude.

God knew that His people could be complainers and whiners. So in Deuteronomy chapter 16 you find God placing special importance on three specific times of celebration.

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Numbers 31 – What’s Cooking?

As any cook knows, it takes a variety of ingredients to make a great dish. Yes, some cooks make incredible dishes by somewhat randomly throwing a variety of things into a pot, but most tend to follow a recipe…whether it’s in their head or on a piece of paper.

Numbers chapter 31 is a recipe of sorts. It’s a chapter that covers a variety of ingredients for a well lived life. Many of these ingredients are so simple and common we tend to overlook them, if not reminded once in a while.

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Numbers 28-29 – Show Gratitude

I remember an old black and white movie about a native tribe on an island. In the movie, this tribe was trying to appease their volcano god by offering up an innocent victim. I remember watching the screen as the wild-eyed natives walked their trembling victim to the edge of the volcano. Even as a kid, I thought, “What a harsh and demanding god!”

At first read, Numbers chapters 28-29 can sound much the same. But this is not what these chapters are about!

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