How to avoid the negative thought spiral of marital misery by clinging to every good thing your spouse has to offer through faith, hope, humility and charity.
*** I’m starting a new series called Spiritual Sunday. I’m going to write a spiritual post on the third or fourth Sunday of every month. And I’ll link the topic to marriage of course. I realize this is not a Sunday, but this month’s Spiritual Sunday is comin’ at you on a Wednesday. It’s free spirited like that.
I’ve noticed throughout my marriage that if I don’t keep Rich’s good qualities in the forefront of my mind, the less desirable ones tend to take center stage of their own accord.
It generally starts with me being tired and feeling overwhelmed with my children or other obligations. What Rich is doing to help slips from my mind as I focus on what he’s not. I look past the fact that he put the kids to bed and stayed up late cleaning the kitchen, as I focus instead on why couldn’t HE make the kids’ lunch? Why couldn’t HE have gotten up with the one year old this morning?
This line of thinking generally propels itself into what I call the negative spiral of marital misery.
Round and round we go. The longer the negative cycle goes on, the deeper into the depths of misery we go and the harder it is to climb out of it.
This happened to me just this weekend. I was tired from staying up too late on Friday night. Saturday morning we were headed to Nauvoo, Illinois (a little less than two hours away) for a temple trip. We were in a rush getting out the door as per usual. I was busy getting my one year old’s shoes/socks/coat on while my five year old was asking (and asking) if I could help her find her beloved sparkly pink jacket. Generally when my children ask me repeatedly to do something it’s in a whiny, annoying voice, but this was more in a sad, sweet way that made me wish for the umpteenth time that I had more than two hands and/or the power of elasticity so as to meet all my children’s needs at once.
via Superhero Wiki
I was answering (and answering) that I would help her find it as soon as I was done with her brother. At this point Rich comes downstairs and upon hearing Ellia’s inquiries says, “No. You’ve outgrown the sparkly pink jacket. It’s time to be done with it. You can wear your coat.”
You’re probably wondering what the problem is at this point, but for some reason, that comment just rubbed me the wrong way (I see clearly now that had I not been hungry and tired, the comment would have safely slid off my back). But I was hungry. And tired. Hired.
I tried to give Rich a look that said, “Hey, this is important to her and she was actually being sweet about this and I was juuuust about to help her, so let’s just let her find the jacket, ok?” Which translated into just stink eye.
I entered into the negative spiral of marital misery. I started thinking in absolutes (He ALWAYS does this! (he doesn’t)). I was rounding the cycle quickly sitting firmly in the “blame and grumpiness” area for gosh, most of the morning. It could have happened that I continued on in the negative spiral for many days, but thankfully, later that day, I changed course and tried out a different cycle (which I’ll outline below).
So how can we stop the cycle in its tracks? How can we keep a strong grasp on all our spouse’s good qualities?
This is a Spiritual Sunday post, so I’m going to expound on a scripture that sheds light on this question. (If you’re not a Christian, you can still apply this information, just replace Christ with LOVE or DIVINITY).
A study of Moroni 7 in the Book of Mormon helped me come up with a formula for the negative cycle stopping. This chapter is actually written as a sermon to those seeking peace and isn’t usually applied to marriages, but I recommend reading the whole chapter trying to answer the question of how to see your spouse in the best light.
The beginning of the chapter is all about how to judge good from evil. I think this is easy to get mixed up in a marriage, as we tend to see ourselves as the ones “in the right” or “good” and our spouses on the flip side.
Moroni 7:19 – 20 says
19 . . . ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.
20 And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?
That’s the million dollar question- how can we lay hold of every good thing in our spouses?
The chapter lays out four specific qualities we can strive for to accomplish laying hold of every good thing.
- FAITH – “by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing” verse 25
- HOPE – “How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?” verse 40
- HUMILITY – “ye cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart” verse 43
- CHARITY – “if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity.” verse 44
Round and round you go. Headed ever upward.
How to hop from one cycle to another?
First, be honest with yourself, your feelings and WHY you’re feeling that way (tired? bad mood? offended?). Then, I think it needs to start with hope. Spark however big or small a spark you can muster to have hope in yourself (that you can see the good in your spouse, and communicate your needs effectively), hope in spouse (in the good in them) and hope in Christ (that He can give both you and your spouse the power you need to be better than you can be by yourself).
For each of these qualities to root themselves down deep in us, I think we need to focus on three entities: ourselves, our spouses and Christ.
For me, marital improvement is most effective when I focus on believing in and loving all three of us- me, Rich and Christ. We each have a role to play, and while I’m only responsible for playing my part, thinking of us all as a team helps me remember that miracles can and do happen every day through Christ and hope, faith and charity.
33 And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.
Even if it’s forgiving my husband for not finding the sparkly pink jacket.