Do you remember the crush you used to have on the one you promised to love “until death do us part.” You felt a magnetic attraction to your future spouse. After you married, the passion faded. In the days or months after you both promised to cherish each other, your relationship lost its excitement. What happened?
How did your marriage lose its spark?
How did you become more like roommates than lovers?
How do so many once happy couples, slip into a rut of mediocrity, or even into a pit of despair?
My Shattered Rose-Colored Glasses
Not long after their wedding day married couples begin to notice character traits in their spouse that went unnoticed before.
Somehow, as we unpack and settle into our new lives as a married couple, most of us lose the rose-colored glasses we used to see each other through.
I didn’t just lose my rose-colored glasses–they were shattered.
We were only a few days into our honeymoon. My wife Tami told me she felt homesick. She wanted to go home early to see her parents. I was shocked. It was like being hit with a bucket of ice water.
Tami will tell you that I didn’t do anything to make her homesick. But I heard her say she’d rather be somewhere else than with me on our honeymoon! I began to doubt the strength of her commitment to me.
I began to suspect Tami might be a little crazy. So I began to watch her more closely for evidence that would confirm my suspicions.
If you’re looking for flaws in your spouse’s character, you’re guaranteed to find some. I did.
Another thing that happens when we look for character flaws in others is we cultivate our own character defects. I did that, too!
I replaced my broken rose-colored glasses with a magnifying glass. A magnifying glass makes small things appear huge–it transforms mole hills into mountains.
With my magnifying lens I zoomed in on Tami’s flaws. I began to lose respect for her. My disrespect grew into contempt, and it colored my words and actions.
I became self-righteous, critical, rude and self-centered.
Correcting My Marital Myopia
When I was about 20 years old, I started to notice that I couldn’t read road signs without squinting. I’d been doing a lot of book reading in college. Some people say the strain of focusing on things close up can contribute to nearsightedness.
Nearsightedness is also called myopia. A few years after marrying, I’d focused so much on my wife’s flaws I developed marital myopia.
I needed corrective lenses.
If contempt is allowed to take root in a marriage, it needs to be plucked out. It’s like a weed that spreads its seeds and multiplies. It’s minions will overtake and choke a marriage that could’ve thrived.
I needed to correct my focus to be able to see my wife’s positive qualities.
Tami’s attitude toward me had also changed. What we focus on in the behaviors of people close to us often changes their behavior toward us. By pointing out my wife’s flaws, I spurred her on to do more of the things I disliked about her.
How to Cultivate a Thriving Marriage
Tami and I ended up in marriage counseling with a psychologist who helped us change the way we looked at each other. We learned to recognize and focus on each other’s good qualities. After all, these qualities attracted us to each other in the beginning.
The apostle Paul gives this excellent counsel:
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8 NLT).
If you’re familiar with this passage, you’ve probably applied it to the media you watch, read and listen to.
What would happen to your marriage if you applied this passage to how you look at your spouse?
John Gottman, Ph.D. has done excellent research on what causes marriages to thrive and to fail. One of the key ingredients to a thriving marriage is frequent sharing of fondness and admiration between spouses.
Sharing fondness and admiration reignites or keeps alive the feelings of attraction and appreciation that existed during their courtship.
Tami and I have learned how to do this, and it’s helped us thrive in our marriage. We’re now at 26 years and going strong.
To express fondness and admiration in our relationship, we needed to discover and make positive comments about each other’s strengths and other positive attributes. Does this mean we’ve eliminated all negative interactions? No. But we’ve achieved Dr. Gottman’s ratio of 4 positive interactions for every negative interaction–a pattern that Gottman’s research has identified as key to a satisfying marriage.
If you’d like to heat up your marriage with more happiness, passion and overall satisfaction, follow these 3 simple steps:
1. Discover each other’s strengths and positive attributes.
An easy way to get started is to each take and share the results of a personality test that identifies individual strengths and positive attributes. Then share the results with each other.
I like the VIA Character Strengths Survey. Using this survey, researchers have found that practicing your top 5 character strengths in marriage contributes to a happier, more satisfying marriage.
2. Express appreciation for each other’s strengths and positive attributes at least 3 days a week for 3 weeks.
If you’ve used a personality test like the VIA Character Strengths Survey to discover each other’s positive qualities, you have a good place to start. Using a blank piece of legal size paper, draw a vertical line in the middle of the page. In the left column, write at least 3 of your spouse’s strengths. In the right column write notes to track when you saw your spouse use one or more of these strengths. To make this step easier, use the worksheets included in my free guide.
Ask God to give you clear vision to help you see your spouse’s strengths. Then, each time you notice your partner use one of these strengths, write a note on that right column to help you remember it.
Next, make time to write a short love note and put it on your partner’s pillow, or some other obvious place where they’ll find it. If your spouse likes to get texts or emails, you can deliver the love note that way, too.
In the first sentence of your love note, use a phrase like: “I’m proud of the way you _____.” “I am impressed that you _____.” “I like how you _____.”
In the blank, describe how you saw your spouse display their strength. Write with sincerity. Use this only to show fondness and appreciate a positive quality. Don’t use this as an opportunity to ask for sex or anything else–you’ll ruin the moment. Sign it with love, and leave it at that.
This can be done in 5 minutes or less each time you do it. Do it 3 times a week (on different days) for 3 weeks and you will develop new pathways in your brain that will help you recognize and focus on the best things about your mate.
3. Savor each other’s compliments.
When you receive a compliment in a love note, savor the moment. Resist any inclination to downplay or discount your spouse’s positive comments about you. Express genuine gratitude for your spouse’s kind words and let them sink in the way they did when you had a crush on each other. This might mean you need to read it out loud, save it, or post it in a special place.
How are you doing at recognizing your spouse’s positive qualities? Does your vision need some correction? If you’ve kept your positive focus throughout your marriage, or successfully corrected your vision, how did you do it? Let’s chat in the comments below.
This post first appeared on Jed Jurchenko’s Coffee Shop Conversations.
Lavy S. et al. My Better Half: Strengths Endorsement and Deployment in Married Couples. Journal of Family Issues, September 16, 2014 0192513X14550365
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.