Reality living refuses to believe the four marriage myths and chooses, rather, to face life with a far more positive spirit. You can strengthen your marriage by dismissing those myths and telling yourself the truth.
Let me share six truths that can give direction to any desperate marriage:
Reality living approaches life with the assumption that we are responsible for our own state of mind. Trouble is inevitable, but misery is optional. Attitude has to do with the way we choose to think about things. It has to do with focus.
This principle of reality living reminds us that our attitude informs all that we say and do. If we have pessimistic, defeatist, negative attitude, we will express it in negative words and behavior. At that point, we become a part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
The reality is that you may not be able to control your environment; you may have to deal with sickness, an alcoholic spouse, a teenager on drugs, a mother who abandoned you, a father who abused you, a spouse who is irresponsible, aging parents, etc. You can, however, control your attitude toward your environment. Your attitude will greatly influence your behavior.
Attitude affects actions, and actions influence others. This brings us to the third principle of reality living.
The two parts of this reality must never be separated. That we cannot change a spouse is a truth we recite often, but we often overlook the truth that we can and do influence a spouse. Because we are individuals and because we have free will, no one can force us to change our thoughts or behavior. On the other hand, because we are relational creatures, others do influence us. Advertisers make millions of dollars each year because of this reality.
This reality has profound implications for marriage. You must acknowledge that you cannot change your spouse. You cannot make him or her stop certain behaviors or start certain behaviors. Neither can you control the words that come from your spouse’s mouth or the way he or she thinks or feels. You can make requests of your spouse, but you cannot know that he or she will respond positively to your requests.
When you fail to understand this reality, you are likely to fall into the trap of manipulating your spouse. The idea behind manipulation is: “If I do this, I will force my spouse to do that.” Manipulation may involve positive stimuli: “If I can make my wife happy enough, she will respond to my request.” It can also involve negative stimuli: “If I can make my husband miserable enough, he will respond to my request.”
All efforts at manipulation will ultimately fail. No one wants to be controlled by a spouse.
Your ability to change your spouse must be laid alongside your very real ability to influence a spouse for better or for worse. All spouses influence each other every day with both attitudes and actions.
Every action you take and every word you speak influences your spouse for better or for worse. This means that your spouse’s words and behavior may cause you tremendous pain, hurt, or discouragement. But this reality also means that through positive actions and words, you can influence your spouse toward positive change.
In the last three decades, Western society has given an undue emphasis to human emotions. In fact, we have made emotions our guiding star. We fill songs and movies with such themes as “If it feels good, do it.” The search for self-understanding has led us to the conclusion that “I am what I feel” and that authentic living is being “true to my feelings.”
When applied to a desperate marriage, this philosophy advises, “If I don’t have loving feelings for my spouse any longer, I should admit it and get out of the marriage. If I feel hurt and angry, I would be hypocritical to say or do something kind to my spouse.” This philosophy fails to reckon with the reality that human beings are more than their emotions.
The reality is that in relationships, actions are far more important than emotions, and actions need not be controlled by emotions. If you allow your negative emotions to control your behavior, you will feel even more negative. But if you choose to take positive actions in spite of your negative emotions, your emotions are likely to change; and your actions may have a positive influence on your spouse.
Those who say it is hypocritical to take positive action when they have negative feelings are operating on the assumption that the true self is determined by emotions.
In other areas of life, you often go against your emotions. For example, if you got out of bed only on the mornings that you “felt” like getting out of bed, you would have bedsores. The fact is, almost every morning you go against your feelings. You get up, do something, and later feel good about having gotten out of bed. The same principle is true in relationships.
You can learn to acknowledge your negative emotions but not to follow them. You should not deny that you feel disappointed, frustrated, angry, hurt, apathetic, or bitter, but you can refuse to let those emotions control your actions. You can choose a higher road by asking such questions as, What is best? What is right? What is good? What is loving? You can allow your actions to be controlled by these noble thoughts. Taking such positive actions holds the potential for bringing healing to a relationship and restoring positive feelings in your marriage.
This reality has profound implications for a desperate marriage. It means that you can do and say positive things to your spouse in spite of the fact that you have strong negative emotions. To take such positive actions does not deny that your marriage is in serious trouble. It means that you choose to take steps that hold potential for positive change rather than allowing negative behavior to escalate.
To acknowledge your imperfections does not mean that you are a failure; it is an admission that you are human. As humans, you and I have the potential for loving, kind, and good behavior, but we also have the potential for self-centered, destructive behavior. For all of us, our marital history is a mixed bag of good and bad behavior. Admitting past failures and asking for forgiveness is one of the most liberating of all human experiences.
Many people have found the following statements to be helpful in verbalizing their confession of past failures:
“I’ve been thinking about us, and I realize that in the past I have not been the perfect husband/wife. In many ways I have failed you and hurt you. I am sincerely sorry for these failures. I hope that you will be able to forgive me for these. I sincerely want to be a better husband/wife. And with God’s help, I want to make the future different.”
Whether your spouse verbalizes forgiveness or has some less enthusiastic response, you have taken the first step in tearing down the wall between the two of you. If the hurt has been deep, your spouse may question your sincerity. He or she may even say, “I’ve heard that line before,” or “I’m not sure that I can forgive you.” Whatever the response, you have planted in his or her mind the idea that the future is going to be different. If, in fact, you begin to make positive changes as a spouse, the day may come when your partner will freely forgive past failures. Until then, you must concentrate on making positive changes.
To admit your own past failures does not mean that you are accepting all the responsibility for your desperate marriage. It does mean that you are no longer using your spouse’s failures as an excuse for your own failures. You are stepping up to take full responsibility for your own failures, and you are doing the most responsible thing you can do by acknowledging your failures and asking forgiveness. In doing so, you are paving the road of hope for a new future.
I am fully aware that most of the people who read this book will read it alone. In a desperate marriage, it is unrealistic to think that husband and wife will sit down together and work through a book. That may happen in a healthy marriage but not in a deeply troubled marriage. Therefore, if you are reading this book, I want to encourage you to tear down the wall on your side. You may feel that the bulk of the wall is on your spouse’s side, and that may be true. But the reality is that you cannot tear down his or her wall; you can only tear down the wall on your side. However small it may be, this is a step in the right direction. It lets your spouse know that you are consciously thinking about your marriage relationship.
The final principle of reality living declares love to be the most powerful weapon for good, and that especially applies in marriage. The problem for many husbands and wives is that they have thought of love as an emotion. In reality, love is an attitude, demonstrated with appropriate behavior. It affects the emotions, but it is not in itself an emotion. Love is the attitude that says, “I choose to look out for your interests. How may I help you?” Then love is expressed in behavior.
The fact that love is an attitude rather than an emotion means that you can love your spouse even when you do not have warm emotional feelings for him or her. That is why, in the first century, Paul the apostle wrote to husbands, “Love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her [by willingly dying on the cross].” In another of his letters, Paul challenged the older women to “train the younger women to love their husbands.” Love can be learned because it is not an emotion.
"Copyright 2012 iMOM. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission. For more resources for moms, visit iMOM.com."