When we talk about marital killers, the default mode is to discuss lust and affairs, substance abuse, physical violence, busyness, poor priorities, and financial stress.
But there’s another killer of marital happiness that gets far too little press. I want to put a spotlight on it in today’s post.
Negative thinking can be catastrophic to marital happiness.
We’re told in Philippians 4:8 to choose to think about positive things: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—thank about such things.” The spirit behind this verse is simple—look for the blessing in the midst of the burdens so that you look at the burden in an entirely new light.
Negative-thinking people do the opposite: they find the smallest burden in the midst of any blessing and wring any possible joy out of life by saying that since life is less than perfect, life really stinks.
Joseph Sizoo, a well-known preacher in the early half of the twentieth century, calls people out on this:
“Take it in the matter of health. Many there are who carry about frail bodies. Much of the day is spent in struggling against physical weakness, until actually they come to enjoy poor health. They emphasize what they have not, rather than the measure of health they still enjoy. In so doing they only increase their own misery and that of others. Live with the health that you still have.”
It can also be financial; writing shortly after the great depression, Sizoo said, “For multitudes the savings of a lifetime have been swept away. All that they have worked for in the years gone by has suddenly turned to ashes. But the pity of it is that they are forever rehearsing their adversity and reminding the world of what they no longer have. They seemingly forget that many things are still left to us: the sun still rises at its appointed time; the tides of the sea still run in ebb and flow; there is still brilliance in the stars, blue in the sky and color in the rose. Live by what you have, rather than by what you do not have.”
“Live by what you have, rather than by what you do not have.” That wouldn’t be such a bad motto for life, would it?
No life is perfect. No life is even all that easy. Yes, some lives are easier than others, but choosing to dwell on the negative, obsess over the negative, wanting everyone to know just how hard it is for you is a temptation, and we need to view it as such. It sucks the joy out of life. It tears many a marriage down.
Several months ago, I started creating a Christmas present for my wife. Every day, I write down at least one thing she did that day that I’m thankful for. Since I can’t keep writing about the same thing, I’m scanning her throughout the day, looking for that positive thing I can record and write down. At Christmas, she’ll have a day-to-day record of her excellence as a wife.
Guess what? Since I’ve started writing that journal, I haven’t asked God to “change” my wife even once. The reason is so simple: when I have a book that lists months-worth of things Lisa has excelled in, asking God to change anything else about her seems a bit obsessive. I realize I already have an excellent wife, far, far better than I could possibly deserve.
Those of you who are really angry at me right now (“How dare he diminish my pain when he has it so good!”) need to ask yourselves, “How has my negativity served me, my family, and my God in the previous years?” Has it made you feel better? Has it lessened your pain or increased your pain? Has it led to greater intimacy with others, or has it made your friends and loved ones want to leave you alone more often?
If spouse or friend has handed this to you, or sent you the link, take a deep breath. They love you. They want to enjoy life with you. They hate what has happened to you (be it financial, relational, or physical), but they also want to take as much enjoyment out of what is left in your life as is supernaturally possible. It might, indeed, hurt to smile right now, but your constant frown may be hurting your spouse more than you could possibly know.
No life is easy. Every life is hard. Maybe yours seems particularly hard, but negative thinking will only take a tough life and make it worse.
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—thank about such things.”
Gary Thomas, GaryThomas.com