Have you ever had the thought, ‘I am never going to be happy in my marriage,’ or maybe ‘My spouse is never going to change.’ Maybe you have had negative thoughts about yourself such as ‘I am such a bad husband/wife’ or ‘I can never do anything right.’
These negative thoughts that come into your mind are counterproductive to improving your marriage. These thoughts do not want you to be happy. In fact they could lead you to believe that happiness is so unattainable that it is better to cut your losses, and just give up.
Instead of just giving up, challenge those thoughts. The truth is, couples do not maintain the same level of satisfaction (or disatisfaction) throughout the course of their marriage. An analysis from the National Survey of Families found that 86 percent of unhappily married people who stuck it out found that, five years later, their marriages were happier. In other words, if you are struggling in your marriage and both you and your spouse decide to stick it out, you have an 86 percent of being happier in the future than you are right now. 1
Here are four things you can do to challenge those negative thoughts about yourself or your marriage:
Find Evidence Against the Thoughts
One of the problems with negative thoughts is that they use blanket words such as ‘always’ or ‘never.’ Be an investigator in your relationship or into yourself. You are the prosecuting attorney and looking for evidence to prove that these negative thoughts are not true.
For example, you think ‘My spouse is never going to show me that he/she loves me.’ Is that really true? Has your spouse ever said ‘I love you?’ Have you ever received a gift from him or her? Do they ever hug you or touch you affectionately? If you really look, you should be able to find an example when your spouse was demonstrating love, thus proving that thought wrong.
The negative thoughts that you have about yourself can be just as destructive as the thoughts about your marriage. Use this same technique to challenge those thoughts. If you are thinking, ‘I can never do anything right,’ again look for evidence that points toward the contrary. Can you find a time when you made someone else smile? Do you remember when you gave a kind word or a hug to someone? Once again, you have found evidence that you are able to do things right. Give yourself the props you deserve.
Focus on the Positive
Most people in this world have a lot of good character traits and a few negative traits. This includes your spouse. It is often easy to recognize the character flaws in a spouse, and equally easy to dismiss or not recognize their personal strengths.
When you focus on your spouses problems, or within your marriage, you prevent yourself from seeing the bigger picture. Take a step back and change your focus. Instead of focusing on the problems, look for positive aspects of your spouse, your marriage, and yourself.
Think of Something Else to Occupy Your Mind
Sometimes negative thoughts can enter one’s mind simply because they are bored, tired, or stressed and the mind is naturally reverting to negative thoughts. If you find yourself thinking negatively, think of something. What is going on around you? What are your upcoming plans for the week? What projects do you have that need to get done?
There is an old saying that says, ‘You can’t prevent a bird from flying over your head, but you can prevent it from building a nest in your hair.’ These negative thoughts about your marriage or about yourself will come. It is natural and common for these thoughts to come, but you don’t have to allow these thoughts to fester and control you. Get rid of them. Think of something else.
Love Your Spouse Anyways
These negative thoughts can be very debilitating. They can zap your own motivation for wanting to do right in your marriage. It is difficult to love someone when you don’t feel loved yourself, but maybe they are feeling the same way. Despite not feeling loved, love your spouse anyways. Do and say those things that will help them to feel loved.
Have you ever felt the joy that can come from serving someone without expecting anything in return? The Holy Bible talks about how the Lord feels when we serve his children “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” (Matthew 25:40). As we serve our spouse, we are also serving our God.
By finding evidence against the negative thoughts, focusing on the positive, thinking of something else, and loving your spouse anyways, you can work at overcoming negative thoughts you have about your marriage, or yourself.
1. Linda J. Waite, Don Browning, William J. Doherty, Maggie Gallagher, Ye Luo, and Scott M. Stanley, Does Divorce Make People Happy: Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages (New York: Institute for American Values, 2002) 148-49.