April 22, 2015

The Killer of Marital Happiness

Gary Thomas — 

The Killer of Marital Happiness final

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. Fair enough. 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—think 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.

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.

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17 responses to The Killer of Marital Happiness

  1. Thanks, Gary. You know I struggle with this. You’ve told me yourself that I need to stop listening to myself and start talking to myself and saying positive things. It is so easy to let the stress and anxiety take over and just withdraw. I need this reminder right now.

  2. I’m learning that God sometimes chooses to bless us in ways we don’t enjoy. That’s not an indictment of His character, but of ours.

  3. This goes with scripture but also with some recent research in Psychology showing that it’s not so much the stress we have that causes poor health but how we cope with it. Rumination is especially harmful to us in mind body and spirit. So we fix out eyes on God and what is unseen. And we treat spouse weaknesses and faults with kindness and grace.

    • Great comments! Thanks. I love the finding that “it’s not so much the stress we have that causes poor health but how we cope with it.”

  4. What a great post! My marriage was filled with non-stop negativity from my ex and his parents. Notice the “ex” in that sentence…I am now dating a wonderful guy who has had many trials in his life (some continue) but he inspires me with his positive attitude–no matter what. He acknowledges the stresses and issues, but does not dwell on him. Those “negative” conversations are always short and we always end up saying “yes, we have problems but we have so many more blessings” and then list them. We are looking ahead to marriage and it’s nice to read another affirmation that we are in a very good relationship.

  5. Gary…amen! The older I get, the more I understand how damaging a bad attitude can be in ANY relationship.
    I can hardly stand being around myself when I get in what I like to call a “pity party”….

    If I want to live in peace, I need to meditate on that which springs up peace.

    If I want to live in resentment, self pity, and pain….well, that’s a short road to travel because life will happily deliver a daily dose of disappointments for me to focus on …

    The Word tells me to “count it all as joy”. And I am learning that joy doesn’t mean I am laughing, it just means I am walking through each season of life with the Hope that Jesus is walking right along with me!

    Be blessed!!

    • Yes, yes, yes! “I am learning that joy doesn’t mean I am laughing, it just means I am walking through each season of life with the Hope that Jesus is walking right along with me!”

  6. Great advice, Gary. It’s easy to dwell on bad things when something isn’t going right. But it’s much healthier to visit all the positive things in your marriage; all the good qualities about your spouse that make you love them each day. Always love your encouragement here.

  7. Yvonne Mathenge April 22, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    Couldnt have been posted at a better time in my life…. Phillipans 4: 8. Thank you for the reminder. Looking for the obvious little joys of life in the midst of chaos and fear.

  8. This is very true. My negative thinking has trapped me in a way of thinking where God is against me and my marriage. Trying to remain strong and pray for rescue from this false god.

  9. Great words, wise counsel, Gary! I grew up in a non-Christian home with parents who have a negative, critical mindset. I love them dearly but conversations with them are, many times, difficult. Also, my darling husband is debilitated with depression so I have to fight the tendency to be negative and to stay on the positive side. I’ve had to be intentional about where I put my focus/mindset. The more I do it, the easier it gets. “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

  10. I have found great comfort in Lamentations Chapter 3. Twenty verses of lamenting remind me that God does not expect us to ignore our struggles or pretend they do not exist. But more importantly is the CONCLUSION after all of those admissions, found in verses 21-24:

    21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
    22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
    23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
    24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.

    I often say those words out loud to myself and to the devil: “Yet THIS I call to mind!!!!” And what follows is simply a listing of all my Father’s blessings.

    I am forgiven!
    I am clothed in Jesus’ righteousness!
    I am headed for heaven!
    All of God’s plans for me are good!
    All of His thoughts towards me are good!
    I am upheld within His strong right hand!
    He will never leave me!
    He loves me fully and perfectly!

    Thank you, Jesus, that we can admit our deepest hurts and fears to you. And thank you for turning our sadness into joy when we focus our eyes on you!!!!

    • Thanks for sharing this fantastic passage/reflections.

    • Sarah, this is beautiful! I’m glad you shared your heart here…..I am going to highlight that in my own bible and post it on my mirror!!

      Glory to God, the enemy has NO authority in our mind, our heart, or our life!

  11. All rough or bad patches in my life I can almost solely attribute to negative thinking. I once read that we shouldn’t ask “Why me?”, but rather “Why NOT me?” Such a different way of thinking. And I battle with negativity. It’s really so hard for me to focus on the positive and to not let those awful negative thoughts run rampant in my brain. This I do know though, God is on my side and he will continually renew me until the day of Christ Jesus when He will have the victory.

    • The Baby Mama, What an encouragement you are to me! After 13 years of infertility we finally got pregnant. We went in for an ultrasound and the baby’s heart was not beating. I’ve asked the Lord numerous times,”Why me?” but you are absolutely correct in saying, “Why not me?”
      Thank you for reminding me God’s on my side and that he will continually renew me until he comes again.

      • and I know this may sound nuts but make sure your iron levels are up to scratch, this can create depression and down feelings … so if you are really struggling to see the positive also check your body is healthy 🙂