Take a moment and think back to what it was like when you were first dating your husband. (Or wife. Or partner – it got too complicated to be switching pronouns all the time, so since I have a husband – that’s what we’re going with!)
My guess is that you thought he was so cute, so smart, so funny, so AMAZING!
Now scan forward to your life now. If you’ve been together for any significant amount of time you probably think he is so dumb (sometimes), so annoying, so ARGHHHH!
What the heck happened??
Time. Time happened. And the mess of living together. And maybe kids. And financial stressors. And being together all.the.time! Life. Life happened.
To a certain extent this is normal. The honeymoon phase of a relationship can only last so long. Seriously, if we spent the rest of our lives in the honeymoon phase we wouldn’t be very productive. Either that or we would be super annoying to everyone around us!
So the honeymoon phase is not the goal, but we run scripts in our heads that can either help or hurt how we feel about our relationship. I may not have control over what pops into my head, but I do have control over what thoughts I choose to nurture and allow to grow.
Here’s the difference:
My husband leaves every cabinet open in the kitchen again. The thought pops into my head: Ugh! Why is it so hard to close a cabinet?! He is so annoying!
Then my mind adds, “Yes! He IS so annoying! Yesterday he did this and last week he did that! Why in the world did I even marry him?”
Or . . .
My mind adds, “Wait a minute! It costs me nothing to close these cabinets. This is annoying but he loves me deeply, gives me hugs when I ask for them, and cares about whether or not I’m happy in this marriage.”
There is a saying in psychotherapy that say “neurons that fire together wire together.”
This simply means that what we do, think about, feel, or focus on creates neural pathways in our brains. And just like ditches that become deep after years of digging, those neural pathways get stronger and more ingrained the more we use them. They become the pathway that we “fall into” when those areas of our lives get triggered. And pretty soon we have a deep neural pathway that says our husband is a burden, an annoyance, and we can’t get out of that “ditch.” This internal thought life has the ability to tank your relationship!
Just like we can create strong negative neural pathways, we can create strong positive neural pathways too!
A mental exercise I started using last year is to stop in those moments when the negative thoughts pop into my head and say to myself – what did I love about him when we were dating? Guess what? The list is long! The list is just as long as the list of annoyances!
When I put on those dating goggles (most of those things are still true today 20 years later) I feel so blessed! Does that mean I never feel annoyed anymore? Heck no! I wish! (My husband probably wishes too!) What it does mean is that I am able to hold onto a hint of that honeymoon phase; a reminder in those moments that the good outweighs the bad.
I feel compelled to add that if you are dealing with deep, painful struggles in your marriage, this is not intended to send the message that if you think more positively, your marriage will magically get better. This is for those times where we are feeling annoyed or being critical, but the relationship on a whole is functioning well. There is truth in the statement that how we think about things impacts both our feelings and our behavior, but I don’t want to trivialize the real pain that a hurting or broken marriage can bring. I see you. I see the depth of your hurt. You are not alone in your struggles, and I want to encourage you to surround yourself with support whether that’s friends, family, your faith community, and/or a therapist. A hurting marriage can be a lonely place, but don’t stay alone in that pain.
**I want to add that if you are in a situation that is abusive, this post is not meant to over simplify the issues in your relationship. Abusers have a way of blaming their victims, and over time it is easy to start blaming yourself as well. Abuse of any kind is never okay, and it is never your fault. You could do a horrible horrible thing and you would still not deserve to be physically, mentally, emotionally, or sexually abused or punished. There is help, and there is hope just a google search away for resources in your area to support any changes you might need to make. You can also click on the Abuse tab on the bar at the top of this page for more resources.