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W05 Behaviors that Negatively Affect Marriage

Affect … effect … I will probably never ever learn how to tell these two words apart.  I have tried over and over again across my almost 40 years to learn the difference and it never makes sense to me.  So, if any of my readers out there have a good idea on how to actually help me learn this… please leave me a comment at the end of the blog!

So, what behaviors negatively affect marriage?  That’s what this week’s material is all about.  I have read five chapters in books, watched a clip from The Great Commandment given by Elder Wirthlin while he had a flare up of Parkinson’s disease, and watched several clips from the movie Fireproof staring Kirk Cameron (for those of you as old as me, that was a little treat) all of which made my allergies flare up.  Okay, really, my eyes were filled with tears at many of these intersections as I studied the material for this week.  Is it because it’s almost my birthday and I’m feeling sentimental?  Is it because yesterday was the Sabbath and I am feeling closer to the Spirit as I write on Monday instead of Tuesday or Wednesday?  Or is it because the lessons and messages that I read and viewed this week touched my heart and ring true on some level for me as an individual, a wife, a mother, and a disciple of Jesus Christ?

For those of you that know me, I’m a list maker.  I love to make lists.  There are eleven lists sitting in from of me as I type.  Each of them on a sticky note.  There are nine more as sticky notes on my desktop and at least three more in the planner that I use each day.  I love lists; so for the love of lists, here is my list for you on behaviors that negatively affect marriage:

  • Criticism
  • Contempt
  • Defensiveness
  • Stonewalling
  • Emotional flooding
  • Rejection
  • Bad memories put to current day events
  • Loneliness
  • Selfishness
  • Lack of charity, compassion, and empathy

While the list is short, relatively, it’s not like the grocery list… these are the particular items that were brought to my attention during my studies this week.  The list is made up from topics covered in Dr. John Gottman’s book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work and from Dr. H. Wallace Goddard’s book Drawing Heaven into your Marriage.  If you’re committed, who doesn’t want to make their marriage work?  If you’re committed, who doesn’t want a slice of heaven in their marriage?  I say, even if you’re not so sure that you want to make your marriage work, or maybe you don’t believe in heaven…. Well, I say you’re pretty silly; what have you got to lose, other than your eternal happiness? If you’re willing to bet the future of your eternity – throw in the towel, if not please keep reading:

Clearly, I am not an expert on marriage, I have been divorced for goodness sake.  I can only say that I want to be an expert on family and home.  I want to be an expert in my own marriage.  I want to be an expert wife and mom; so I study and I read and I let it all soak in.  Hopefully there is a morsel for you to relate to.

Criticism

This doesn’t mean “your hair is a bit frizzy today” or “I’m not sure that shirt looks good on you.”  This means “why don’t you ever brush your hair, you always go about looking like you just got out of bed” or “that shirt looks terrible on you, how did you make it 36 years in life and never learn how to dress yourself, you can’t go in public like that!”  Can you see the difference there?  The always and never statements, the harshness of the second two statements.  It is one thing to file a complaint, it is another to criticize your partner with harshness and certainly with always and never statements.  Yes, I do have frizzy hair – the humidity makes it even worse, but I do brush it every day and I don’t ALWAYS go about looking like I just got out of bed.  That shirt may not look great on my husband, but telling him it looks terrible just isn’t kind and in his 36 years, 30 before he ever even met me, he managed never to go out into public naked – he’s fared well enough.  Does this make sense?

While I don’t recommend filing complaints every day about every little thing, that can pile up and become overwhelming, but when you truly feel like you need to file a complaint with your spouse, do it with kindness.  Leave those always and never statements at the door, lock them outside – none of us ALWAYS or NEVER behave in a specific fashion.

Contempt

Eye rolling, scoffing, sarcasm, and skepticism are all contemptuous.  What this really boils down to is respect.  When one behaves in manners like this toward their loved ones, you are displaying disrespect for them.  If we aren’t kind and respectful of our spouses, what is it that our relationship is built out of?  Do we love them? Think on that…

Defensiveness

When he tells me about that frizzy hair, even if he does so kindly, do I grumble back at him and say “I can’t help my hair, why are you so mean?”  Does he shout back at me when I complain about his shirt “I’ve been able to dress myself for 36 years without you, I am not a complete idiot.”  These are examples of being defensive.  Think about the defensive line on a football team, their job is to shut the opposing team down, to not let them score. Are you on the same team as your spouse, or are you just trying to make sure they don’t score any points?

Stonewalling

This is pretty much shut-down from my perspective.  I’m talking to my husband about his shirt and he’s not making any eye contact or even giving any cues to me that he’s listening.  He has shut down and shut me out.  Do you ever just keep talking when your spouse is non-responsive?  Take a step back and see what he or she looks like, what is their body language telling you?  Have you over stepped your bounds?  Have you helped them to give up hope in communicating with you?  If you find this happening, you have got to get some help!  You need to take a step back, apologize to your spouse and find a way to open that line of communication again – this is an urgent need.

Emotional Flooding

Why did he shut down when I talked to him about his shirt? Because he is flooding emotionally.  I have criticized too much, he is so used to be run over by me, that in order to preserve his dignity and to not blow up at me, he simply shuts down to avoid the confrontation.  When he finally does start to talk to me about his shirt, I then talked over the top of him complaining more that he wasn’t talking to me when I was talking to him, he shuts down again.  Flooding… and too much of this circular pattern simply leads to divorce.  It has to stop.  The pattern must be broken.

Rejection

I’ve noticed that I have totally messed up here.  My husband does know how to dress himself!  I come to his side as he’s lying in bed reading a book.  I sit on the edge of the bed and lightly touch his arm.  He looks at me but says nothing.  I then say to him “I am so sorry that I was critical of your shirt and how you dress yourself, that wasn’t kind of me.  Will you forgive me?”  He looks up again and continues to read his book.  Rejection.  Don’t do this people!! When your spouse offers you a genuine, heartfelt apology, make the time to listen.  I’m not saying you have to forgive immediately, but listen and respond appropriately.  Put yourself in the being rejected shoes, no one likes being there, don’t put the one person that you should be able to count on every day for the rest of forever in those shoes intentionally.

Bad memories put to current day events

We have all had bad days, and most of us bad fights.  Those bad days and bad fights need to stay right where they were left.  Sure, there may be some unresolved issues from those days or those fights, but bring them to the table for resolution without the horrible day along with it.  I mean, it’s okay to talk about and discuss overspending on clothes for the month, but we don’t need to bring up “that one day when you spent $300 dollars at the mall and took no thought to the remainder of the budget and we stood in the kitchen yelling at each other.”  What good does this do?  Instead try “Is there a way that I can help you keep within the allotted budget for clothing?”  Leave those horrible fights where they were, there is no point digging up old fights and bad memories to serve the current moment and help cultivate a great relationship.

Loneliness

From all of those topics mentioned above, when these tactics are employed in a relationship, loneliness is the result.  Do you go to bed each night wondering who is that lying next to me? Do you wonder where that (wo)man you married is at, when they are sitting opposite you at the dinner table?  Being lonely within a marriage is a direct result from lack of good communication.  The spirit of any person gets to a breaking point when constantly barraged with overwhelming feelings of incompetence.  When I am told over and over again that I am a horrible housekeeper, I begin to really feel this way.  If my husband then begins to tell me that I am a deplorable cook (this might be true) I may begin to believe it.  When we are constantly under attack from our loved ones, how can we preserve ourselves, by being defensive, stonewalling, and shutting down.  Henceforth, we become lonely.  I certainly don’t want to be in bed each night lying next to my husband in a state such as this, do you?

Selfishness

I’m going to dig a little on this one and throw myself under the proverbial bus.  I am generous.  I give to my husband, I give to my children, I give to those that I visit teach, I give to those in our ward, I give to the community, I pay a full tithe, I sincerely put forth effort to give of myself to others.  So, I am not entirely selfish, but… I certainly have areas of my life where I am.  I am selfish with the budgeted money for clothing.  Do I really need to spend it all each month?  Certainly not, but I almost always do.  I believe that we can each improve in this area to focus on becoming more Christ like.  Never a moment in his mortal life did he take time to please himself before helping another or doing the Father’s will.  Jesus Christ should be our example, not only in being selfless, but in each and every aspect of our relationships that I have written about.  With words on the Savior, this leads me to the last point for this really long blog post:

Lack of charity, compassion, and empathy

“What lack I yet?”  Do you lack charity, compassion, or empathy for your spouse?  Do you think “well, that’s what you get!”?  When your spouse is in bed sick, do you make a tray of food and go sit by their side or do you ignore that they aren’t well?  Do you have a pang of sadness when you know your loved one is having a rough day at work, or do you brush their bad day off to deal with your own?

Charity is the pure love of Christ (you saw that coming, right?).  When we have charity for 3 Nephi 16others, compassion and empathy are right alongside.  Is this aspect of your life missing?  You have got to put up a lost and found poster immediately!  There is no time to waste, stop reading and go.

Just this morning, my husband was in bed with a migraine.  While this is frustrating because it’s going to be a missed day of work and no income, I went to my husband’s side and asked what kind of medication he needs?  I got the medication, I got a glass of water.  I made sure the kids were staying quiet, I got a cool rag for his forehead because I know he likes it when he has a migraine.  Charity, compassion, empathy.  Each of these is a must in every marriage across the planet.  If you are lacking in this department, I’d like for you to get some help.  I implore you to get help.  Your marriage is worth it, your spouse is worth it, and more importantly, you are worth it.  Each of us is a child of God, and He wants you to return to live with him.  He wants you to have these qualities in your life that you once had.  You deserve to have them, and if you have lost your way, you have lost these precious gems from your pocket, you have got to go and find them.  Open your scriptures, open your heart, repent, ask for forgiveness from those you have harmed and work to better yourself each day.  Charity is indeed the pure love of Christ, and without charity, we can in nowise inherit the kingdom which He has planned for us.

And while after writing this super long blog, I still don’t know the difference between effect and affect, I have a sense of peace that has washed over my being.  I feel those tears welling up in my eyes.  Tears of gratitude for a loving Heavenly Father who sent His only Begotten Son to atone for my sins.  I am able to be forgiven for those snarky comments and overspending.  I am able to be loved by Him and am able to move forward trying each day to be better while I work on perfecting the love, charity, compassion, and empathy that I hold and distribute to those that are in need … my family.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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