Wilma, frustrated with Fred, determines he’s late for dinner because he’s so thoughtless and just won’t take the time to call her.
Betty, seeing that Barney is late for dinner, chooses to believe that he must have had something important come up at work or he would have been on time.
What glasses do you wear when you view your spouse? All of us, as we examine someone else’s behavior, tend to view them through a lens or mental filter. In fact, we are constantly creating a narrative about our spouse, a story that helps us understand who they are, what they do, and why they do it.
In the above examples, Wilma has created a narrative that says that Fred is thoughtless, that he’s selfish, and inconsiderate of her. Betty, on the other hand, chooses to see Barney’s behavior through a more positive filter. She gives him the benefit of the doubt and chooses to believe the best about him.
Narratives are powerful influences in our relationships, and they not only have the ability to direct our thoughts, but they can also lead us down paths we didn’t intend.
If Wilma continues to allow negative thoughts about Fred to dominate her mind, then she will likely act on those thoughts. “Fred, why are you late again? You can’t even call me? Don’t I mean anything to you? Do you always have to ignore me and only think about yourself?” Her filter (“Fred is thoughtless”) suddenly takes on a life of its own as she begins to attribute more and more negative intentions to his late arrival. And the effect on Fred is unlikely to be positive either. In fact, her lashing out at him will have the effect of pushing him even farther away. Why would he want to hurry home to that kind of attitude?
On the other hand, Betty has chosen a different way. Yes, Barney is late, yet she is choosing to see other possibilities as to why. Rather than assuming the worst, she is choosing to calm herself and believe the best. The result can have tremendous positive consequences. She welcomes him home, curious as to why he’s late but not condemning, and thus gives him the chance to explain his actions. Rather than being backed into the corner with a finger-pointing wife, he can reveal the reason for his tardiness and feel free, rather than forced, to apologize.
Narratives also have the ability to reinforce faulty thoughts. It works like this: Wilma starts believing the “Fred is thoughtless” narrative and then looks for behavior that reinforces that narrative. She doesn’t see or give him credit for the times that he IS home on time, or the times that he takes Pebbles out for a bike ride to give Wilma a break. She only notices the dishes left in the sink or his failure to pick up the dry cleaning. As a result, the narrative strengthens and she finds herself more and more dissatisfied with her marriage.
Sadly, all of us struggle with this. Because we are inherently selfish, we tend to misinterpret other’s behaviors in relationship to us. We tend to dwell on the slight or we exaggerate their mistakes to make ourselves look better. But these behaviors do not foster the connection that we all crave in marriage. Consequently, we have to mind our minds. We have to evaluate our thoughts and the narratives we are believing.
Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8, Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.
This comes naturally to exactly NONE of us. We have to train ourselves to think on what is true and what is lovely. If we are constantly focused on the negative behavior of our spouse, is it any wonder that we are left frustrated and dissatisfied? No! We must develop the habit of looking for the good, dwelling on the positive traits and appreciating them. Why? Because whatever we focus on GROWS. Do you want your husband to be more thoughtful? Notice and appreciate the times he IS thoughtful. Do you want your wife to continue to nag? Then focus on it.
Today, pay attention to what you are thinking, to what you are telling yourself about your spouse, and look for opportunities to encourage and appreciate the good.