News and Views

ENHANCING & PRESERVING MARRIAGE #6--RETHINK

 

 
It would be wonderful if every marriage were based in open, honest, trusting communication with closeness, safety, intimacy, freedom, and mutual love with all of its components of respect, trust, acceptance, appreciation and affirmation, admiration, and equal concern for each other's welfare.  It would be wonderful, but the reality is that such marriages are in the minority and usually result from two people working very hard together to achieve this goal.  For those who have marriages which are less than this ideal, this series of columns considers an effective way for a marriage partner to grow and change to become his or her best self, having self-control and interacting in positive ways which change the patterns of interaction in the marriage and thereby open up the possibility for an improved marriage relationship.  If both partners in a marriage honestly make this effort, a better relationship is a certainty.  These positive changes in one marriage partner are not guaranteed to result in an improved marriage because the partner has the free will to refuse to recognize and cooperate with the changes.  However, the person seeking to become the best he or she can be will still be ahead because what is gained in self-control and a positive living style which brings with it strength and confidence to better face whatever life may hold in the future.
     The most difficult step in the process is the first, and most important, step: recognizing the content of one's inner stream of thought, inner self-talk, inner monologue, recognizing which parts of that inner thought process are negative and/or untrue, and replacing those parts with thoughts which are both positive and true.
     The constant stream of inner thought is, perhaps, the easier part to identify and change, because it tends to occur in little bits and pieces rather than long connected thoughts, so replacement thoughts can also be brief and easy to remember and have ready.  For example, "He's such a jerk," might be replaced by, "He really knows how to calm the baby," or, "He works so hard," or a change of topic such as, "I was delighted to hear the robin sing this morning," or "Jean is such a good friend."  This is one of the times in which the Christian has an advantage, as it is always appropriate to choose to praise the Lord and think about God with thoughts such as, "God loves me so much, or, "God will bring good out of this," or, "Lord, help me."  Such quick thoughts about God to God help us to grow in relationship to Him and tap in to the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
     Our self-talk or our inner monologue are harder to change because they include illogical or irrational ideas which we have always assumed to be accurate.  Albert Ellis, an early proponent of Cognitive Therapy, in his book "Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy" identified 11 commonly held irrational ideas, explained their origins, explained why they are irrational, and developed the rational approach for thinking in this area. 
     For example,  one of the Irrational Ideas which Ellis identified is stated as, "The idea that human happiness is externally caused and that people have little or no ability to control their sorrows and disturbances."  
His explanation states, "Most people in our society believe they can't control themselves or their emotions when they are upset or unhappy because of other people or events."  
The reasons this idea are irrational may be summarized as:
1. Other people and events can really only harm one through physical or economic assault.  Psychological, verbal or gestural attacks cannot really harm one; one's own attitudes and reactions do the harm.
2. The sentences, "It hurts me when...." or "I can't stand it when...." really mean, "I upset myself by telling myself that it is horrible when,,,,"
3. In our society it is difficult for people to control their emotions because they think they can't and make any attempts to do so in a very slipshod, hasty way, and because they have made  a habit of becoming upset over many things.  If emotions are regarded as largely composed of perceptions, thoughts, evaluations, and internalized sentences, one can work calmly and concertedly at changing them. 
The rational objective is to, "Realize that unhappiness largely (though not entirely) comes from within and is created by the unhappy person oneself.  Method:
1. When one becomes extremely upset (rather than moderately regretful or irritated) one will realize that one's unthinking reaction is causing the upset, and that one can eradicate the emotions produced by one's self.
2. The person will:
    A. Objectively observe the acute unhappy emotions;
    B. Thoughtfully trace them to  the illogical internal sentences creating them;
    C. Examine, question, and challenge these sentences and recognize their inner contradictions;
    D. Change these self-verbalizations and thereby change the self-destructive emotions  and actions they have been causing.
     I have observed that one of the most destructive sources of irrational ideas lies in our unrealistic expectations of marriage and what a spouse will do and be.  Some of these expectations we consciously choose and can talk about before marriage, but others remain hidden until after the marriage.  If a spouse is not meeting an expectation, obviously it is not part of his or her understanding of marriage.  If a spouse is not meeting an expectation, it is time to take a good, hard look at the expectation to consider how realistic it is.  You may then decide that it really isn't that realistic and simply drop it, or you may decide that it is important enough to you to discuss with your spouse.  Your spouse may accept the expectation as a goal to meet and succeed in doing so, if you have chosen very well.  If your spouse doesn't accept your expectation as reasonable, it is probably best to let it go.  It is so sad when a marriage partner is still creating unhappiness after 25 or more years of an otherwise good marriage by continuing to complain about an unrealized idealistic dream , by refusing to give up an unrealistic expectation.  Remember, marriage is not about changing or controlling one's spouse.
     Learning to control and change our inner thoughts is a process soundly based in both modern psychology, as seen in the Ellis work quoted above, and in Biblical Christianity.  In Romans 12:2, Paul writes, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (NIV)  He tells us more about how this is accomplished in Philippians 4:8, "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." (NIV)  He lists self-control as one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:23.  
     Changing and controlling our inner thought life is key to changing and controlling our attitudes, actions and emotions; is key to developing self-control and the self-confidence and strength that go together with it.  It is also the hardest step, but it is essential if we are to become our best self.
 



 
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