5 min read
How your inner negative thoughts can undermine your marriage, despite knowing the best practices.
I was a basket case during my first few years of marriage. As a child of divorced parents, I went into marriage thinking that a lasting marriage was unpredictable at best, unlikely at worst. But I deeply wanted to make my marriage work. I just wasn’t sure that was something I had any say in.
At some point in those first few hectic months, I came across a book my mother had given me in college called “The Truth About Love.” I had read it before I got married but didn’t remember much, and I reread it with a lot more interest. The book described the science behind infatuation and gave concrete information about what lasting marriages had that others didn’t. It was the first time I challenged the idea that marriage was a game of luck. It seemed that there were some concrete things I could learn.
The information in the book was valuable, but not nearly as valuable as the idea that maybe marriage is something that can be learned.
That thought propelled me into every marriage class that came my way, every book recommendation I heard about, and every article or newsletter I could sign up to read. I drank it all in.
But something was still missing.
Our beliefs about ourselves, our marriages, and our husbands are the foundation of any work we can ever do on our marriages.
It took a few years for me to figure out the final piece. Marriage classes and books are often full of the “how-to’s,” the best practices of married couples. Hopefully they also include practical suggestions and some studies to back up their claims. I had a clear picture in my mind of what I should be doing as a wife to have a healthy marriage.
But I didn’t see myself as capable of living up to that ideal.
This sounds trivial but it’s actually everything. And having worked now with hundreds of married women, both from divorced homes and not, newly married and married for decades, I know I’m not alone. Our beliefs about ourselves, our marriages, and our husbands are the foundation of any work we can ever do on our marriages.
Thinking that I just wasn’t good enough to do “All the Things” meant that I was actually MORE on edge after reading a book or taking a class. My shame spiral was just that much more intense. Because when we think we can’t, our brains believe us – and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
And it wasn’t always about me – if I worried about our relationship as a whole, I’d be more focused on the things we weren’t doing right than all the things we were. If my confidence about my husband was the missing piece, the effect was similar.
This isn’t about conning ourselves into thinking everything is hunky dory when it very much isn’t. However, our brains have a negativity bias. We are more likely to notice what’s going wrong over what’s going right (a valuable trait for keeping us alive but somewhat less helpful in keeping us married).
The first thing I needed to do was start paying attention to my thoughts. I’d write them down whenever I had a negative feeling. This helped me see that the story I was telling myself was creating that negativity.
Then I recorded how my behavior was affected by that feeling. Was I scrolling aimlessly when I felt hopeless or getting snappy when I felt vulnerable? I tracked it all. I had in front of me concrete proof that nothing was just happening to me — I, and my thinking, was at the root of what I was experiencing in my marriage. This was the best news ever, because if thoughts were the only problem — and that problem was in my control.
Pay attention to what you are doing right.
Knowing how we tick allows us to intentionally give more attention to what’s going right over what’s going wrong, which creates more confidence and stability in our experience of our marriage. From that place, it’s a much simpler step to implementing all that great advice.
Gaining this self-awareness was the missing piece I had to add to all the material I had learned (because don’t get me wrong – the classes and books were extremely valuable once I learned how to use them). Before I could use all these tools and techniques, I needed to become aware of my own thinking and recognize it for what it was – nothing more than a sentence running through my mind – and realize what impact it was having on my marriage.
Whether we’re struggling with feeling inadequate ourselves, or resentful of our husbands, or uncertain about our relationship as a whole, our thoughts run a fine line between observing our reality and creating it.