Jun 18, 2021
One of the easiest and most effective techniques for managing our expectations in relationships is the concept of "Mantras." Mantras are little phrases that we say to ourselves to help our brains and emotions form more accurate conclusions about our situation and our spouse. One of my favorite Authors Jon Acuff affectionately refers to mantras as "soundtracks" is his most recent book by the same name.
When we are equipped with these mantras we can eliminate surprises and things that might otherwise catch us off guard, we can turn negative thoughts into positive solutions, we can shift downward spirals into manageable conversations, and most importantly, we can minimize the #1 leading cause of divorce...frustration from mismatched expectations.
Whether you are happy & healthy and want to stay that way or whether you are in a bad spot, these are the 6 marriage mantras we believe can save your marriage.
When we start something, anything, there is always initially a lot of excitement and plans for greatness. Unfortunately, the excitement is typically short lived, and we start to fade over time. Whether it’s training to run a marathon, a house project, a New Year’s resolution, or even marriage; we start out excited but experience a dip in that excitement in almost everything we set out to do. The dip in excitement, in and of itself isn’t the problem, it’s our inability to reconcile our expectations of greatness with reality.
The good news and the bad news...this waning of excitement or loss of interest happens in ALL marriages. It happens at different rates and for different reasons, but it is a law of nature we cannot avoid. Research (most notably from the Gottman Institute) shows that frustration caused by miss-matched expectations is the biggest reason for marriages falling apart. The trick isn’t trying to avoid the dip, it’s managing the dip…what we do in the dip makes all the difference. The Marriage Mantra “Marriage is a marathon not a sprint” is a reminder that we will experience ups and downs, and that having a plan to manage the lows and capture the highs will help you endure.
3 tips for running this marathon well are:
1. Consider all the people your marriage impacts and let that renew your resolve. Imagine your family and friends in their #teammarriage t-shirts while holding race signs cheering you on.
2. Identify the unfair expectations you are measuring your marriage by and don’t let them slow you down. I'm told that most runners know where in a race doubt and/or physical limitations will show up, and they are not caught off guard by them.
3. Revisit your marriage vision to realign to your purpose, your "why", and see the bigger picture beyond that annoying thing your spouse did or does. We can be intentional about seeing the finish line rather than the pain, difficulty, anger, and frustration in the dip. (If you don't have a marriage vision, check out our Household/Family/Upbringing mini-course for resources to create one.)
We all have a friend or two who always makes us feel good when are around them. We can call them to catch up and check in on them, but they always seem to be able to turn the tables and make us feel like a Rockstar. We are drawn to people like this because they make us feel good. They fill our need for affirmation, feeling valued, and experiencing support.
Unfortunately, for many of us this person isn't our spouse. For some reason, we tend to be more critical and quick to point fingers at faults and minor irritants inside our homes than we do with co-workers and friends. Sometimes we find it easier to list the cons to marriage than the pros. However, research shows that couples who focus on the good things in their spouses are 2 times more likely to report a happy marriage. Other studies that investigate what affirmation looks like in a marriage show that it is a combination of saying nice things, doing nice things, and offering support, which leads us to the Marriage Mantra: “Get good at finding good.”
Based on the research findings for happy couples we recommend practicing 3 things:
1. “Do good”! Treat your spouse with understanding and respect, take out the trash, change the baby’s diapers, make coffee, put your clothes away, etc. In doing these things, do them because you love your spouse and want to show that love not because you want credit (which we will talk about in a later mantra).
2. “Say good”! It is not enough to just do good, we have to say nice things, too. We almost always ask couples what it is about their spouse that they love or that made them fall in love. Cue waterworks...EVERY TIME. Why? Many times because it has been years since they have heard those words.
3. “See good”! When your spouse does something good, acknowledge the act and thank them. Both good and bad are present in every relationship: You get to choose which spreads. Catch your spouse doing good and tell them honestly and earnestly how much you appreciate them.
When you were in school were you ever called to the principal’s office or asked by a teacher to stay after class? As an adult, have you ever been called into your supervisor’s office? We all know “that” feeling and over the years have come to realize that this is usually not a good thing…the only time you get "called in" is when you have done something wrong.
Unfortunately, this negative feeling when needing to talk is how many of us operate our marriages. We typically let days go by doing our own thing, and we don’t sit down to talk until one of us has done something wrong or a particular situation has gotten out of hand and then; “we have to meet!” Research on healthy and happy marriages indicates that there is a 50% increase in marriage happiness when a couple shares frequent intimate knowledge with their spouse, and this takes regular meetings to catch up on ALL the things. This is the Marriage Mantra “IF YOU FAIL TO PLAN, YOU PLAN TO FAIL”. If you don’t plan regular meetings with your spouse, you’re essentially planning to fail (according to our close friend Ben Franklin). You will continue to perpetuate the cycle of "nothing's wrong" until it’s REALLY wrong, and continue associating your spouse with “bad news.”
Here are 4 tips for better planning in your relationship:
1. We should connect daily and discuss the good, the bad, and the indifferent…It is important that we constantly communicate.
2. We should celebrate! We celebrate kids, our friends, and our marriage. Little "everyday" wins lead to big wins.
3. We should share a meal together. This may be impossible every day, but we cannot allow ourselves to get so busy that we always eat on the run or with technology and tv “at the table”. Do life connected to one another.
4. We must share a sense of purpose in our marriage. When we do these things in a collective and collaborative way, we move our marriage from good to great.
Have you ever driven to work and not remember how you got there? Or on a weekend started to head to work because it’s what you do most days when you leave the house? Of course you have…it’s what our brains are designed to do. We establish habits and routines on regular and mostly mundane things so that we can reserve thinking for more important things. The problems come, however, when we turn our brains off on things that do matter like our marriages, which typically this leads to a rut.Routines need to be managed in our significant relationships or they turn into ruts. In marriage, we often experience some ups and downs with regard to routines. We spend energy creating them and then settle in, and before you know it, we are in a rut...we might have even turned our brains off on our marriage. STOP!!! Repeat this Marriage Mantra: “BREAK ROUTINES BEFORE THEY BREAK YOU.” Research on healthy and happy marriages outlined in the book 5 Simple Steps to take Your Marriage from Good to Great by Terri Orbuch indicates that 42% of all couples find that their marriages fall into a rut. It is important for us to realize that ruts (habits and routines) will break us if we don’t break them (at least once in awhile).
Routines (like regular planning) should enhance our relationships not limit or restrict our decisions or needs of our marriage.
These three questions can help identify if routines are serving our marriage or if our marriage is serving routine:
1. Are you living parallel lives? Simply living alongside each other but not coming together to collaborate or align is not enough. Work to become partners not roommates.
2. Is there anything that you do for fun? We need to learn to enjoy each other and enjoy our relationship and sometimes routines are not exciting. If you can't remember the last time you had fun, drop everything and go have fun.
3. Do we take our spouse for granted? Settling into the belief that our spouse will always be there often limits our recognition of their value and importance to our lives. Make a list of all the things they do that bring value.
Many things in our lives require routine maintenance. Our bodies, houses, cars, etc. often need attention. We typically rely on experts to check the key areas of concern and then make regular adjustments to keep things in tip top shape. Sometimes we experience costly repairs based on wear and tear or not keeping up on routine maintenance. When we don’t have proper expectations for the cost of ownership or simply living life, it can be daunting. The truth is we even start to count the cost and evaluate the worth of investing further in certain things.
The reality of relationships is there is always a cost. When we are dating someone or first married we are very willing to pay whatever price is required to have the relationship, but over time we start counting the cost and evaluating the value of investment. We are always either adding to or subtracting from the value of that relationship. We all do relationship mental math based on what we feel we add to the relationship and against what we feel our spouse either adds or subtracts. Like it or not, we are always comparing what we do and what our spouse does in our heads, and the math hardly ever adds up in our spouses favor. The Marriage Mantra “MIND YOUR MARRIAGE MATH” is a reminder that if our marriage “ledger” is off balance, we have to be intentional about adjusting before we are in such a deficit that your marriage goes bankrupt.
For us to stay balanced in marriage we need to communicate about the balance:
1. Talk openly about what you are doing (even the little things).
2. Ask questions about intentions, thoughts, and desires.
3. Listen carefully to what your spouse is saying (regardless of perception or reality).
If we were doing something that wasn't working in our marriage, wouldn’t it be nice if someone told us so we could fix it? If you are in a spot where you can't hear this feedback from your spouse consider a marriage coach to help you hear each other.
Pet peeves are a fascinating thing. Most of the time we see them as the things that other people do wrong. However, most of the time pet peeves reveal something inside of us that might be wrong…our selfish and self-focused nature. Pet peeves drive us crazy in our closest relationships, especially marriages. Pet peeves like leaving the cap off things around the house, leaving your shoes or clothes out, and not making the bed or maybe making the bed drive us crazy. Reality Check: Whatever your pet peeve is, there is an equal peeve on the other side of the relationship.
As we have already mentioned, Dr Terri Orbuch reveals that her research found that the #1 issue that leads to problems in marriage is frustration ( if you haven't realized it by now, you should read 5 Simple Steps to take Your Marriage from Good to Great). Frustration typically stems from unmet expectations and the main culprit of mismatched expectations is the expectation that marriage is all about you. The unpopular opinion Marriage Mantra award goes to...“MARRIAGE IS NOT ABOUT YOU!" This does not mean that you shouldn’t care about yourself, try to be the best version of yourself, nor should you lose yourself in exchange for relationship. But if you believe that your spouse is going to fulfill all of your needs and desires or that marriage was designed simply to make you happy, you will be sorely disappointed.
This week in your marriage try two simple things:
1. Shift your thought process, change your patterns and do all the little things that will make your spouse happy.
2. Ask yourself; “what is one thing I can do to serve my spouse this week?” Then do it!
If we shift our focus from self to others in our relationships, not only will our frustration levels go way down, our needs would be more regularly met.
Phew...that was a lot of words. Thank you for coming to our TEDtalk. 😜
But really, we desire to provide meaningful insights that could change the course of your marriage for the better. Sometimes all it takes is a blog post or an insta post, other times it takes quite a bit more work. We have individual mini video courses, full 6-session video packages, marriage assessments, and we offer coaching for couples.
If you aren't ready to jump into anything or are looking for ways to discuss some of the above with your spouse, Mark did a youtube video series on all of the above in his weekly 5-minute video devotional called Faith in Five (links below). We hope that something opens the door to new discussions and insights for health in your marriage.