Self-Talk: What You Say Can Help or Hinder Your Marriage
5 Ways To Improve Your Marriage Self-talk
By Roy Milam
You might be astonished by what you heard. Perhaps you’d find, for example, that you’re saying some nice things about your mate, some internal compliments that he or she never hears. Things like, I love it when she smiles at me that way. He’s great with the kids.
But you might also be shocked by how much negative stuff you silently murmur. He cares more about fishing than about me. She’s so irradic about keeping house. This kind of self-talk is negative and tears down your mate for not meeting up to your expectations. In fact, according to behavioral scientists, 77 percent of the average person’s self-talk is negative. And one negative thought can neutralize dozens of positive ones. Imagine the impact this has on a marriage-how it short circuits your attitude toward your mate and causes you to disconnect.
As an example, I’ll confess to a situation that happened in our own marriage not too long ago.. I had told Sue that I would grill salmon and fix a nice dinner for her and the kids. When I called her on my way home I mentioned how stressed out, tired and hungry I was and hinted that I really wasn’t up to fixing dinner. I was hoping that she would get the hint and order in pizza, give me a break, and we’d take it easy and relax.
“After all,” I thought, “I’ve had a demanding week of ministry. She’ll realize I’m too tired to make dinner tonight.” But I hadn’t said anything to her. I thought she would initiate it.
“She should know.” But she obviously didn’t know because she didn’t suggest ordering pizza. So, I irritably grilled the salmon, while saying to myself,
“she just thinks about herself. She doesn’t care about me.”
During the meal I sulked, and it only got worse when she didn’t ask about my day. In my thoughts I said,
“If she really cared about me, she’d want to find out how I’m doing.” I threw a pity party and she didn’t even notice that either.
As I sat there feeling dejected and discouraged, I thought, “She’s really being selfish.” The rest of the evening I withdrew and avoided her. Why? Because “a man shouldn’t have to ask his woman to get dinner for him.”
Each of us holds an ongoing internal dialogue, which colors every experience in our life, including our marriage. Proverbs 23:7 (KJV) tells us “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.”This “self-talk” that goes on in our heart is automatic and occurs without prior reflection or reasoning. Our brain instantly accepts it as truthful and valid, even when it’s not. While these thoughts are rarely noticed, they continually shape our attitudes, actions, reactions and outlook.
If I had monitored my self-talk, I would have realized I was my marriage’s own worst enemy. While my goal was to connect with Sue, instead I punished her for not meeting my unspoken expectations. Think how my mood,attitude and the evening would have changed if I’d monitored my negative self-talk and replaced it with positive, more accurate, affirmative thoughts.
I can’t expect her to read my mind-she doesn’t know I’d like to just chill out. Just because she doesn’t initiate a conversation doesn’t mean she’s not interested in me. Sure, it may take some mental muscle to create more accurate thoughts, but aren’t they more constructive? Here are five ways to improve your self-talk:
Step 1: Take drastic action.
Negative self-talk has a domino effect- it is hazardous not only to your health and happiness, but to that of your marriage and family as well. It spawns unproductive attitudes, emotions, and behaviors in you. Then in turn, impedes positive feelings, motivation, caring actions, and communication in your marriage, resulting in conflict. isolation .and loss of intimacy.
Positive self-talk improves the quality of your attitude, emotions, motivation, behaviors and communication, making your marriagemore joyful, harmonious, caring and intimate. Fortunately, change is possible, and Romans 12:2 gives us the key – “by the renewing of your mind,” your thought processes and self-talk. The place to start is in your quiet time, seeking God, worshipping in Spirit, meditating on Truth. Every morning make 2 Corinthians 10:5 your prayer, “Lord, help me to take my thoughts captive and make them obedient and pleasing to Christ.”
Step 2: Listen and take note.
Recognizing a problem is a big step toward solving it. Start listening to yourself. If you were to sum up all your negative and positive self-talk statements, which ones would win out? Several years ago when Sue and I were going through some parenting adjustments in our marriage, I made notes of my internal dialogue periodically during the day. I carried a pad and pen and jotted down what I was saying to myself. I was surprised by how negative my self-talk could be-how often I had critical thoughts about our situation, about myself, about her and about our relationship.
Step 3: Don’t believe everything you hear. Discern false notions in your thinking. Stop negative thoughts. Refute any lies you are believing or any emotional thinking.
A friend of ours grew up seeing her father open doors for her mother. “That’s how a man shows his wife he loves her,” she thought. But when she got married, her husband didn’t practice that “old fashioned notion.” Her self-talk was, “If he really cherished me, he’d open my doors.” Small thoughts began to eat large holes in her attitudes and actions. Once she saw the truth, and identified the “lie”she was believing which was provoking her negative self-talk, she was able to change her self-talk. It was then, her attitude improved and her marriage got better.
As you become more aware of, your self-talk, ask yourself:Is what I’m thinking really accurate? Is it negative? Is it spouse-condemning? Once Janie recognized this negative speech in her thoughts, she realized it was contaminating their relationship. She made the conscious effort to change her thoughts to say, “He didn’t grow up in a home like mine, and it’s unfair, even silly, for me to read motives into whether or not he opens my door.”
Step 4: Replace all negative, irrational thoughts with true, positive ones.
The focus of my thoughts, assumptions and beliefs determine my feelings. Say that aloud occasionally. Once you own the fact that it’s what you repeatedly think and say to yourself that determines your attitude and feelings then you set your mind on a positive track. You begin to live out what the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians (4:8-9): “Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things . and the God of peace will be with you.” Replacing your thoughts may take some time, but stick with it and you’ll change your attitude and your feelings and your life for good.
If you want to really make a positive change in this area? On paper identify the most common I-statements you use throughout the day. Next, write an alternative to each, replacing it by turning the negative into a positive. For example, counter, “She’s always nagging me about my clothes on the floor,” with, “She cares about making our home pleasant for us.” This simple exercise can trigger a positive response the next time it’s needed.
Step 5: See the good and speak the truth.
A good place to start doing this is to select an aspect of your mate’s character you admire. For example, Sue is one of the most organized people I know. But sometimes her desire to have everything all planned out can get under my skin. Ever felt that way? The very thing I appreciate about her can become the thing that bugs me. But I can train my brain and say to myself, “Sue’s discipline of planning is something I value deeply.” This kind of positive self-talk changes my attitude and makes both of our lives better.
If your self-talk is an irrational dialogue about whether your spouse really loves you, give it up. There are no awards for mind reading, so don’t expect your spouse to do that. When I worried that Sue didn’t care about me because she didn’t fix supper and ask about my day, it would have been more productive for me to verbalize my thoughts. “Sue, I’ve had a tough week. How about we order pizza in tonight and then just relax together?” That kind of straightforward talk could have changed our entire evening.
If your self-talk is positive, that’s all the more reason to tell your spouse. If you’re thinking, She looks great in that dress or I like the way he laughs at my jokes-say it! You can never give too many compliments. By expressing your positive internal dialogue, you won’t expect your mate to mind-read and meet unvoiced expectations. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll feel a new sense of empowerment in your marriage.
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