Thursday, October 29, 2015

How to Not Hate Your Spouse

There are few certainties in this world. However, in my experience, one of those certainties is whenever you start to become overconfident in an area of your life, that is generally the time the universe decides to give you a swift kick in the pants.

For example, one time a friend of mine asked for advice on dealing with her misbehaving 3-year-old. My own 3-year-old happened to have a good Wednesday that week so I was feeling particularly confident in my parenting skills. I don't remember what words of wisdom I bestowed upon her that evening, but I will never forget my son's preschool teacher pulling me aside the next day to tell me that my 3-year-old had spent the morning acting like a rabid dog and had clawed another child's face so bad he drew blood.

I immediately texted my friend and told her to please ignore all of my previous advice. "Instead, just throw out all the granola bars and maybe get a tattoo that says 'this too shall pass' on the inside of your hand so you will see it whenever you get the urge to face-palm."

So you see, I'm a little hesitant to share advice. Especially marriage advice. Because it may cause my husband to claw at my face like a rabid dog.

I kid! I kid!

Actually, John and I recently celebrated our 10-year anniversary. I have been married 10 years to the funniest, smartest, most loving guy a girl could ask for. But sometimes I forget. Sometimes I forget all those things under the stress and strain of everyday life.

All of his stellar qualities I fell in love with become commonplace as the days pile on and the weeks become months of needy babies and dirty laundry and home maintenance projects.

And when life takes dips into drudgery, as it often tends to do, resentment rears its ugly head. And who gets the brunt of this anger and frustration? None other than the partner I pledged to walk through life with.

What can be done to uproot these seeds of bitterness before they grow into full-fledged hate for your spouse?

This is where the advice part comes in, but even with 10 years under my belt I can't help but feel unqualified to offer martial wisdom. Luckily, this is not my advice. This advice was given to me by a speaker I heard several years back. I honestly don't even remember who she was, but I've never forgotten what she said.

Her advice for a happy marriage was simple: index cards.

Yes, index cards.

It works like this. Let's say you've asked your spouse to take some chicken out of the freezer so it can thaw for dinner. He forgets. As the five o'clock hour (or the dark time where dreams go to die, as we call it in my house) approaches you discover his oversight and you are gripped with the horrible realization that there is no dinner and delivery pizza will take at least 45 minutes, so you might as well throw some cereal boxes on the table and let the children duke it out over who gets the last of the Lucky Charms.

Did I mention this scenario was hypothetical? Anywho, in such desperate moments, we inevitably look for someone to blame and our spouse is the obvious scapegoat. Rather than giving the benefit of the doubt, our thoughts immediately turn sour. I can't believe he forgot such a simple request. If he wasn't so preoccupied with work, he would have remembered. If he was thinking about my needs, he would have remembered. He's so selfish. He doesn't care about me. He doesn't care about us.

It sounds silly, but admit it, we've all fell victim to letting those little lies invade our head. Sometimes, when I'm trapped inside my head, I convince myself that the lies are truths.

This is where the index cards come in. That speaker, all those years ago, shared that she had written down truths about her husband on a set of index cards so that when she felt the lies in her head, she had some solid truth to use against them. She would read through her cards until she was no longer mad, and the bitterness never had a chance to take root.

If I'm being perfectly honest, I have never written down the truths on index cards, but it's been on my to-do list for about 5 years now, so I'm sure that counts for something. In the meantime, I do have a mental list of truths about my husband always at the ready in my brain. If they do ever make it to index card form, they may look something like this:

He always opens the door for me. Even after 10 years.

He works long hours to provide for our family.

The children adore him.

He has immediately forgiven me every time I have hit the house with our car.


He stands firm in his convictions and beliefs.

He does a hysterical impression of Dr. Phil.

He does a hysterical impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

He does a hysterical impression of the Crocodile Hunter (admittedly, that one was funnier before he died. But seriously, John should probably just do impressions whenever I'm mad at him because who can stay mad at the Crocodile Hunter?)

And just like that, with a bit of review and repetition, these truths begin to soften the shell of bitterness covering my heart, and I am reminded of why I love him so fiercely.

It's a simple little exercise, but I swear it works every time. Maybe because it's the often-quoted Corinthians passage in action: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

Perhaps I should have more wisdom to bestow after 3,650 days of life with the same man. On the other hand, I believe I've worn the same pair of sweatpants-as-pajamas for 3,645 of those days, so maybe you're better off just sticking with the index cards.

Nothing to see here, Universe, go find some other (sweat)pants to kick.