Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. -Philippians 4:4
In other words, I’m negative. If you don’t get it, don’t worry. I’ll be nice and translate my nerd-speak: I am coming to the conclusion that I am an extremely negative person. I am only recently learning how that affects me and my relationships with others, specifically this relationship I’m about to enter called “marriage.”
Attitude is extremely important. It can make or break you and your spouse. Your circumstances will only bring you down if you let them bring you down. We are all basically positive or basically negative people.
I am currently reading Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts: Seven Questions to Ask Before — and After — You Marry by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott. One story in the book involves Les (the husband) feeling extremely negative toward their neighbors. They and their neighbors shared some traits. For example, they were all in grad school, all of them were living in the same apartment building, and they were both newly-wed couples. They were basically the same except that their neighbor couple seemed to get all the breaks. Nice car, nice clothes because of discounts, job opportunities, everything just seemed to fall into place for them. So Les (husband) got extremely negative about his own circumstances, and this caused him to become irritable with his wife. Every little thing she did would annoy him. Or rather, to paraphrase his own words, he allowed it to annoy him. Then the answer came to him in a statistics class (see, it can be good for something other than torturing students). He was frustrated even with his computer when his teacher asked what was wrong. The resulting conversation led to this:
[A] computer takes an iota of data and gives it a positive…or negative electrical impulse and stores it. After that, the computer simply recalls the information from its memory and combines it in new ways. Then he said, ‘It basically works like a human brain…Our brains are programmed much like a computer. Just before we put any sound, sight, smell, taste, touch, or intuition into our mental computers, we stamp it ‘positive’ or ‘negative.’ Then we store the sensation in our brains, and it permanently stays there. That’s why you can’t always remember a person’s name, but you can always remember how you felt about them…Unlike computers, however, humans develop a habit of programming their minds to be either mostly negative or mostly positive.
Upon doing the exercise for this part of the book, which included writing down your “self-talk” (the way you talk about yourself), I realized that much of the way that I perceive things is negative. Some of my top bad-mood-putter-inners were:
- Not being on time, or when someone else is late.
- People around me being nasty to each other or to me.
- Envying what others have when it is something that I cannot seem to obtain (I’m the big green monster, it turns out).
These are all huge problems for me. As I thought about it, I realized that I also become negative and moody and mean toward TJ (my fiancee) when I am in these funks. It’s really not because of anything he’s doing. It’s that I’m allowing what he is doing to annoy or upset me because of these negative feelings that I am harboring over issues that probably have nothing to do with him at all. So you can see, I’m sure, how in the long run this could break down a marriage if it’s not addressed.
So the next part of the exercise was to write down what you are telling yourself that makes you feel so terrible. I said:
- “I deserve their punctuality/People will think badly of me if I’m late.”
- “What did I do to them to deserve that meanness?”
- “They get everything. I can’t have anything. Why am I so unlucky? I must be a loser.”
This is where I started seeing the negativity I’ve been feeding myself… I used to think that I was an incredibly positive person, but that just shows the separate issue of an inflated ego. I totally thought I was more positive than all y’all. So the next part was to write down three alternative statements that would not lead to feeling so bad.
- “People are late sometimes. Nobody is perfect. It will not make a difference in the grand scheme of things.”
- “They don’t owe me a good attitude. I am not entitled to their kindness. Be kind to them anyway.”
- “I am incredibly blessed to have what I do. God is all I need, and He always provides.”
So basically, the point is that we have a choice in whether or not we are happily married. It’s not something that just happens, or whatever. It’s something that we actually have to choose and work for. By the grace of God, we can do it. There will be days when we screw up and start telling ourselves that “I’d be happier if…” but that’s a lie. Our happiness does not come from our circumstances. Bad things happen and we may have sad or depressing seasons, but ultimately our overall attitudes are up to us.
I would strongly encourage you to try this exercise. Write down three situations that get you all grumped-up. Then write down what you are typically telling yourself when you’re in those situations that feeds the grumpiness. Then write down your own 3 alternative statements to help turn around the terrible feelings. Then start talking to yourself that way. Feel free to share. What were your situations, thoughts, and alternative statements? Are you a basically negative person, or a basically positive person? Could you stand to lose an electron? 😉