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Are You Thinking About What You’re Thinking?

If we want a healthy marriage, if we want a marriage that is marked by cherishing, we have to think about what we think about. Many of us often let our thoughts run wild. Instead of governing our thoughts, we become prisoners of our thoughts. God’s word encourages us to corral our thoughts, choose which ones we want to hang onto, and then focus them. In other words, thinking about what you’re thinking about.

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8).

In her excellent book (which I highly recommend) Choose Joy, Kay Warren describes finding the “secret” to staying close to her husband Rick following conflict: “Early in my marriage, I wasn’t very skilled at resolving conflict. When Rick and I would have a disagreement and my feelings would get hurt, I found myself resistant to reconnecting with him, even if he was ready to resolve things. I waited for my negative feelings to dissipate so that we could be close again, but hours would pass and the negative feelings would remain. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t make my feelings cooperate, and I repeated the same pattern, argument after argument.”

“Finally, someone shared with me a principle that altered our relationship: What we think determines how we act, and how we act determines how we feel. I was operating on the belief that I needed to feel differently before I could think differently. But the formula is reversed: Our thinking changes first, our actions come next, and our feelings follow.”

“Instead of waiting for my feelings to change so I could act in a forgiving way, I needed to change my thoughts. Instead of rehearsing the argument, I needed to rehearse God’s Word in my mind. Once my thoughts were back on track and in harmony with God’s instructions about relationships, I could make the right choices.”

Whatever is True

In my Cherish seminars, I tell the true story of a wife, married three months, getting dressed in the morning. As she takes a blouse off a hanger and puts the hanger back, her husband snaps, “I know you’re doing that just to bug me.”

“What are you talking about?” she asks.

“Putting those naked hangers in between clothes. I know you do that just to bug me.”

This wife had honestly never even heard the phrase “naked hanger,” and she had no idea they were somehow embarrassed to be placed next to hangers with clothes on them.

“Look,” her husband said. “You put the naked hangers together, like this…”

Sure enough, her husband’s closet had all the naked hangers hanging out together in a little naked hanger nudist colony.

This newlywed wife wasn’t trying to irritate her husband. She honestly didn’t even know this was a “thing.” But how many of us do something similar? Our spouse does something that irritates us and we jump to conclusions: “I know he/she is doing that just to bug me” when maybe they aren’t. Maybe they’re just clueless.

When it comes to marriage, let’s give our spouse the benefit of the doubt instead of the certainty of our judgment. In certain marriages where trust has been breached, a little suspicion is warranted and trust must be regained. But our first thought (in a non-abusive marriage) should be to think our spouse has the best intention until we find out that’s not the case.

Before you jump to conclusions, make sure it’s true.

Honorable, Right, Pure, Lovely, and Admirable

All three of my marriage seminars (Sacred MarriageA Lifelong Love, and Cherish) address the same verse to varying degrees because I think it’s fundamental when we talk about “improving” marriage: “We all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). The Bible promises us that our spouses will stumble not just occasionally, but in many ways. This is true of everyone: we all stumble. Which means, every spouse will have legitimate negative things to think about their spouse on a regular, ongoing basis. And your spouse will have legitimate negative things to think about you.

Paul is saying we can choose not to think about those things. We can choose instead to think about something else: things about our spouse that are honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable.

Read Next on Thriving Marriages  Good News! Your Spouse's Needs Aren't As Hard to Meet as You Think. This is Why.

That’s why I write about the “thanksgiving” journal in cherish—training our minds to focus on the good things our spouse does and the admirable qualities they possess. You may not want to do a daily journal (I realize doing this sounds obsessive to some), but everyone could make a short “what I love about my spouse” list.

I even do this with God, who never fails: I have a running list of praiseworthy things I want to meditate on about Him. Even though He is prefect, thinking about this list preserves and strengthens a heart and mind bent toward continual worship.

Many addicts make a list to preserve sobriety: they have a list of reasons to value sobriety and they review that list when temptation to fall becomes intense.

A list to preserve not just your marriage, but a cherishing attitude in marriage, will go a long way. So write it out! When you get particularly frustrated, review the list. Maybe my idea in Cherish of writing something new down every day seems like way too much work and you read right over it. I understand that. But you can make a preliminary list in ten minutes. And you can add one thing to that list once a week, can’t you? That would take less than a minute a week.

Keeping Off the Death Spiral

When a couple starts the slide toward contempt, they become obsessed with thinking about their spouse’s failings. Such a mindset never motivates your spouse. Your spouse is never less likely to change than when he/she feels you look at them only with contempt. Kay Warren points out, “Some of us feel duty-bound to point out to other people their imperfections. Then we expect them to be grateful for it, as if they’ll say, ‘Oh, thank you! I was waiting for you to tell me about that flaw today!’”

When we go through the “Philippians 4:8 List” we create a cherishing climate in our marriages. As Kay notes, “Nothing will restore joy in another person’s heart faster than the words, ‘I accept you as you are.’”

The human condition, according to Scripture, means that the same spouse doing the same things can be despised or cherished, depending on what we choose to think about. If you want to cherish your spouse, think about what you think about.

Cherish Challenge Week Six

  • Read (or listen to) chapters 7 and 8 Cherish.
  • Begin making your short list. Use the words of Philippians 4:8, giving two examples for each trait to begin your list:

True (are you sure your spouse is trying to irritate you?)

Honorable (what makes you proud to be married to your spouse?)

Right (in alignment with God)

Pure (morally upright, often used for sexual purity)

Lovely (things that are beautiful to behold)

Admirable (qualities you’d like your kids to emulate)

Excellent (where does your spouse excel)?

Worthy of praise (how would others praise your spouse?)

  • Ask your spouse, “On a spectrum of thinking about you along the lines of Philippians 4:8 (10), and thinking about you with contempt (1), what number would you place me at?
  • Please, share your practical testimonies with us about how this blog post, chapter, and exercise in the Cherish Challenge is positively impacting your marriage. We want to feature your stories! You can submit them on the Cherish Challenge page.