Almost a week ago these two messages came in my inbox:
1st: “The Seven Major Negative Emotions: Fear, Jealousy, Hatred, Revenge, Greed, Superstition, and Anger.” - Napoleon Hill
2nd: 3rd December, 2009 Marital Satisfaction is Largely a Choice One of my all-time favorite quotes is by Irving Becker: “If you don’t like someone, the way he holds his spoon will make you furious; if you do like him, he can turn his plate over into your lap and you won’t mind” (Reader’s Digest, 1975, p. 19).
What Becker’s words suggest to me is that we all make choices to be furious or forgiving. If we choose to be furious, we find plenty of reasons to justify our judgments. After all, we all have human partners just crammed with frailties—including funny ways of holding their spoons.
In contrast, if we choose to be forgiving, we find a wealth of reasons to be pleased with our partners and happy in our relationships. A plate of food in the lab is transformed into a golden memory by loving partners. As two marriage scholars have observed: “The focus in marriage education programs on problem-solving skills is woefully inadequate because we now know that the emotional climate of marriage matters. . . . If spouses have a reservoir of good will and they show their affection regularly, they are far more likely to be able to work through their differences, to warm to each other’s point of view, and to cope effectively with stress” (p. 955, Huston & Melz, 2004).
Communication and problem-solving are not enough. But how do we develop that “reservoir of good will” that carries us past the challenges? That’s the key question. Gottman (1994) gives the answer: “In a stable marriage…the partners tend to view each other through “rose-colored” glasses. They assume that each other’s positive, admirable characteristics are an intrinsic part of their personality rather than occasional flukes. The good things about their relationship are considered stable and far-reaching while the bad patches or areas of tension are considered to be fleeting and situational. Over time, [unhappy] couples pay ever more attention to their spouse’s actions that confirm their negative assumptions. Over time you [can] become conditioned to look for and react to negatives in your spouse and your marriage. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy: the more you expect and search for negatives, the more likely you are to find them, and to highlight their significance in your mind” (pp. 118-120).
In other words, we find what we look for. If we look for the limits, faults, and flaws, we get dissatisfaction. If we look for the qualities, strengths, and nobility, we get admiration. Psychologists uniformly recognize that this is a bias. We do not see our spouses objectively. We filter our perceptions through our chosen lenses—either loving or judging.
All this is boiled down by God to a simple recommendation: Have charity. See as He sees. Serve as He serves. Love as He loves.
Just a footnote: I have known a handful of married persons who were so extreme in their narcissism that a fully cooperative relationship with them was not possible. For the vast majority of us, however, this is not the problem. Our judging and scorekeeping prevent us from seeing what God sees: One of His cherished children. The mortal shell does not have to prevent us from seeing the divine when we wear the glasses of charity.
References:Gottman, J. (1994). Why marriages succeed or fail and how you can make yours last. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Huston, T. L., & Melz, H. (2004). The case for (promoting) marriage: The devil is in the details. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 943-958.
Reader’s Digest (1975). Pocket treasury of great quotations. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest. Posted at 5:54 pm
And then this came today:
Love Should Be at the Center of All We Do Posted: 10 Dec 2009 11:00 PM PST “Because love is the great commandment, it ought to be at the center of all and everything we do in our own family, in our Church callings, and in our livelihood. Love is the healing balm that repairs rifts in personal and family relationships. It is the bond that unites families, communities, and nations. Love is the power that initiates friendship, tolerance, civility, and respect. It is the source that overcomes divisiveness and hate. Love is the fire that warms our lives with unparalleled joy and divine hope. Love should be our walk and our talk.” Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Love of God,” Ensign, Nov. 2009, 21
So, today we have a choice. We can choose one of the seven negative emotions to dwell on, to make our lives happier (I know, sounds stupid doesn't it, but we do it, admit it, you've done it, duelled on anger, maybe, because it felt so good and you were so justified), or we can choose to make our lives really happier by participating in the "laughing at the plate of food in the lap" and loving, unconditionally.I'll give you an insignificant example. Yesterday, Phil and I left the house and, as usual, I overestimated the time I had before we left and so my teeth weren't flossed. I keep floss in the glove compartment for times like that. Phil doesn't like it when I floss my teeth in the car and I don't blame him. Flossing is a private thing but if I neglect it I get a tooth ache. So I pulled out the floss and pulled a piece off. Phil started to laugh, it really was a judging laugh and I felt judged. I fumbled the lotion that came out of the glove box and tossed it all over my lap, trying to catch it and it finally fell on the floor. I was angry. He judged, I reacted. How much better it would have been without the judgement and anger.
Year's ago we had some neighbors who treated each other with total acceptance. "You know how you are," on of them would say and the other would say, "Yah, that's how I am," and they both laughed. No judgement, just acceptance and love.
I want to be like that. I probably won't be, but I want to.
And that's my words for today. I want to but I probably won't. Maybe if I do it a little and then another day a little more, and on and on then maybe in a year or two I'll be like my friends, who each had odd behaviors--annoying things--but accepted each other totally. Maybe if I do, Phil will.
(And maybe if I clean up around my computer desk, a little at a time, in a year I'll be done. Okay, two years.)