"Are all married people like this?" my friend asked. She had recently returned from a business trip where a married man made advances toward her, and she had witnessed a married woman making suggestive moves on another man. These were not sleezy people she bumped into on the street, but professionals with put-together lives. As a single person, she was starting to have her doubts about marriage. "Do you ever worry about your husband …" she started asking but trailed off, not wanting to imply that my husband would be anything but upright.
"No, of course not!" I answered immediately. "But," I added slowly, "I don't take him for granted." I've passed that age where every summer consists of a flurry of wedding invitations. The honeymoon period has long gone for me and most of my friends, and divorce and affairs are not just the stuff of tabloids anymore. I've painfully watched as some of my friends I witnessed vow to spend the rest of their lives together have ended up in broken marriages.
But although I don't take my husband for granted, I often find myself acting as if I do. The stresses of life with two young children often lead me to react negatively. I snap at my husband when he doesn't do things exactly the way I think they should be done. I get angry when he doesn't respond immediately to my requests. I nag him. I have a world of patience for my children but nothing left for him.
I made a true statement when I told my friend I didn't take my husband for granted, but why did my actions not match my words? No matter how many times I told myself, "I'm going to be nicer to him tomorrow," I kept failing.
I realized my interactions with my husband consisted mainly of reactions. By definition, reactions happen in an instant, before you have time to think. But while I couldn't change the way I reacted on a daily basis, I could change the way I intentionally acted. I usually spend time planning what I will do each day and scheduling my kids' activities, but I don't spend any time planning how I will interact with my husband. I needed to change this.
To help myself interact more intentionally with my husband, I implemented some common guidelines often used for setting business goals and New Year's resolutions: I set a daily goal that would be both measurable and attainable.
A measurable goal is something that can be quantified, as opposed to a qualitative goal. For example, I originally made it a goal to "be nicer" to my husband, but that was not something measurable or concrete to work toward. Whether or not I accomplished the goal was completely subjective based on who was evaluating my performance. Instead, an example of a measurable goal would be to compliment him once a day. At the end of the day, I could say that I either did it or didn't do it.
An attainable goal is something reasonable to work toward so that I'm not setting myself up for failure. For example, cooking his favorite meal once a month might be attainable, while cooking something he loves every single day would probably leave me feeling defeated and exhausted after just a couple of meals.
With these two simple guidelines in place, I set out to take baby steps in showing my husband that I appreciate him, despite my daily failings in reacting angrily or impatiently with him.
My measurable and attainable goal was to tell my husband once a day one reason I am grateful for him. It may seem simple, but simplicity is what makes it possible to achieve.
As any married person knows, one of the biggest frustrations in marriage is not being able to read the other person's mind. This leads to frustration and causes us to miss out on positive things our spouses think about us. So while I considered some other simple goals, such as cleaning up the toys at the end of each day to create a welcoming environment for my husband to come home to, I decided to go the direct route of just telling him how I appreciate him on a daily basis.
A Grateful Heart
I started toward my goal with the purpose of showing my husband I didn't take him for granted, but surprisingly it has been a blessing to me as well. My daily goal gives me something positive to focus on during some of the more mind-numbing and frustrating parts of my day. The exercise helps me not only to show my husband my gratefulness but to have a more grateful heart to begin with.
I'm starting to understand why Paul gave the following instruction: "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).
No matter how much we multitask throughout the day, our minds don't usually multitask positive and negative thoughts at the same time. So when I think about the reasons I am grateful for my husband, I don't have room to think about the things he hasn't done or the ways we disagree.
While I still sometimes (okay, often) react negatively to my husband, cultivating a grateful heart has already impacted not only how I act intentionally but also how I react when I'm not thinking. I didn't tell my husband about my daily goal, but he exclaimed the other day, "Wow, you're in a really good mood today!" His comment surprised me because I didn't even realize I was acting differently. All those previous days when I had tried to be nicer hadn't worked, but now I was suddenly being nice without even thinking about it.
It should also come as no surprise that every day, instead of coming up with just one reason I am grateful for my husband, I end up with an entire list of things. I don't ever worry about my husband going wild on a business trip because I know and trust his character. But that is all the more reason I want him to know that I don't take him for granted.
Having a measurable goal gives me something to work toward each day, but keeping it simple ensures that it is something I can achieve, even on the busiest days. If I forget one day, it's not difficult for me to pick right back up the next day.
What simple goal can you set today to show your spouse that you don't take him or her for granted?
Cathy Quock is a wife and mother of two who lives in Texas.