Marriage can be wonderful—a relationship of love and mutual respect, growing older and wiser together, even weathering life’s storms together. But sometimes marriage can be difficult. You are not in an abusive relationship—in which case you should seek professional help—Richard Carlson, PhD, author of You Can Be Happy No Matter What, maintains that if you learn to be truly content, your relationship will improve. He describes being content as “feeling gratitude, inner peace, satisfaction, and affection for yourself and others.”
Understanding how your mind works Dr. Carlson describes five principles of psychological functioning. He credits Dr. Rick Suarez and Dr. Roger C. Mills with the formulation of the first four principles, and then adds one more. These five mental functions have profound influence over your state of contentment and are at work right now in your spouse as well.
1. Thinking Your thoughts are a mental function based on years of experience and habit, but they are still just thoughts, not reality. Although your thoughts attempt to interpret reality accurately, they can be full of error and don’t always have to be taken seriously.
2. Moods Your emotions fluctuate: It’s part of being human. When your mood drops, you may interpret reality negatively, but when your mood is high, that same reality looks very different. Knowing this, consider the following actions: · Low moods generate a sense of seriousness that may lead you to think you have to fix or change your circumstances. Let the mood lift. If issues still appear, focus on them when your mood is high.
3. Separate psychological realities Your thoughts are shaped by many factors such as your experiences, perceptions, history, habits, moods, and more. Bear this in mind as you reflect on the following: · Be completely honest with yourself about the nature and validity of your beliefs. Look for thought habits that make you feel discontented. Here are a few to watch out for: “I must always get my way.” “I must be perfect—so must my spouse.” “I can never be wrong.” “My needs must come first.” “We must always agree on every topic.” “If I feel it, it must be true.”
4. Feelings Your present feelings reflect both your mood level and the nature of your thoughts at the moment, thoughts that may not be an accurate interpretation of reality. Low moods produce negative thoughts that produce feelings such as anger, anxiety, frustration, etc. Consider how this applies to your marriage: · Do you feel discontented with your spouse sometimes? That’s normal, of course, but Dr. Carlson gently explains that since your feelings evolve from your thoughts, and your thoughts, in turn, are influenced by your mood, perhaps you should see if a lifted mood eases your discontentment.
5. The present moment Thoughts tend to wander to the past and future. In a low mood, your mind tends to look back to old hurts or worry about future problems, causing negative emotions. Learning to focus on the present moment lets you look more clearly at your present mood level and reality. · Practice staying in the present moment when you perceive problems in your marriage.
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Resources Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Zondervan, 2009. You Can Be Happy No Matter What (15th anniversary ed.) by Richard Carlson, PhD. New World Library, 2006.
- Coach Jenn