By Michelle S. Lazurek, Crosswalk.com
Gratitude is a necessary part of any Christian’s life.
If we want to be more like Jesus, we must develop an attitude of gratitude. Gratitude is the fabric interwoven into any good relationship, the most important of which is our marriages. However, this is easier said than done.
If we have are married, especially for those of us married to our spouses for a long period of time, it is easy to become complacent and take our spouses for granted. This is a breeding ground for Satan to plant seeds of doubt in our minds and hearts.
One complaint about our spouse that we keep to ourselves can lead to another. And another. And another. Some studies suggest this can actually rewire our brains to treat our spouses as merely partners or roommates, rather than the loving gifts God has given us for our lives.
Think of gratitude as a muscle. Muscles can grow bigger the more we exercise them. Conversely, a muscle can shrink when not used regularly.
This can cause us to treat our marriages with disdain, or worse, contempt, which caan lead to thoughts of separation or divorce. This is far from what God designed marriage to be for His children.
God designed marriage to be a loving covenant between two people who have become one flesh and have vowed to stay together until death do they part. Although every marriage has bumps along the way, the marriage relationship is a mirror to our relationships to God. If we are grateful for what God has given us, we should be a good steward of it, including our marriages.
When we exercise our gratitude muscles regularly, it can rewire our brains to be more giving and loving to our spouses. But how do we cultivate an attitude of gratitude with our spouses? Here are six ways to adopt that attitude:
1. Pray Together
While the cliché, “the family that prays together, stays together,” may sound trite, it has a lot of credence.
It is hard to be in conflict with someone you are constantly praying for. If you are your spouse are not ones to pray together, start small. Believe it or not, it may feel uncomfortable to begin praying with someone you are not even used to talking with often. But praying can be the first step in the restoration of your relationship.
After all, Jesus Himself chose his last act on earth to be to pray to His father. If Jesus saw it was so important, why don’t we?
Start by picking a mutually agreed upon time to pray regularly. Consider each other’s morning routines and preferences. Don’t choose 5 am if both parties are not morning people. This only sets you up to fail.
If one is a night person and the other a morning person, choose a time in the morning where the night owl can function and honors the morning person. Or, choose a time when the morning person can still be engaged before going to bed and the night owl can still have time to do the things they want to do.
Either way select a time you can keep consistently.
Second, start off by sharing superficial requests. There’s no need to share deeply if you are not in the habit of sharing in this way with each other in a long time. If you keep this practice consistent, you’ll eventually start to move into more deeper levels of communication.
When you get to the level where you are sharing feelings, it will give you a deeper appreciation for who you married and allow you to be grateful to the gift your spouse is to you.
2. Create a Marriage Gratitude Journal
Buy a simple blank journal. Make a commitment to write down all the reasons you love your spouse. If you are not someone who journals regularly, don’t feel overwhelmed by this challenge.
Even as a writer, journaling is a discipline I struggle with the most! But I have learned journaling doesn’t necessarily mean full sentences or pouring your heart out to God in sentence form. It can easily mean something like words with bullet points or phrases.
Using these two techniques makes journaling much more manageable. The point is you will rewire your brain to focus on the good traits of your husband or wife rather than all the times they disappoint you.
Start small. Remember some of the memories from the good old days. What did you do on your first date?
Did you laugh at his funny jokes? Did you like the outfit your future wife was wearing? Start there. Recall the reasons you married them.
Everyone has their good qualities, even if you haven’t seen that side of them for a long time. Thank God for marrying someone with the type of qualities. Make a vow to see them with the eyes of love, not of disdain.
If your spouse has no good qualities, you would not have married them. As you reflect on who they are, God will begin to remind you of who they are. You’ll begin to see them the way you used to see them, which will prompt you to thank God for them.
3. Speak Words That Build Up, Not Tear Down
Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
This is easier said than done. It is easy to default to old patterns of treatment when you are in conflict, especially with the person you love the most. Yet, tearing down your spouse only breeds discontentment and longing, forcing both parties to meet their needs elsewhere. This is a breeding ground for Satan to pounce on this opportunity, tempting to other to look at other things—and sometimes people—to meet their needs.
If you have fallen into this pattern it is not too late. God is a God of redemption, even if other lusts have competed for your affections.
Confess this to your spouse. Commit to doing whatever you can to repair your marriage. Get professional counseling if necessary. Whatever it is, do what is necessary to restore honor back to both you and your spouse.
This will make you not only grateful for your spouse, but also for a God of second chances.
4. Do Some Soul Work
The reason we are angry with our spouse is not always just about them. Sure, they have disappointed us from time to time. But are there areas in our lives we need to resolve first before we can see our spouse for who they truly are?
In the book Soul Care, Dr. Rob Reimer talks about several areas of our soul that we need to unpack the baggage we carry around that prevent us from being the free people God promised us through Jesus death on the cross.
These areas include: lies we believe, wounds from past hurts, unforgiveness, areas where you need to repent, fears, etc. If we are not looking inward to the places where we need the Holy Spirit’s revelation and are not actively turning away from our sins, how can we effectively live our lives as Christians?
When we don’t do a heart analysis and assess where we are spiritually, we cannot look at our partners with the same lens Jesus sees them. Gratitude is an attitude of the heart.
If we can’t be grateful for anything in life, including our spouses, how can we adopt an attitude of thankfulness everyday of our lives?
5. Forgive and Forget
Colossians 3:13 is clear: “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
It is one thing to forgive someone; it is quite enough to forget. With our minds, it is more difficult to forget the hard parts of our lives where someone has hurt us. Yet, Jesus is clear if we don’t forgive others, he will not forgive us.
That is harsh! This is about doing what he has done for us: being intentional to choose to forget our transgressions. God cannot forget; he is omniscient. Yet, he chooses to not hold our past against us. This alone should be something to be grateful for.
Yet, sometimes we think we have forgiven someone, but we still hold their past against them. Are there things against your spouse you have forgiven but not forgotten?
If so, this can seriously skew your view of your spouse. You can still be holding past sins against them even if you have said you have forgiven them.
6. Speak Their Love Language
Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages highlights five ways your spouse receives and gives love the most: words of affirmation, giving gifts, quality time, acts of service and physical touch.
You may be used to giving love the way you like to receive it, but have you ever stopped to think about how your spouse likes to receive love? For one week, show your spouse love in the way they like to receive love.
If they like physical touch, hug and kiss them more often. If it’s acts of service, be considerate and put their needs before your own. If it’s words of affirmation, use both written and verbal communication to build up your partner.
If it’s gifts, get them something you know they have always wanted—but maybe could not afford or refused to splurge. However, you choose to do it, the point is clear: put their needs before you own.
When you begin to put your spouses’ needs before your own and relying on God to meet your needs instead of your spouse, you’ll see your spouse in a new way.
You will be in awe of how God orchestrated your relationship to complement each other in the areas where you are weak and accentuate each other’s strengths as well.
Adopting an attitude of gratitude for the person who knows you best and you are most comfortable with is not easy. Your spouse knows everything about you—including how to push your buttons!
However, being grateful for your spouse and changing your actions to reflect how much you love them will not only honor your marriage like you promised you would on your wedding day, but also rediscover your love for each other in a new way which will not only benefit you both, but also help mirror for the world how Jesus loves His children.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash Duong Huu
Michelle S. Lazurek is a multi-genre award-winning author, speaker, pastor's wife and mother. She is a regular contributor for iBelieve.com and Crosswalk.com, and is a movie reviewer for Movieguide Magazine. She also is a literary agent for Wordwise Media Services. When not working, she enjoys sipping a Starbucks latte, collecting 80's memorabilia and spending time with her family and her crazy dog, Cookie. For more info, please visit her website www.michellelazurek.com.