We're all guilty of doing it. It happens so fast that most of us don't even give it a second thought. Even the strongest marriages fall victim to this destructive tendency: the "if-then" game.
If my husband would pick up after himself then I would be happy. If she didn't nag me so much then I'd actually enjoy being around her. If he added a little more romance to our lives then we'd have a stronger bond. If she was more flexible about things then it would totally change how I feel about her.
We're all human. We all have our bad habits, oversights and down-right annoying quirks. But last time I checked, the only person we ultimately have the power of changing in a marriage is ourself. Sure, you can continue to roll your eyes when another expectation isn't met. You can vent to coworkers about his 10 highly irritating traits. You can even go to counseling in hopes that she will finally understand your point of view.
But If you want to see positive changes in your marriage, let the change start with you. Here are four questions to ask yourself about your marriage. When answered honestly, the answers may surprise you.
Am I taking him/her for granted?
Sometimes our own situations are better than we realize. Once, my husband and I were on a double-date with another couple and we had our 4-month-old son with us. When we were out of ear-shot from the men, my friend caught me off-guard by telling me how very attentive and loving my husband was with our son. I felt a bit embarrassed when I agreed with her, because I realized that I couldn't remember the last time I had given a heartfelt 'thank you' to my husband for all of his efforts with our children. But boy did I know how to remind him of how irritatied I am when he forgets to hang up his wet towel, or help our daughter with her reading assignment. Don't wait for a special occasion (or until a third party has to point it out) to tell your spouse how grateful you are for all that they do. Start noticing all the things they do right today, and you may be amazed at the change you see in both of you.
Do I sweat the small stuff?
One thing I have learned thus far in marriage is that the small stuff really is the big stuff. How we treat each other through our daily interactions has a large impact on the quality and happiness of a marriage. Do you find yourself getting hung up on minor details, or things that don't really matter? Do you blame your bad mood on someone else for not meeting your high expectations? I am reminded of the quote by Family Advocate Thomas S. Monson, "Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved." When you come home to a messy house, grab your spouse, give her a hug and let her know you're there to help. When he backs the car into the mailbox, realize it's just a car — and it's just a mailbox. Keep in the forefront of your mind that it is much easier to repair things than it is to repair a marriage. Choose your battles and your words wisely.
Remember when you were dating and neither one of you could do any wrong? A minor oversight while driving was humorous. Being late was not considered rude, but completely understandable and forgivable. But something changes after we say "I do." Suddenly one, or both of us, is the expert driver and quick to let the other know. And being late to an appointment has become the unpardonable sin. Criticism breeds criticism. We all have enough critics in our lives. Resolve today to look for the good, as well as remember the more endearing qualities that made you fall in love in the first place.
Does he/she really know I love and care for him/her?
It's far too easy to get caught up in the mundane routine of life. Sometimes we let our to-do lists get in the way of the one who matters most to us – our spouse. Sometimes we wait around for the other to make the first move, say "I love you" or offer a hug after a long day. Decide today to freely show how much you truly care. Make her dinner. Send a random text simply expressing your appreciation. Bring home a favorite dessert just because. If you truly want to feel more loved by your spouse, show your love for your spouse first.
Remember, you can wish all day long for your spouse to act, look or be a certain way, or you can decide today to change your marriage for the better by first changing yourself. Instead of waiting for a better marriage, choose to create a better marriage.