At the beginning of the third chapter, “Have You Developed the Habit of Happiness?,” Les and Leslie recall a terrifying, yet beautiful flight over the Cascade Mountains in a small, rickety plane. The pilot, not realizing he was about to give them an amazing metaphor for marriage, said, “The trick is to get the right altitude in spite of atmospheric conditions.” He was talking about the trick for a good landing, but the Parrotts gave that quote a different meaning. The trick to a good marriage is having the right attitude in spite of the circumstances going on around you!
Did you know that before we file away experiences in our minds, we mark them as either positive or negative? Before reading this chapter, I did not know that – but, it makes a lot of sense!
Let’s take Wal-Mart as an example. Because of the convenience and low prices, Wal-Mart is often crammed with people and the parking lots can be nightmares at certain times of the week. Going to Wal-Mart can be a frustrating experience because of dodging people in the parking lot, driving around and around looking for a parking spot, and then standing for twenty minutes in one of the three open lanes! Because of these factors, I’ve stamped ‘negative’ on my mental Wal-Mart file.
Now, whenever I need to go to Wal-Mart (unless it’s late at night when it’s generally less populated) I immediately groan, “I have to go to Wal-Mart. Grrr…” Yet, when I stop and think about it, I get to see people I may not have otherwise seen, I get food which is a major plus considering the millions of people who cannot get food with such ease, and I get some exercise pushing the cart up and down the aisles. With a different perspective, I could just as easily stamp positive on my mental Wal-mart file!
Similarly, to Les’s account of his early marriage, I spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself when Eric and I were first married. We were in graduate school together and both working full time jobs. When we came home after work, I wanted to relax and enjoy time with my husband whom I had dreamed of having for more than twelve years. Eric had a different sense of academic responsibility and believed that since we were in graduate school that we should study. Go figure!
So, my fantasy about marriage was dashed in a matter of months – if not weeks. I took his desire to read and study all the time as a personal insult. “He doesn’t want to spend time with me! All he cares about is reading those stupid textbook and studying” (I have entertained fantasies of burning our textbooks). Meanwhile, he was probably thinking something along the lines of, “She doesn’t care about my need to put my best effort into school. She is only thinking about her own needs! What kind of husband would I be if I didn’t study hard and encourage her to do the same? Did I marry a woman who is lazy?”
My attitude about our circumstances was poisoning our relationship. Eric did not have the power to upset me. I was allowing my ideas of what I thought newlywed life should be to overwhelm my mind and placing blame on Eric for not meeting with my expectations. Perhaps a different attitude might have been, “School is only for a season. We can work out a way to study hard and have quality time together. We just need a plan.” That simple attitude shift could’ve saved us numerous fights, plenty of hurt feelings, and that general feeling of gloom that accompanied our first months together for me. I spent a lot of time blaming Eric when the answer to my problem was my attitude, not Eric’s actions.
The Secret We Should Spread!
So the secret to marital happiness, as identified by UCLA researcher Allen Parducci, is the ability of each partner to adjust to things beyond his or her control. Ultimately, happy couples are happy because they decide to be happy. It seems like it should be more complicated than that, but it’s not.
Circumstances, positive and negative, will affect every relationship. The weariness of work and school, the commitment and exhaustion of parenting, the sorrow of losing loved ones, and the anxieties of life will affect almost every couple at some level. If we allow circumstances to control our outlook on life, we will live in an almost constant state of negativity as there is always something negative lurking around the corner; but, if we choose to find the silver lining, if we expect good to come to us, if we are thankful for the blessings we have, negative circumstances won’t be able to steal our long term positivity. Grief may stall it for a time, but life events can’t kill our happiness if we choose to approach life with a good attitude.
Chapter three of Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts not only talks about how to have a happy marriage, but it also pinpoints mistakes unhappy couples make. I found this chapter to be incredibly helpful for my own outlook on life. I rushed in to my computer to write this immediately after finishing the chapter! I recommend picking up your copy of Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts today whether you’re single, dating, engaged, or married! It helps those who are not married prepare for marriage and those who are married re-shift their paradigms to have better marriages!
Do you have a generally negative outlook or positive outlook on life? How do you think this will affect your future marriage?