“Take care of your business and it’ll take care of you.”
By Dr. Bing Wall, Ames Counseling Center and Des Moines Counseling Center
This quote from Benjamin Franklin often comes to my mind while I’m paying the company bills or taking care of small things to keep the company going. Pay your bills on time and keep the doors open. Pick the place up so clients don’t have to fret about that. But here, today, though, I thought I’d switch it up a bit: “Take care of your marriage and it’ll take care of you.” A shared laugh. The goodbye kiss. The hello kiss. Finishing up the dishes. Putting away the dishes. Turning down the covers. Making the bed. Folding the clothes. A call on the way home from work. A text, just because. A thoughtful note. Sweeping the garage. A thank-you, Appreciate that. You look nice today. Holding hands in church. A tease. A light touch. Sharing news. Alone, just the two of you in bed together. Scooching next to each other.
Brain research is all the rage and how you get these neural pathways when you develop a habit and how hard it is to change up these pathways and old habits die hard. Your life is made up of these little, unnoticeable routines, hundreds of them, that get you through the day. You barely think of them. You have your little routine in the bathroom and do the same routine each day. If we videotaped you every morning we could put the video tapes on top of each other and they’d all look the same. While you are going through your routine you are thinking of other things. You do it almost absentmindedly.
Your love routines were absent minded at one time with your spouse, too. Those little kisses and hand on your wife’s hip to guide her through the door. That little flirty look you used to give him with the twinkle in your eye. You had hundreds of these things you did without thinking. They were natural to you.
But then resentment came into play, right? He hurt your feelings. Something she said, something he did or she didn’t do. Maybe it irked you to no end. Hurt you. The pain lingers.
How do couples handle hurt? There are two major ways: saying critical things or shutting down and not saying anything. Either can be infused with anger and snide remarks or rolling of eyes or, the worst, total indifference. It’s not a problem that your feelings were hurt. No one is perfect. It’s what you do with those hurt feelings. We’re all taught forgiveness is the way in the Lord’s Prayer, but that seems too easy. Let the bugger off the hook? You kiddin’ me? You’re just not one of those forgivy kind of persons, right? So what do you do? You cut her off emotionally or criticize him to convey your displeasure and to motivate him or her to change, right? Good luck with that.
You may recall how you’ve recoiled your entire life when someone treated you with anger, scolding or snobbishness? You ran from them emotionally as fast as you could, right? And now your anger and hurt is telling you your snobbish self-absorption is going to motivate your spouse to change, when instead you are motivating your spouse to ignore you or scoff at you even more and helping them develop their own neural pathways that don’t include tenderness toward you. All the while you may be wanting your spouse to change and they ain’t budging and now you are left with the bad habit that is almost unconscious now; basically being a jerk, but blaming your spouse for it all.
And your little neurons are firing just like you’ve told them to. They are obeying your will and pretty soon the snobbiness, the sarcastic comments, the disdain, the sleeping on the complete opposite side of the bed or not even in the same bed or even in another room or not saying hello or calling or giving a light touch or the goodnight kiss? Forget it. All the while your resentments that you are nursing are congratulating you that you are doing the right thing and telling you your spouse is in the wrong and you wouldn’t want to convey that your spouse’s behavior is acceptable and how the marriage sucks and it’s because your spouse doesn’t do this or that or does this or that and then when you divorce you can tell people the reason was because of all these hurtful things your spouse did or didn’t do, but meanwhile you’ve trained your brain to do all these crazy, resentful, bad habits when you are under any kind of duress and you marry somebody else and do the same frickin’ thing because your new spouse isn’t perfect either and it won’t be long before he or she hurts your feelings, too.
But of course, you won’t be self-aware enough to know that these marriages are crashing because you didn’t take care of either of them. You’ll be too busy blaming your spouses, nursing your wounds and wondering why your life sucks so much.
Or you could kick resentment to the curb in the first place and do the right thing and take care of your marriage and nurture the small, loving gestures and not let a “root of bitterness spring up and ruin” your marriage nor your life.