Have you ever noticed that you tend to see what you are looking for (unless, of course, you are me looking for my keys – in which case, I can look right at them a dozen times and never see them)? If you go through your day listening for criticism, you’ll probably hear plenty. But if you do through your day listening for gratitude, your likely to hear more “thank you’s” than you expected.
This is particularly true in marriage. We tend to see and hear (not to mention remember) in our spouse what we are looking for. If we are feeling unappreciated, then we will notice everything we do that he/she does not notice. If we want more affection, every moment we are close but don’t touch will show up in neon lights.
Let me offer an exercise designed to give you fresh eyes to look at your marriage. Admittedly, it won’t give you magic eyes to see what is not there. But hopefully it will give you fair eyes to see a reality not distorted by your driving desires.
The game requires mutual participation and has better longevity if other couples are also playing along. Start at the beginning of the month by writing three expressions of love (in any form) that you intend to perform for your spouse. These should be things outside your normal marital routine. Commit to follow through on those intentions during the next month.
Key: Do not tell each other what you have written down.
Side Note: Even if both you only do two for three, then you will still have one intentional expressions of love per week.
Plan a date at the end of the month. During the date try to guess what things your spouse did to show his/her love for you. Most couples find that they guess actions that were not on their spouse’s card and that their spouses already did on a semi-regular basis. The playfulness of the game merely changed what they were looking for during the month. It also causes the couple to set aside some romantic time to talk about what the other is doing right.
As a part of your preparation for the date, prepare a card with a list of three fresh ideas that you intend to enact next month. Enjoy a month of loving your spouse, watching out for how your spouse is loving you, and have another “guessing date” at the end of the month. At that point you can let the cycle continue.
As I said earlier, the game lasts better if you get other couples involved. If you have other couples doing the same thing, you don’t have to be the only one coming up with ideas. You can “cheat” by “stealing” ideas from one another.
In addition, you can serve as positive accountability for one another. When you see one another during the week or at church, you can flash the number of fingers to represent how many of your actions you have already completed.
Too often, marital peer groups are either non-existent or feed the expectation of neglected marriages as “normal.” With only a little intentionality, that can be reversed as you “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works (Heb 10:24)” in your marriages. A healthy marriage is an excellent protection against sin, an example of the Gospel at work to children, as well as testimony to unsaved friends.