Playing Favorites

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I've read a good share of books about marriage in my day.  I've been to marriage counseling, taken classes about communication in marriage, and listened to inspiring sermons and podcasts about how to love and respect your spouse.  I love it all.  I love marriage.  I love loving my husband and I'm not planning on slowing down any time soon when it comes to educating myself about how to be a better wife (Lord knows there's plenty left to learn!)

But, I will say that as the years have gone by I have consistently read, seen, and heard a few "habits" that I would call into question.  Many of these lessons surround the topic of criticism.  Now, we all know that criticism can be deadly for a marriage.  No man likes to be nagged and no woman wants to be called a nag.  Vicious cycles of "You always/never do this or that" wage war between couples and the outcome is never good.  One of you gets defensive, the woman usually ends up crying and the man usually ends up angry.  (Sounding familiar at all?)

Now, many of these marriage-helpers (books, sermons, classes, etc.) tell us that in order to have effective communication we need to empathize with the other person (this is good) and be careful about how we express our desire for change (here's where we groan).

Maybe you have even heard how you should "pad" the conversation: start with a compliment, ask for the change, end with another compliment and resounding encouragement!  It might look something like this:
Honey, I really appreciate when you took the trash out last night.  It makes me feel so loved when you do that without my asking you.  You're so strong, I'm just lucky to have you around to help!"

Did that make anybody else want to gag a little?  You know why?  Because we aren't idiots and we didn't marry idiots.  And anybody who isn't an idiot can see straight past that and still get annoyed at the  passive aggressive tone and continue to build resentment towards the other person.  If we are being honest, there's really not much empathy being practiced there after all.  Nobody wants to be treated like a child, and in the heat of the moment it is a lot more effective to either take out the trash yourself or just directly, nicely, and clearly ask your husband to do it and thank him for it with sincerity after he has done it.

A similar approach I've seen in other marriage-helpers has been the "4-to-1" angle.  That is, list four positive things you love about your spouse and throw one negative thing in there so it is balanced and easier to swallow.  As if some magical ratio is going to leave us feeling better, when all we really do is zero-in on that ONE negative thing the rest of the day and start a whole new line-up of grudges.

All this to say, being critical is never helpful and sugar-coating your nagging is not an effective remedy.

The thing is, we ALL pretty much know what annoys our spouse and what we need to work on.  If you have been married for any time at all, you already have a list of traits you recognize about yourself that you should be constantly praying over and tweaking to become more like Jesus.  He knows he needs to put the lid down.  You know you shouldn't have spent so much money on shoes.  He knows he should compliment your cooking more.  You know you shouldn't complain about your mother to him as much.

We know these things.  And, hopefully, we are doing something (right?) to be helping ourselves work through these bad habits.  But, you know what I don't see very often?  Telling your spouse why they are your favorite person in the world.

Wait a minute, let's back up for just a second.  Is your spouse your favorite person in the world?  Because he should be.  He was at one time.  And somewhere in there, between the texts and the dinners and the work and the chaos with the kids is the same stud that you fell head over heels for not so long ago.

Each Friday night, Josh and I have implemented what we like to call Playing Favorites into our marriage.  Call it another one of our Pardy Rules, if you must.  After the girls are in bed and we finally get a moment to breath, we sit and take a minute to tell each other two things:

1. What was your favorite thing about me this week?
2. What was your favorite thing about yourself this week?

Easy peasy.  You have all week to think about it, so I know you can come up with something.  It really can be anything - a hairstyle, that cute text he sent you, the way he handled a meeting at work, how he tucked the kids in bed that night, whatever.  It can be vague, general, abstract, specific, tangible...there are no wrong answers.  And you will be surprised how many times your answers might be the same for each other!

Here's why it works for us:  It's all positive.  Telling your favorite thing about your spouse to them reinforces what you love about them, and telling your favorite thing about yourself, shows them what you value most.  Using each day as an opportunity to seek out the best in someone can go a lot further than following up on whether or not they have changed a bad habit yet.  When you search for the best parts of somebody, you will usually find more than you anticipate.  It might take some practice, sure, but it can become great fun once you get going.

I know that your husband might groan at this idea when you tell him about it.  These things always seem like "work" or like a minefield...that, if they say the wrong thing you might take it the wrong way or his compliment might not be "as good" as yours.  The key here is to just be honest and grateful and smile when you do it, for heaven's sake!  Don't use this as an opportunity to infer a different meaning or convey a new criticism. (i.e. My favorite thing about you this week was when you finally got around to fixing the garbage disposal!)

If you pitch this idea to your husband and get a good roll-of-the-eyes in response, try it anyway.  One-sided, I mean.  Tell him to not worry about it, but you'd like to tell him your favorite thing about him and yourself this week anyway.  Be genuine and without expectation.  It still does the heart good to recognize these things and communicate them just the same.  We can't force someone to hear them just as much as we can't force someone to speak, don't worry about that.  Just let him know, smile, and leave it at that.  My guess is that after a few weeks of consistency, he'll have come up with something to reply back with...even if it is just a hug and a thank you.
giggling and tired, but never tired of giggling

Playing Favorites has hit a home run in our marriage.  Call it positive reinforcement.  Call it sappy ritual.  Call it a nice start to the weekend.  But, don't call it a waste of time.

If I ever get to feeling like that nasty critter, criticism, is creeping it's way back into my marriage, I now have something new to focus on.  The more time I spend ranking the wonderful qualities of my husband, the more of them I see.  Habits only turn from "endearing" to "obnoxious" when we stop noticing their benefit.

It's not without effort.  It's not without time.  But, I guarantee that looking for your favorite things about your husband (and, don't forget yourself!) is a new habit you won't want to break.

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