Reducing your “…but”: 4 Thoughts on Encouraging Your Spouse

I’ve begun a few workout regiment. Physical fitness, in whatever form, has been a tremendous outlet for my own stress while being a great input for healthy living. I know there are people who tell me “there’s no time for working out.” I’m not saying you need to do the 2-hour gym-rat thing, but you can enhance your personal life and marriage just by eating better and getting some physical activities. In the words of my grandmother, “you make time for the things that are important to you.” (that should be its own blog). But back to my story…

A few weeks back,  I was in a gym hearing constant criticisms about my “work out” from a trainer (I think the bro was trying to motivate me). From form to effort, everything was called into question (mind you, I keep track of how well I progress as I’m pretty competitive with myself). And right before I left that evening, in the span of about 30 seconds, he gave me a barrage of encouragement. Those 30 seconds breathed more life into me than 2 hours of negativity and criticism. I felt like a stood taller. I was ready to restart the workout again.

Then it got ruined with one word: BUT

“You did great today…I can see improvement…BUT…”

The word “but” is a conjunction. A conjunction is the glue that holds words and phrases together. So when you use it in a sentence, it’s connecting what you said to what is going to be stated. AND this simple conjunction is ruining one of the greatest, and essential, tools we have in our marriages:

Encouragement.

Encouragement is, perhaps the most simplistic, powerful thing we can convey to our spouse. I can come up with simpler actions; I believe I can come up with some things more “powerful.” And now I sit here in my local coffeehouse, sipping my coffee and wracking my brain trying to think of something that carries both a high level of simplicity and power like encouragement does.

And what concerns me, is how this three-lettered word (“…but”), used too often, can render the encouragement in your home useless. Why? It will condition your spouse to see that your encouraging words are not there to build you up but to build themselves a platform for correction. Whether you know it or not, your pattern of encouragement reveals the position of your heart. And if the pattern of how you encourage is always laced with this 3-letter conjunction, then it’s time to reduce your “…but” (I almost went in to a “Baby Got Back” reference but that didn’t seem too holy).

“A word of encouragement during a failure is worth more than an hour of praise after success.” – Unknown

Atmosphere is everything 
I leave my gym bag in the car so I don’t forget it. But the problem is my hand-wraps have been soaking up my sweat and, well, it’s become an unpleasant smell. What I find interesting (and Anne finds disgusting) is I’ve gotten so used to the smell that I don’t notice it. But the other day, she got in the car and started making a gagging sound. Now my gym bag sits in the garage to air out. Kind of a silly observation, but ONE simple change and the air in the car is completely different (and more enjoyable…seriously, I didn’t realize how bad it was till I removed it).

The point is simple: You can get so used to the way YOU do things that, first, you don’t see anything wrong with it and second, you don’t see what it’s doing to others. Perhaps it’s how your family did things and if that’s what you grew up in, then it has to be correct because it “worked for your parents.”

And ONE simple change can, literally, change the atmosphere of your marriage. Perhaps we need to step back and realize that we may be doing something (bringing something) to the “air” of our home that may not be conducive for healthy encouragement. And simple dealing with the word “…but” can make all the difference. Why? It leaves encouragement as, well, encouragement.

“For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…”
I know that’s using the King James Translation (Proverbs 23:7), but it really conveys an important point: What you fixate your mind upon, that’s what the actions of your life are going to follow. It’s why Paul writes to the church and says,

“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Philippians 4:8

Encouragement is a discipline that reminds us to see what’s right in each other and why we fell in love with each other. It causes us to see the best in each other and fix our minds there. If our spouse is doing 8 things wrong and only 3 things right, focus on the three things and you’ll be surprised on what your spouse can do. If you’re constantly looking to change and correct your spouse, not only is “what’s wrong” all you’re ever going to see, but it’s all your spouse will ever hear from you. Fix your thoughts on the right things and the actions will follow.

Use the 3-1 rule.
I am in no way against moments of healthy correction and criticism. Marriage without accountability is a marriage with the absence of love. And love of Christ causes us to know how to adequately convey those moments. I think of Colossians 4:6,

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt…”

Yes I understand the context was how to speak to people who were not Christians. But there’s a greater principle: if this is how careful we are to be with others, how much more care should we give to how we speak to our spouse. Don’t be “full of salt and seasoned with grace“; it says, to be “FULL of GRACE, SEASONED with SALT.” And I think a very simple way to do this is the “3-1 Rule”: For every 1 criticism/correction, there should be 3 encouraging words. Why this extreme? Because, I believe, that if you are constantly looking for what is right in your spouse, it will put the criticism in your heart in perspective. This simple rule will fill your heart with what’s “right” and gives you a well of inspiration to draw from. And the more you do it, the more you’ll notice that the “3-1 Rule” is changing YOU more than it’s changing your spouse.

Let love set the tone.
Christ loved us before we could even be in the place to love Him. Think about that. Regardless of our response, He acted out of love whether or not we deserved it or would return it back to him. Jesus didn’t love out of what He would receive back from us. He simply loved regardless of what you and I would do with that love. His love set the tone. And it’s up to us to respond to that.

Christ example, for me, has been such a personal challenge. If Christ can do that for me, how can I withhold that type of love for my spouse?

How do you encourage someone who not a very encouraging person? Simply said, do it out of the same mind that Christ had for you: love. Let love set the tone of your encouragement. Let love be the “pace-setter” for your responses of encouragement as you see deeply into what God is doing in your marriage. If your encouragement is only to get something in return, then it’s nothing more than manipulation. Give encouragement, if nothing else, because it’s the right thing to do and it sets your marriage up for healthy opportunities. Truth trumps feelings and encouragement has been, and will always, be one of the most healthiest actions you can do for your marriage.

I love you all. I’m praying for you. As the Lord for help and make the faith-step forward today and begin to start a new habit of transforming your home in to a grace-filled home of encouragement.

Encourage effort.
Celebrate progress.
Feed hope.

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

BTW: My new book of my blogs came out this week. Click on the image to order yours!!

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