By Dr. Jim Langley
Dr. Jim Langley is a licensed clinical psychologist and the director of St. Raphael Counseling under Catholic Charities of Denver. Visit straphaelcounseling.com.
For many of us, marriage is the messy battleground where holiness must be forged, broken, and then re-forged again. But because it takes place amid the daily grind of doing dishes, picking up kids from school, and remembering that we said we’d give our spouse a back-rub Wednesday night, it is easy to forget that an epic war for your soul (and your spouse’s) takes place each and every day during the mundane moments of life.
One practice that I train the couples I work with to do is a spousal examination of conscience (and to be clear, this means that you explore your conscience, not your spouse’s!). When you think about why things are going wrong in your relationship, it is easy to blame the other person, but years of marriage will teach you that if there is anything in life you don’t have control over, it is your spouse. When we try to control things that we can’t, we end up feeling frustrated and helpless.
A good question to ask yourself in marriage is: “Do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy?” The spouse who wants to be right is convinced that he is the “better one” in the relationship. The spouse who wants to be happy places his spouse and the marriage as a whole above his own personal pride. If you focus on controlling yourself rather than others, and if you would be joyful rather than right, you are beginning to live out a covenantal marriage. If you take this practice up, real changes will begin to happen because you are being more intentional about improving your own weaknesses with the help of God’s grace and insight from the Holy Spirit. And who knows, you may even be right … once in a while!
Reflect on these points during Lent and see just how things can improve when you focus on fixing yourself, and not your spouse.
- Did I make my spouse the highest priority in my life after God today? How so? How can I improve upon this tomorrow?
- Was I forgiving of my husband/wife, or did I harbor resentment towards his or her shortcomings? Did I make my home more like a confessional or a courthouse today? When my spouse made a mistake or was imperfect did I quickly and joyfully offer forgiveness?
- When I fell short today, even in small matters, did I seek forgiveness from my spouse?
- Did I work hard today to show my spouse just how much God loves him/her? How so?
- Did I truly listen to my spouse today? Did I take the time to communicate clearly and openly?
- When things went wrong, did I focus on how I contributed to the problem, or on how my spouse “messed up?”
- Did I serve my spouse today in both big and small ways?
- Have I prayed for my spouse today? Have I prayed with him/her today?
- Did I prefer to be “right” today, or did I prefer to be “happy?”
- Have I given my spouse the benefit of the doubt today, trusting that he/she also wants to have the best marriage possible?
- Did I treat my spouse like my best friend today, or simply as a partner or roommate?
- How have I fallen short in helping him/her get to heaven?