This week we celebrate Thanksgiving Day in the United States. The challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, racial and political conflict, and more make it especially important that we choose gratitude. Among all the other things you’ve been blessed with, you can even be grateful for your messy marriage.

The science is clear; daily gratitude, such as keeping a gratitude journal, measurably improves your mental/emotional wellbeing. You notice more of what you look for; if you’re looking for things to be grateful for, you’ll find more of them. And looking for the good in someone else draws more of that good out of them.

If your marriage is toxic, or if abuse is going on, there are very important additional issues to address. But today I’m talking to those who may be in a quite unhappy marriage, even though you are both basically people of good will.

Remember, although in a healthy godly marriage you will find much joy, marriage was not made primarily for your happiness. The union of two sinners is always messy, but it’s still one of God’s best laboratories in which humans can learn to love well.

Being grateful for your messy marriage does not mean you ignore problems. But here are some things it does mean.

Notice the Good

You’ve experienced it; you buy a new vehicle, and suddenly you’re seeing the same model everywhere. The other cars are still there, but you see more of what you look for.

Every human being, including both you and your spouse, is a mixture of beautiful and ugly, hope and heartache, light and darkness. Followers of Jesus are still not finished; even if you are both Christians you are each still a blend of holy and horrible, redeemed and earthly. You get to choose which aspects of your spouse you focus on.

Choose to look for the good. Many spouses have expressed how dramatically this has changed their marriage. Make it a daily habit to look for and notice one positive thing about your spouse. Make a journal; write those things down. If you struggle here, imagine looking at your spouse through Jesus’ eyes; what would He see and draw out of them.

Perhaps your spouse is a great saver, or is generous with their time and money. Perhaps they see the good in others, or know how to have fun, or provide emotional stability, or are always voraciously learning, or see when someone else needs encouragement, or are relentless when fixing problems, or create beauty where it didn’t exist before, or love God’s truth with all their heart.

You might be able to guess how these characteristics can be seen in either a positive or a negative light. You could see a great saver, for example, as either a tightwad or someone who plans ahead. A lot depends on the lens you choose to look through. And don’t forget to be grateful simply that your spouse is still there!

Choose the gratitude lens. Like cars, choosing to notice the good doesn’t mean the problems are gone. It does, however, change your heart. 

Express Gratitude

Think of someone you have had conflict with, perhaps a demanding boss, an irritating neighbor, or a challenging coworker. Imagine that person coming to you unexpectedly, handing you a Thank You note, looking you in the eye, and saying, “I’m not sure I’ve ever told you how much the way you (keep your yard beautiful, always offer more than expected, bring such a positive attitude) means to me. I’m so grateful for you!”

How would your feelings toward that person change? Wouldn’t you be even more motivated to keep doing what they expressed gratitude for?

Now imagine being that person to your spouse. How might their heart warm, especially if you expressed such gratitude over and over again?

 Everyone needs to be appreciated. And they need to hear it! Don’t wait for your spouse to be the one to start; you go first. If your marriage has deteriorated over many years, this will take a lot of energy on your part. You may not get any response for a long time. Just keep expressing gratitude.

If your marriage is just so-so, sincerely expressing gratitude may be all that’s needed to transform your relationship into something beautiful and life-giving.

And notice what kind of messages mean the most to your spouse. Yes, express gratitude verbally. But also, think of thank-you notes. Or a gift of a journal where you have over time listed many things you appreciate about them. Or speak of how grateful you are for them to a friend, in your spouse’s hearing.

Keys to Being Grateful for Your Messy Marriage

Noticing and expressing gratitude may seem difficult. Here are some important steps that will help.

  1. Stay humble. Remember the ways you’ve harmed your spouse. Just the fact that they are still there is something to be grateful for. Remember how God has had to work on you.
  2. Do your own work. What’s it like to be married to you? Make sure you’re actively working with the Holy Spirit to change your own heart where He needs to change you. You become the invitation to your spouse.
  3. Ask for God’s perspective. Intentionally and regularly pray for God to open your eyes to see your spouse as He sees them. Ask Him to help you see things to be grateful for.
  4. Chose to be grateful for learning to love well. Regardless of what happens with your spouse, your messy marriage is an opportunity for you to experience God’s grace in you, providing a laboratory in which to learn to love well. Don’t waste that opportunity.

Gratitude for your messy marriage is likely to change the direction of your relationship dramatically.

And Happy Thanksgiving!

Your Turn: Let’s practice right here; what are you grateful for about your spouse? Leave a comment below.

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