We’ve all heard the adage that marriage is hard work. But how often do you see couples putting in this ‘hard work’ intentionally and regularly?
How often do we sit down and reflect on our relationship with our spouse, understanding what makes him or her tick, and figuring out ways to strengthen our marriage?
In our hectic world, it can be challenging to make time to tend to our relationship, especially after kids enter the picture. But I think it is crucial that we try.
Healthy marriages allow room for change and growth. You may have heard of Carol Dweck’s work about the growth mindset, but can you imagine what will happen if we apply this same growth mindset to our marriage?
Difference between the growth and fixed mindsets
Dweck found that there exists two different mindsets. People either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
The growth mindset says:
The fixed mindset says:
People with fixed mindsets tend to judge constantly—themselves as well as others. Their firm belief is that people and character traits are often unchangeable.
Those who practise the growth mindset are observant of others, but refrain from judging. Instead of accepting the status quo unquestioningly, they are always asking: What can I learn from this? How can I improve? How can I help my partner do better?
Moving from a fixed to a growth mindset—according to Dweck—entails “changing the internal monologue from a judging one to a growth-oriented one”.
It is healthy to notice the good and even great things that you’ve achieved in your marriage or family life, and be grateful for them.
Here are some growth mindset tips that we can apply to our marriage:
It is healthy to notice the good and even great things that you’ve achieved in your marriage or family life, and be grateful for them. Perhaps it is the strong family support that you’ve built, or solid friendships; whatever it is, remind each other that you’ve worked well together in this aspect. And think about the different areas that you want to grow in this year.
When something about your spouse irks you, seek to understand the root of this habit. There have been times I have been annoyed by my spouse’s tendency to plan everything, right down to the details. While I prefer some fluidity and can handle a high degree of ambiguity, he needs all the data and facts.
When we talked through it, I realised that it boils down to his need for security and control. Without the information, he feels things are out of control or not planned well. After I understood this, we were able to sidestep unnecessary arguments and tension, and focus on meeting each other’s needs.
Encourage your spouse when he or she tries something new or challenging. Try not to focus on the results alone. For example, if you’ve been asking your husband to help with cooking a meal, don’t put him down the first time he tries; this will stamp out his motivation. Instead, let him know that you see (and appreciate) his effort to show love in this novel way.
If your wife tries out a game that you love to play, give her space, patience and affirmation to reach your level. Your guidance and the time together will make the relationship grow in new ways too.
Sometimes social media can feed our feelings of envy and jealousy. Pictures of exotic family vacations, or frequent expensive dinners and gifts that others enjoy can trigger feelings of discontent in your marriage.
We should become aware of how certain media, people or environments make us feel, then be vigilant to allow into our minds only what is good for ourselves and marriage, and what helps us feel grateful for what we have.
A new baby, a new home, a business investment, or a change in career—sometimes big changes make us feel stressed out and uneasy, and we may take it out on the ones dearest to us.
They may bring stress, but change also carries opportunities for us to clarify our thoughts, feelings, even our values; more importantly, it lets us seek our spouse’s support. So choose to lean closer, and not pull away due to tensions or stress.
With the growth mindset, we can focus on developing the positive qualities that cause the relationship to flourish.
When we apply the fixed mindset to love, it seems like life should reflect what we see in movies: Love is easy, perfect, and simply “meant to be”.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Ask any couple who have clocked over 10 years in marriage what their secret is, and the answer will likely be: pure hard work.
Perhaps the best thing we can do for our marriage is to decide that we will do whatever it takes to make it work.
When we look back on our past, do we see that we have changed too? Sometimes for the better, sometimes in not so good ways. But it shows us that if we can change, our spouse can change too. With the growth mindset, we can focus on developing the positive qualities—both within ourselves and in each other—that cause the relationship to flourish.
Let’s remember that you’re on the same side, and you’re walking this journey together. Tempers will flare and someone will be annoyed from time to time, but as long as we continue to work on our weaknesses and improve ourselves for our spouse, we will experience the grace and strength to keep going.
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