There was an experiment done with a large group of people. They were given several minutes to look at a variety of paintings, and were asked to choose one painting that they would like to take home. One half of the participants were told that if they later chose to exchange the painting, they could; while the other half of the participants were told that once they picked which painting they wanted, they could not change their mind. The group that couldn’t exchange their painting took far longer to decide which painting they wanted than the group that could. Later, they were then asked to rate the painting they chose from 1 to 10 in regard to their satisfaction with it. The group that was given the option to change later rated their paintings markedly lower than those who could not change their choice later.
This is just one experiment, but it gave great perspective on the power of choice. It would seem that people find ways to be happier with things when they have no choice but to remain faithful to them, rather than having the chance to find alternatives. It’s interesting, because the scientist who shared the results of this experiment laughed and said, “It would seem that people don’t really have any idea what makes them happy.” It reminds me of the story that is circling the internet where an elderly couple is asked how they remained married for so long, and their response was that they came up in a generation who believed that if things were broken, they fixed them instead of throwing them away. That’s the difference, isn’t it? Either you go into marriage feeling it is expendable if it doesn’t please you, or you go into it knowing there is no reason you would ever leave.
When we cannot change the way things are, we automatically learn to adapt to them in order to be happier with the situation; we accept what we cannot control.
I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11, 13
I believe this concept comes into play so strongly in marriage. If we allow ourselves the option of divorce, we will be less satisfied with our marriage because we know that we could change our minds down the road. If every argument you have with your spouse causes you to say, “We ought to just divorce,” or every time you feel hurt, you compare your spouse to someone else, you are allowing yourself to be dissatisfied with your marriage! If we are to remain satisfied with our spouse, we must be willing to come to a place of acceptance. Acceptance that divorce is not an option, acceptance that their behavior is likely temporary, and acceptance that marriage is not merely working together but being completely unified.
Remember, not only can we not control our situations, we cannot control people. We have to accept who they are; that is part of what we do when we get married. For richer or poorer, better or worse, in sickness and in health. As an example, I hate professional wrestling. My husband, however, was raised near the business and loves it. For many years, I would scoff when I caught him watching it or demand that he watch something the entire family could enjoy; all that did was build up resentment. Since our reconciliation, we have an agreement on when he will watch his shows, and sometimes (though VERY rarely) I will watch with him. I even let him call me his “tag team partner”! I don’t like wrestling, but I love my husband, and I accept that it’s a huge part of who he is. We are very different people, but by accepting that and using it to our advantage we have made what threatened to tear us apart into that which unifies us.
Finally, I stress the importance of acceptance because when we don’t accept our spouse or our situation, we are implicitly rejecting it. It hurts to feel rejected, and the pain of rejection causes us to look at each other as if we are the enemy. We tear each other down, trying to find a moment of weakness to exploit in order to regain dominance. This is NOT Sparta; this is our marriage. We must walk firmly on common ground and accept that which is uncommon. If Jesus had been only willing to accept those just like Him, He would have been a pretty lonely fellow.
The only way to truly accept is to realize that you are NOT in control. You can’t control what happens in life, and you can’t control your spouse. Accepting these two principles will help to establish those things that may have been missing – trust, companionship, joy, hope – and get you back on the right track.
Pay attention to your mindset regarding your marriage. Have you considered it an option rather than a commitment?
Are there times when you may have allowed differences between your spouse and yourself cause you to start a “war” where there should not have been one?