When Ryan and I were newly engaged, I remember being so excited to be married and swooning over my new and shiny ring that I couldn't help but stare at it all the time. I guess it was obvious, because many people were kind and noticed my ring (or possibly me staring at my hands) and said, “Did you just get engaged? Oh congratulations!”. But one particular interaction stands out in my memory.
One woman, after congratulating us, asked if she could share something that encouraged her marriage. She said (paraphrased) “Water your own garden! When things get tough, it is easy to look around and see how green everyone’s grass is. But at the end of the day, watering your own garden is still the best thing you can do. And it is always the most rewarding. Focus your energy on your own marriage, you will see it return in high value down the road. I know I have!”
This advice is quite simple, but truly profound! Watering your own garden takes work, and it requires you to set your gaze on the result you know is coming (the healthy grass that will thrive from consistent watering). When we prioritize gratitude in our marriage, and we discipline ourselves to do so faithfully, we see it return many times over. It will take work, but it will force you to take your eyes off of the deficiencies in your marriage. It will stop comparison in its tracks. Most of all, if you allow the Lord to cultivate thankfulness in your heart, God will open your eyes to truly see the positive things that are present in your marriage right now.
Gratitude: A Worthwhile Investment
A Harvard study I read recently had this to say about gratitude: “A study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partners not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing other concerns in their relationship” (1). In this study, the spouse who expressed gratitude felt closer to their spouse, which then led them to have better communication and intimacy in all areas of their marriage. Why? Because expressing gratitude cultivates a heart of grace. It is much easier to be gracious to your spouse and communicate in a moment of frustration, a hard season, or a trial when the most recent thoughts on your mind are things you're grateful for in them.
I have seen this to be a reality in our life now, 4 years into marriage. I (Marissa) get the absolute joy of staying home with our two young boys while Ryan works every day. Often when he comes home, I am exhausted and just a little frustrated about how stressful and demanding my days can be (we have two boys two and under).
At one point, I was finding myself handing Ryan a baby as soon as he walked in the door and running off to get more things on my to do list done without saying as much as hello to my husband! I was convicted of this quickly and decided I wanted to start our time off differently in the evenings. I started greeting him at the door with a kiss and a “what can I do for you, thank you for working so hard for us today!”. It wasn't long before I felt less resentful of Ryan when he walked in the door, and felt less entitled to help because I recognized that he was tired too (although he always does help me!)!
It would be easy for both of us to feel entitled to rest. But when I started prioritizing expressing gratitude in my marriage, it resulted in a more gracious attitude in my heart, more warmth and intimacy in our marriage, and sweeter evenings together, too. All from starting them off with gratitude!
Set your gaze
When I choose to be grateful, it helps me fix my gaze on what the Lord wants me to see in my marriage, in my home, and every area of my life. Scripture exhorts us over and over to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess 5:8; Phil 4:6).
We know gratitude makes our life richer, and when we focus our hearts on being grateful to our spouse, our marriage will truly be richer, too. God designed us to have grateful hearts that praise Him. He gave us our spouse as his perfect provision for us. When we praise our spouse and express our gratitudes to one another, we are honoring the Lord in this act. We are affirming his perfect provision and his loving kindness in giving us our spouse. When gratitude is prioritized in a marriage, it leads to greater intimacy, more grace for one another, and ultimately, it glorifies our Father in heaven.
I pray that you would begin today to express thankfulness toward your spouse. Even if it feels cheesy or a little shallow at first, you will be shocked how this discipline will bless your marriage, and how much greener your garden will be when you water it.
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