In the weeks that led up to our wedding, my husband Ted informed our friends, family, and anyone who would listen of his impending death. "Death?" you ask.
Yep, death. Death, that is, to his single self.
Sure, death isn't the most romantic thing to broadcast prior to one’s nuptials, but Ted was right. Marriage doesn't jibe well with many of the single habits brought to it. What I don't think he anticipated, though, was that the death of old patterns takes a while.
So how have we learned in our marriage to practice patience for each other's old habits as we work together toward the new? Here are four ways.
1. We Pick Our Battles
We've come to realize that not all old habits are necessarily sinful. Now, before we address a behavior, we first stop and categorize it.
Sin means to "miss the mark." So we ask ourselves: Is this behavior missing God's mark? Or is it simply missing mine? Is it a quirk I find grating, or is it offensive to God and hurtful to our relationship? If it's a matter of annoyance, not destructiveness, then we choose to let it go.
Sometimes the bothersome things simply aren't worth the battle. Often when we choose to move a bothersome thing to the conversational front burner, it doesn't improve our marriage, it simply feeds one of our needs to have things a certain way. The majority of the time it's better for us to apply the wisdom of Proverbs 19:11 here, which says, "Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense."
2. We Have a Realistic View of Ourselves
Sometimes my habits don't seem as bad as Ted’s do. There are instances when I'm inclined to give myself a break, but not so quick to give him one too.
The problem is, though, drawing comparisons between our habits masks the reality that I'm no better than he is. While, yes, some behaviors are more destructive than others, we can both use growth. When I put my own behavior into perspective, it gives me more patience for Ted in the areas he struggles. The same goes for him.
3. We Sandwich Our Criticism
Ted and I both earned master's degrees in communication. One of our favorite techniques we picked up in our studies is what's termed the "communication sandwich." For those of you unfamiliar with this, it basically boils down to using praise and affirmation to sandwich criticism.
What I love about this approach is that it doesn't put Ted on the defensive. When I use it, not only do I speak well of him, pointing out the ways I recognize and appreciate him, but I've also made it about me. I've focused on a "this is how I feel," rather than a "you did this" approach.
4. We Focus on Progress, Not Perfection
Ted and I have both changed a lot since we got married. Even so, there are still areas "under construction" that could easily leave us both frustrated.
But we've determined not to focus on each other's failings, rather on our successes. When frustration sets in, we stop ourselves and focus on all the ways the other has grown and improved over the years. It’s hard to be angry when we realize just how far we've each come.
At times, it has seemed inconceivable that some of those pesky single behaviors Ted and I both brought to our marriage would change. But we’re finding that we can kill old habits with time and patience.
Ashleigh Slater is the author of the book, Team Us: Marriage Together, as well as a regular contributor to a number of popular blogs and websites. With twenty years of writing experience to her credit and a master's degree in communication, she loves to combine the power of a good story with practical application to encourage and inspire readers. This article is adapted from Team Us and used with permission.