Did you ever buy a new car and suddenly notice that there are hundreds of other cars just like them on the road? You never noticed them before, but now they are everywhere! This phenomenon happens in every area of your life, and it can create a successful marriage or cause it to flounder.
It’s all about training your brain to filter out the destructive thoughts and dwell on the encouraging ones.
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The Reticular Activating System: The brain’s filter
Your brain has a filter called the Reticular activating system, or RAS.
Its job is to filter out unnecessary information and bring vital information to our attention.
If you didn’t have an RAS, you would be completely overwhelmed. I mean, think about how many sounds, sights, smells, etc., are around you every second of every day. If your brain had to process them all and bring them to your conscious mind, you would be so overwhelmed by all those details, you would not be able to function. It’s pretty amazing.
For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well. Psalm 139:13-14
The RAS is why, though I live right next to a busy road, I don’t often notice the cars and trucks roaring by. People who live next to railroad tracks or airports have the same ability to filter out the noise.
The RAS is also the reason you see your marriage the way you do. What you are looking for, you will notice. If you expect specific things about your marriage or spouse, the RAS will let it pass through.
- If you expect your spouse to be lazy, those will be the times you remember.
- If you expect your spouse to be sarcastic, those conversations will be the ones that stick with you.
- If you expect your spouse to be unaffectionate, you may shrug off those times they drop a smile or a quick kiss.
What are you looking for in your marriage? Whatever it is, you will see more of it than anything else.
Years ago, when I was in college studying to be a teacher, it seemed like every professor was warning us about the dangers of the self-fulfilling prophecy.
According to Britannica, the self-fulfilling prophecy is the “process through which an originally false expectation leads to its sown confirmation. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, an individual’s expectations about another person or entity eventually result in the other person or entity acting in ways that confirm the expectations.”
When I became an elementary teacher, I tried not to allow another person’s expectations of a student to affect how I viewed them. If a previous teacher told me that a student was mean to his classmates, I didn’t want to subconsciously notice only the mean things that the student said and perhaps overlook something extraordinary, like a willingness to be a helper.
So, when the teachers from the grade below would drop off their students’ portfolios in my room and warn me what to expect from each kid, I did my best to tune it out. I didn’t want to be looking for the bad.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8
In the same way, we need to train our RAS to tune out the world’s opinions about marriage and deal only with the facts that the Bible teaches about it. It takes work at first but will become automatic as you practice.
The world’s Marriage RAS
Those whose marriages struggle may fall into the trap of using the world’s marriage RAS. It works against the goals you set for a successful marriage.
Here’s a few things that get through the world’s RAS over and over again until they create the marriage beliefs that you live by.
- Marriage is not permanent.
- It’s important that I get my needs met by my spouse.
- I love him, but I’m not in love with him.
- There’s no way we can make the marriage work.
- I have to be my own person, independent of my spouse.
- I have too much to do to work on my marriage right now.
- This marriage is not living up to my expectations. Maybe I made a mistake.
The world’s marriage filter causes us to focus on the things in our marriage that make us feel uncertain about whether we can have a successful marriage or not. It makes marriage seem like a temporary contract instead of a sacred covenant.
And the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Mark 10:8
Who wants you to have this kind of marriage RAS? The devil sure does. He loves manipulating your thoughts to bring calamity to your life, especially divorce.
Change the filter for a successful marriage
We need a different marriage RAS. A Christian’s marriage RAS needs to filter out the values the world lives by and allow us to have a successful marriage, just like God intends.
In his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman says: “94% of the time, couples who put a positive spin on their marriage’s history and their partner’s character are likely to have a happy future as well.”
God’s Marriage RAS allows three kinds of thoughts to get through the filter.
Everything we believe about marriage should come from the Bible and its definition of and commandments about it. Some passages specifically focus on marriage, but the rest of the Bible is just as useful. It teaches us how to be more Christ-like in response to your spouse or the situations you face together.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. 2 Timothy 3:16
Allowing negativity to come to the front of your mind will erode your connection with your spouse and make it difficult to have a successful marriage. Stay focused on the positive traits your spouse has. When the negative pops up, erase it by listing five positive things about them. Research shows that it takes five positive thoughts or interactions to counterbalance one negative one and keep any relationship healthy.
There is no such thing as a real-life fairy tale marriage. After the honeymoon hormones wear off, there is a real-life you have to navigate through. I’m sure even Prince Charming left his socks on the floor sometimes!
Your marriage will face stresses that threaten to tear it apart. Your spouse will have bad days (weeks, months) that will cause you to feel hurt or angry. Somebody will leave the dishes in the sink, and the grass will go unmowed. The kids will have difficulties, and you may argue about discipline.
It is not easy, but take the first step today and focus on the positive, realistic, and Biblical information surrounding your marriage.
When those teachers I talked about earlier dropped off their students’ materials and a side order of their opinions of the children in my next class, I did not want to allow their words to sway my opinion before the child arrived in my classroom. I tried to stop the other teacher from influencing what I would see in that student before they had a choice to prove themselves one way or the other.
Don’t let the world tell you what your marriage should be like. Rely on God’s Marriage Reticular Activator and choose your thoughts carefully. Then take action to live out those thoughts every day!
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