A wise friend once told me that before you get married, ask all the couples in your life whom you respect and have a marriage worth emulating what their best advice to you would be.
Thinking this was quite brilliant, I spent the months leading up to my wedding doing just that. My favorite words of wisdom came from my mother-in-law, Pam, who has been happily married for 40 years and who is involved in marriage ministry. She told me four simple words: “Weed your own garden.”
Needing some elaboration, I asked her to explain.
She said one of the biggest mistakes you can make in your marriage is to constantly focus on what is wrong with your spouse, on their weaknesses, failures, character flaws, and mistakes. She went on to say that we have enough weeds in our own garden to keep us busy for a lifetime, so look for the good in your spouse, focus on the areas you need to work on, and stop wasting energy on what you think your spouse needs to change.
“Weed your own garden.”
Simple enough, right? Wrong! I discovered it was quite easy to point out the negative in my spouse while naively thinking I was just delightful and smelling of roses and lavender. But the truth is, we all have things that are wrong with us. However, there is only one person in this world that you can change (hint: it’s not your spouse!).
Case in point: when we got married, my husband loved smoking cigars. When we first met I thought it was kind of cool and sexy, maybe even endearing until I realized that this was actually a big addiction and my fear of him dying made me a crazy person. Literally! I pleaded, cried, tried guilting him, etc., but nothing worked! It just drove a huge wedge between us.
Going back to that precious motherly advice, I decided to “pray it on him, not lay it on him.” (Pam’s words again, not mine.) I simply quit bringing up this touchy subject. He knew he needed to quit; he obviously knew how I felt about it since I never missed an opportunity to tell him. Since my elaborate and dramatic speeches got me nowhere, I was actually going to apply those words and “weed my own garden.” Read more on praying for your guy here and here.
I started by reading the book One Day at at Time in Al-Anon as a morning devotional. The book’s main premise is to realize you do not have the power to change someone, you cannot control someone and therefore you cannot let their actions control you either. They have great sayings like “live and let live” and “let go and let God.” It put me in a great mindset and encouraged me to pray and ask God to work on my shortcomings.
Weeding my own garden did two things:
1. It gave me the humility to see that I had enough junk in my own life that I didn’t need to point out anyone else’s.
2. It reminded me that I’m not in control over anyone nor can I change anyone—which gave me so much freedom! (And I’m sure him too!)
About six months after I started applying this great truth, my husband came to me and told me he had quit smoking. After I picked my jaw up off the floor and did a happy dance to the internal song playing in my head “Whoomp! There It Is,” I composed myself long enough to ask him, “For how long?” He told me going on three weeks.
That was five months ago. He also shared that when I quit bringing it up and he didn’t feel like he had to hide it from me anymore, his focus switched from guilt and shame and secrecy to a genuine conviction and determination to stop. He didn’t say this, but I realized I had actually been an obstacle to him quitting. When I got out of the way, he was able to take his eyes off the distracting, insane lady waving her arms and crying and stomping like a toddler to actually see the problem clearly.
Marriage is hard even in the best of circumstances.
You have two very flawed people coming together in a situation where those flaws have nowhere to hide. You are completely exposed for probably the first time in your life! There is a great quote from Gary Thomas in the book, Sacred Marriage, that basically says most of the time people don’t leave their marriage because of their spouse’s sin, but because of their own. It’s hard to be confronted with all the things that are wrong with us, which is why I think it’s easier for us to point at our spouse’s flaws rather than have the courage to deal with our own.
What we don’t understand is that there is so much beauty in looking for the good in someone instead of the bad. When we take the time to genuinely look at ourselves and what would make us a better person and spouse, we are able to remain humble and empathetic towards others. Freedom from judgement and negativity is absolutely incredible for not only you, but those around you. So whether it’s your spouse or some other relationship you are struggling in, get out those gardening gloves, look up and in instead of out, and start yanking!
You will be better for it and so will your marriage.
…it’s easier for us to point at our spouse’s flaws than it is to deal with our own.
Photo courtesy of Hernan Sanchez
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Going back to that precious motherly advice, I decided to “pray it on him, not lay it on him.”