Give Your Spouse Mental Elbowroom!

MANY things go into the making of a happy marriage: love and affection, mutual trust, honesty, faithfulness, patience, forgiveness. And a sense of humor surely doesn't hurt! But one of the most important gifts we can give our spouse is mental elbowroom -- the mental room for the other person to be his or her own unique self, without constant judgment from us. Because of the intimacy of marriage, it's easy to become an expert on the other person's shortcomings, easy to point out every single fault and make an issue of it. Yet there are many occasions where overlooking or forgiving another's foibles is the thing most conducive to marital harmony. I've certainly found this true in my own marriage.

But what can one do if destructive criticism and judgment have become habitual? A big step toward correcting the problem is realizing that one has become chronically critical or judgmental. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes suffering to wake us up, because self-justification tends to blind us to the wrongs we commit. We may feel we have every reason to be critical of a spouse's shortcomings. And after a while, a marriage can settle into a pattern of overt or silent criticism and judgment.

If this destructive pattern of criticism and judgment is to be broken, we've got to stop justifying it and seek healing. And if we are Christian, doesn't it all get back to the Golden Rule -- in paraphrase, that we should do unto others as we would have others do unto us? That great Exemplar, Christ Jesus, said, ``Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.''1

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There's not a marriage that can't be blessed by putting these words of Jesus' into practice. We need to be willing to look into our heart and uncover those not-so-pretty feelings we may be blaming our spouse for, sometimes unconsciously. Jesus' teachings don't allow for a blindness to our own sins, however much we may feel the other person needs to shape up! He said, ``Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?... Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.''2

Getting the ``beam'' out of our own eye isn't always easy. But to recognize self-justifying, destructive criticism as a ``beam'' is the essential first step. What can we do, however, once our ``beam'' has been exposed to us for what it is? Here, Christian Science gives us a spiritual basis for destroying the traits of character that would ruin a marriage, or a life, for that matter.

As Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered and founded Christian Science, explains: ``If man is not victorious over the passions, they crush out happiness, health, and manhood. Here Christian Science is the sovereign panacea, giving strength to the weakness of mortal mind, -- strength from the immortal and omnipotent Mind, -- and lifting humanity above itself into purer desires, even into spiritual power and good-will to man.''3

In Christian Science, immortal Mind, or divine Mind, is a name for God; He is infinite intelligence, the supreme, creative Mind of the universe. When Paul said, ``Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus,''4 he was urging us to accept into thought the spiritual grace and truth that reflect the Mind that is itself infinite Love.

Christian Science helps us do this by giving us a new sense of man, of ourselves and others. It reveals man as created by Spirit, as the spiritual man that Christ Jesus' sonship illustrated as our example to follow. This real man is not a mortal sinner who either criticizes or deserves criticism. He is the very image of Love, the spiritual expression of infinite good. All the good we now see, feel, and love in ourselves and others points to this real man.

As we, through spiritual rebirth, wake up to our real manhood and womanhood, we are going to find our nature changed by God, divine Love. We will become more kindly, more patient and forgiving. We'll be a better spouse. As we strive to see and cherish the spiritual identity of another, right where there seems to be a flawed mortal, we won't be so critical, either. Instead, we will find ourselves reflecting more of divine Love in ourselves and to others.

This transformation of thought isn't always easy! We may have to fight for our spiritual awakening. But our bad habits can be broken. Legitimate grievances can be honestly discussed and worked out in a loving, fair way. And the carnal, or fleshly, mind, which is the source of the criticism and inharmony in a marriage, can then be rejected as untrue to our God-given nature and identity.

This subduing of a false sense of self can seem hard at times. But divine Love will pull us through if we lean on Love and seek its healing grace. Through prayer, mutual love, and affection, destructive criticism can be eliminated from a marriage. A more spiritual view of God and man shows the way to make any marriage happier, deeper, more satisfying.

1Luke 6:37. 2Matthew 7:3, 5. 3Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 407. 4Philippians 2:5.

Healing through prayer is explored in more detail in a weekly magazine, the Christian Science Sentinel.

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