October 13, 2021

Do you ever make the mistake of attributing your feelings to someone else's words or behavior? Just to be really clear, your feelings exist inside of you. They are not transferred to you by another person.

I do not mean to suggest that others have no effect on us. We are naturally social creatures and we want to belong. So how we interact with those we love is driven by those feelings. Sometimes it is also driven by fear that the person we have chosen to be with is unsafe. We call that, "feeling trapped."

Even having said this, your feelings are still YOUR feelings. You own them. They exist inside of you. Sometimes, I think, we are too driven by feelings when choosing spouses. We think that our love for someone means something about them. It really doesn't. It means something about ourselves. Getting into (or out of) a relationship because we believe the other person has the magical power to generate certain feelings inside us is actually very unfair.

I don't suggest that feelings are unimportant. In fact, one of the moments I remember in our courtship was a time Cathy responded to me feeling hurt by saying, "Our feelings matter." I was glad to know she felt that way. I am as much about getting swept up by my feelings as the next person. I just know that I create it. We do virtually everything we do in life because we want to feel certain things. We may work in a career because we want to feel fulfilled and useful or, perhaps, it is just because we want to feel secure and safe from material want. We enter relationships of all kinds because we want to feel love and belonging. Feelings are the driving motivation for everything we do. And that demands a clearer understanding than popular culture and movies usually give us.

Dr Jennifer Finlayson-Fife defines marriage as a covenant with God to love and bring goodness to another person. The joy we feel in a great relationship is the love we feel inside ourselves for another person. The feeling does not come from the other person. It comes from inside us.

I suggest that good relationships require us to be clear headed on this subject, because there are so many available deceptions presenting themselves all the time. What are you going to do a few years into marriage if you no longer feel physically attracted to your spouse? What are you going to do if you no longer have the intense feelings of love you did in the beginning? M. Scott Peck wrote in his best-selling book, "The Road Less Traveled" that everyone, in every relationship, falls out of love, and that is when the true work of love begins. While that seems like a fairly pessimistic portrayal of a relationship, it also conveys the idea that our brains may want novelty; and yet most of us crave security more. We can create the novelty in our brains, while building our relationships around security.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are no longer physically or emotionally attracted to your spouse, remember that these emotions originate and exist inside of you. They don't really mean much about the other person. If you are confronted with those feelings there is only one person who can change them--and that is you.

I have sometimes told the story of my relationship with my first mission companion (my trainer). He was a good man and a good missionary. When we were around our flat, I felt like he was constantly nagging me and found it difficult to relax around him. Instead of dealing with it straight up with him or resolving it inside myself, I just seethed about it. Pretty soon, his voice started to sound like nails on a chalkboard to me--even when he wasn't nagging. It felt that way during discussions with investigators and visits with church members. It wasn't long before everything about him annoyed me. The mole on the back of his neck drove me absolutely nuts. I was just waiting to be transferred to a different companion.

I want to be absolutely clear that none of this was my companion's fault. All of those toxic feelings existed inside of me because I allowed them in and nurtured them. I allowed them to consume my thinking about a really good person and my feelings turned against him. The same thing can and often does happen in marriage and in dating relationships.

I saw a hilarious episode of Seinfeld recently where Jerry and George were discussing ridiculously small personal habits and irritations driving them to break up with women they were in relationships with. It was art imitating life. You watch it and think, "what a couple of idiots!" and then you go out into the real world and do the same thing yourself. If you allow those thoughts about another person to dominate your mind, you will drive out the good feelings you may have had for them--and that's on you. Managing your thoughts about your loved one is essential to creating a joyful and loving marriage.

By saying this, I do not suggest that you should always use the power of intention to save a relationship. If your partner repeatedly exhibits serious character flaws, you should not simply think your way out of that, even though you may have developed the power to do so.

Dr. Finlayson-Fife also suggests that you evaluate your level of trust in a relationship by whether it is "good judgment" to trust the other person. If that person cheated on you, it may not be good judgment to trust that person for a while--not out of a desire for revenge but out of a desire to protect yourself. You may want some time to observe the sincerity of your partner's remorse and desire to change. I similarly would not trust a partner who believed she had no control over her own feelings about me. So, I am not suggesting that you simply think your way into a relationship that is unhealthy. I am talking about maintaining a relationship that is basically good and joyful, instead of poisoning it with toxic thinking.

If you once had a physical and emotional attraction to someone, you can find it again. If your emotion toward your partner ebbs and flows, welcome to the human race. It doesn't mean you made a mistake in dating or marrying your partner. It means you are human and emotions are variable. If you find that your partner's innocuous behaviors drive you up the wall, be very clear that the feelings originate inside of yourself and not in your partner's behavior. You have the power to nurture positive thoughts and create positive feelings about your partner within yourself.

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