My wife gave me a greeting card some time ago, and the message on it popped into my head recently. On the front, it said, “Sometimes you make me really mad.” Nice card, right? But thankfully, that wasn’t the full sentiment. The inside of the card finished the thought in a sweet way. It said, “So much so, that sometimes I forget all the wonderful times we have together.” Clearly, that card is meant take you on a bit of an emotional journey that (hopefully) ends in laughter and delight.
I share my memory of that card as a lighthearted way to remind us all about the importance of keeping the big picture in mind. It’s easy to get so focused on the hurts and disappointments in our relationships that we lose sight of all of the great things! The truth is that in our relationships, sometimes all we see is the outside of the card.
To drive this point home in a different way, I recently had a conversation with one of my daughters that reminded me of the same thing. She asked me, “Dad, why is the news around us always so negative?” Most of us have probably had the same thought because it definitely seems like our society thrives on bad news. It doesn’t really make sense why that would be the case, and there aren’t many good or productive outcomes that result from focusing on the negative.
I think that’s because there are two main ways we respond to things being negative. We either stew and ruminate on things, or we work to fix them. Stewing and ruminating shows up in lots of different ways. Some people go through this process internally. They replay the situation over and over and find all of the ways that they were right and the other person was wrong. Other people process these negative thoughts externally in the form of complaining and criticizing. You may have found yourself in an environment that was extremely negative, but nobody else noticed anything wrong with the situation. That’s how things like this get normalized.
The other response is working to fix things. At first glance, it seems like that’s a purely positive approach. But what often happens is that desire to fix gets turned only toward other people. It’s easy to minimize any mistakes we made that contributed to the problem and focus all of our energy on “fixing” the people around us. “Fixing” is in quotes there because when we’re focused on changing other people’s behavior instead of working toward understanding and resolution, we’re not actually working to fix anything. That might be the word we use for it, but that’s not what we’re actually doing. Hiding or bullying or criticizing are much more accurate words to describe what we’re doing if our energy is all directed toward changing other people.
Instead of spending our time and energy focusing on the negative things happening around us and then ruminating or “fixing” things, let’s work to be people who look at the bigger picture. When we work to see the good in people and circumstances, we’ll find that the amount of positive experiences far outweighs the negative. So, let’s keep that in mind when we’re frustrated by something. When we do that, we’ll see our spouses and kids in a new light. Focusing on the positive and not getting fixated on the negative will help us to win more often at home.