Mark: Several years ago, Jill and I and our son Austin traveled to Yellowstone National Park. On our way there, we stopped at a historical site where you can actually see the Oregon Trail. You see, so many wagons traveled the Oregon Trail that it indented the land and the ruts are still visible!
Jill: Our mind is the same way. We have so many thoughts that travel through our brain that we also have ruts in our thinking and our responding. These ruts are created by our recurring thoughts, and our responses or reactions to past circumstances, situations or experiences. Oftentimes these ruts create our pathways of relating, even if they’re not particularly good pathways of relating.
Mark: Our ruts often begin in our home of origin. This is where we learned about communication, conflict, listening, success, finances, sex, and more, simply by how it was handled in our home. Some of us had a great home of origin experience and we have some ruts that serve us well. Some of us had hard or challenging home of origin experiences and might not realize that many of our ruts aren’t serving us well. They are all we know, though. Our relationship patterns have been set in place for a long time!
Jill: Ruts can also be laid in previous relationships or even in our current relationship. If you’ve been married 20 years, you have 20 years of ruts you’ve laid in your marriage…some good and some not so good. Often ruts are created when our thinking gets off track.
Mark: I did this before our crisis for quite a few years. My thoughts were perpetually negative about Jill. I ruminated in my mind how Jill was always parenting me (even when she wasn’t). I told myself I was never good enough. I could never please her. She was against me, she was trying to change me, and on and on. Honestly sometimes she was doing those things and sometimes she wasn’t, but my thinking told myself she was doing it all the time. The feelings that followed were that of bitterness. The outcome was me saying things that were hurtful and condemning. I felt like we were relationally struggling more and more often–I felt that way but she didn’t. She felt I was struggling more and more. And she was right! My thinking ruts were out of control and I was deepening them everyday. She could never please me. I was never satisfied. I ended up in an affair. How did this happen? It all began with my thinking ruts.
Jill: If we think negative thoughts about our spouse we are driving a relational rut deeper that will 100% negatively impact our feelings and actions towards our spouse. The outcome will 100% be negative.
My ruts that contributed to the dysfunction in our marriage were more responding ruts than thinking ruts. I didn’t listen well. Too often I was defensive and minimizing to Mark.
Mark: We all have relating patterns that don’t serve us well in marriage. For instance:
- Maybe we respond defensively when our spouse expresses a concern.
- Maybe our thinking about our spouse is primarily negative.
- Maybe we don’t speak up and instead we stay quiet and simmer in bitterness and unforgiveness.
- Maybe we withdraw when it would be better to engage and communicate.
- Maybe we listen to respond rather than listen to understand.
- Maybe we’re critical of our spouse when we really need to give grace, use self-control, and say nothing.
We all need to recognize our ruts and move out of the ones that aren’t healthy in marriage. We all need to learn new ways of relating.
Jill: In marriage, we need to “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” (Romans 12:2a NLT). How do we do that? Here are three steps:
Audit your thoughts and responses.
Pay attention to what you think and how your thinking guides the way you respond to your spouse. What patterns or “ruts” do you fall into? Are these healthy?
Your thoughts will determine your feelings so really examining your thoughts towards your spouse or about marriage or during conflict is very important. What thinking patterns do you fall into: A victim mindset? A blame mindset? A defensive mindset? An angry mindset? A fearful mindset? A critical mindset?
Replace your “ruts” with healthy responses and truth.
If your rut is defensiveness, maybe it’s time for you to break out of that rut and learn to dial down defensiveness.
If your rut is critical thoughts, maybe you need to use your God-Tool of humility and realize you’re not perfect either.
Ask yourself if what you are thinking aligns with God’s truth? (If you’re thinking that your spouse is stupid, that does not align with God’s truth because your spouse was fearfully and wonderfully made–Psalms 139:14.)
Recognize the Y’s in the road.
When things get hard in a relationship, we come to a place that’s a Y in the road. This is where we can fall into our old rut and respond in an unhealthy way or we can determine to blaze a new trail and choose different responses that are better for our marriage. Most of the time we blow through the Y and don’t even realize we had a choice back there. The minute you realize you could have handled that differently is a great time to use your God-Tool of Humility and apologize. Even ask for a do-over. This will motivate you to recognize the Y the next opportunity you have to respond.