The primary theme here is emphasizing the positive.
I do a lot of marriage 911 work, so I tend to take on that point of view where things are dyer and everybody is in distress. A lot of people are in distress and really in trouble in many ways.

In this book I wanted to think differently and write differently. I wanted to speak to people and say, You know what? Even if you’re in distress, let’s do something. Let’s have a little fun. Let’s take a positive approach and see what you’re doing well already. We know from studies that we change much more easily by encouragement than by criticism. We know that change comes when we emphasize our strengths rather than trying to rearrange or fix our weaknesses.

I took all of that knowledge and said, Okay. If that’s true, why don’t we look at relationships and look at what they’re doing right and amplify what’s going right. It’s no different than smiling at the checker in the grocery store and saying, Please have a great day. And they smile back at you and they say, Thank you. And then you walk away and go, Well, that sure felt good. Now, all I did was smile and say, ‘Have a great day.’ And all they did was smile back and say, ‘Have a great day.’ If I can do it with a checker in a grocery store, why can’t I do it with my wife when I get home? And what impact will that have?

Could this approach be overly — positive?
I don’t think so. There is room for couples to address issues. In no way are we sweeping issues under the rug. It says, you will avoid a lot of issues if you walk in the door at night and greet your mate with a smile.

If I help my mate focus on her dreams and I help amplify her dreams and she helps nurture my dreams, is that going to make all the problems go anyway?  No. But the opposite certainly is true. If I’m complaining about my mate all day long, and we fester in that stuff all day long, those problems get larger and larger.

One of the things that psychology has given to us is that we know through studies that what you focus on becomes bigger. So, okay, why don’t we focus on what’s better? It doesn’t mean the problems are going to go away and that there is not a time to go into an ER psychologist and work on issues. But while you’re doing that, you better be noticing what you’re doing well and the gains you are making.

So in 90 — days what results should a couple expect?
Jim, they should feel a momentum building. That’s what I want. I love the word “traction” — any couple working with me will feel traction. I look at them and say, You’re going to feel traction. You’re going to feel like you are moving in a direction. If you will take up this challenge and if you’ll apply these principles, then you’re going to build one upon another. And so you’re going to get that wonderful feeling that we all love.

Studies about happiness show that we are happier when we feel like we’re moving in the direction that we have chosen. Okay. Not rocket science there. It just makes sense. If we feel like we’re in control of our lives, then we’re going to feel happier.

I’m aware that some couples might not choose to do this for 90 — days. Maybe you’re going to give me 60 — days. I’ll take it. Maybe you’re only going to apply four of the tools. Good enough. I’ll take that. You apply four of the tools, six of the tools, seven of the tools and you’re going to feel traction and movement and you’re going to enjoy that and it’s going to build. And then you’re going to feel the great ripple effect when one positive action begets another positive action begets another positive action, and it’s tremendously exciting. If you can’t tell, I apply it to my life and my marriage and I guarantee these kinds of results.

That makes sense. It’s about repeating positive behaviors.
The one tricky part of the whole thing is that we’re not wired to do this. We’re wired to complain and grouse about problems and to talk about how bad things are. And so I want to say from the beginning, prepare yourself to think differently.

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I’ll tell you a personal story. As I was writing this book, my wife had to repeatedly say to me, David, you’re using some of your old thinking. This sounds like marriage 911 talk. You already wrote a book about that. Come on! Even I had to change my mindset.

Couples will find this a bit challenging because we like to complain. We like to blame. We like to whine. We like to moan. It’s not so easy to say to yourself, Before I even walk in the door, I’m going to anticipate saying something very encouraging to my wife. This is not hard to do, but if you’re used to whining and thinking negatively, complaining and then feeling picked on, and playing the victim, you’re going to have a little bit of a time shifting your mindset. Once you begin to do it, it’s like candy for the brain. It feels very, very good.

David, in the book you use the terms “encouragement” and “intentionality.” These are important terms?
Certainly. Well, I’ve already said that encouragement is by far the better motivator of behavior. Schoolteachers will smile when they hear that because they know that is true. Criticizing someone only puts them on the defense. And, in fact, more than putting people on the defense, it makes people set their feet in stone and resist you. It’s well known. You push on someone and you chastise them for their behavior and they will not only become entrenched in that very behavior but they will fight you on it. It doesn’t work.

Encouragement, we all are desperate for it like a desert needing water. We soak it up, we love it, and we will respond to it. This is all scientifically proven. Encouragement is by far the better motivator for change.

On that note, it’s wonderful to encourage the beginnings of change. Don’t wait for your mate to change. I often have couples come in and say, Well, you know what? We took your book and we worked on something but, boy, he didn’t do it all that well. ‘Well, did he do it a little bit? Did he work on some of it?’ Well, he worked on it some but he didn’t hit the mark. Come on. We’ve got to reinforce and encourage movement in the right direction.

Intentionality is a word I love — it might be one of my most favorite words — and that is we set ourselves in a direction. If I want to go to California, I better be hopping in my car and head out on I — 5 and point my car south. If I do that and if I drive long enough, chances are I’m going to hit California. If I’m even 20 degrees off, I’m going to end up in Nevada or Texas. So intentionality means, I think ahead where I want my relationship to go, what I want it to look like, and then I plan accordingly.

I do that with my wife Christy every day. I don’t know that I use this in the book, but I’ve got a term that I call “frontal lobe relating” and all that means is I carry my wife around on my frontal lobe. That means I think about her, I plan about her and I execute with her in mind. When I do that she responds favorably. That’s what I mean by intentionality.

I want individuals to expect more out of their marriage. There is no couple that has to be living in distress. You don’t have to be there.

One of my favorite sayings is: “If it’s predictable, it’s preventable.” If you are struggling with the same things again and again — and much of life is like that — we’re repeating old patterns. We get ourselves into different situations. We fight and we struggle and we grouse and complain. If it’s all predictable, with the right kind of guidance and coaching — you can change those patterns, not only ending dysfunctional patterns but you can begin functional, helpful, loving, exciting, wonderful patterns. It’s all available.

Copyright © 2009 by Jim Mueller, President and co-founder of Growthtrac Ministries.

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