I was teaching 14 third graders in Sunday school one day, and every word that came out of their mouths that morning was a complaint. “I’m bored.” “Do we have to do this craft?” “Why don’t you have those good snacks?” If only they knew how to stop complaining, I thought.
I’d worked hard to create an interesting lesson and craft, and the barrage of negative comments deflated my spirit and made me feel like a failure. I made it through the class and then plopped myself down in the sanctuary for the sermon.
That’s when the Lord tapped me on shoulder. “Julie,” He said to my heart, “What did you do to your husband for the entire day yesterday?”
I had been just as whiny as those Sunday school children. In an instant, I understood how my tiresome complaints had discouraged my husband, who works hard to place my concerns above his own. And yet all I’d done that Saturday was crab and complain.
I don’t even remember what I’d been complaining about, but I sure remember God’s lesson. It motivated me to stop complaining and watch my words more carefully. Do any of us really want to discourage our spouse and make them feel like failures? No! But sometimes we can unknowingly fall into negative mental habits that are hard to break without God’s help.
Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
If you want a joyful heart but find yourself complaining, you need to take action. Research shows that negative thoughts, which prompt us to complain, “stick” in our brains more easily than positive thoughts.
But don’t worry: God made our brains, and He knows how they work. Storing God’s Word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), practicing gratefulness, and thinking about others and God’s character can help us replace the negative thoughts Satan wants us to wallow in and spew into our marriages.
Here are seven simple practices that help me to stop complaining and maintain a more pleasing mindset — which my husband appreciates!
Say thank you twice a day
Say thank you when you wake up in the morning and when you go to sleep. With your head on the pillow, start and end your day thanking God. Tell Him what you’re grateful for.
After experiencing some difficult health issues, this practice became easier for me! For a time, I couldn’t read without a giant magnifying glass. Once that problem was resolved, a back problem made it impossible for me to walk much or sit. So now I can truly say, “Thank you, God, that I can walk, I can sit, I can see!”
There are always multiple reasons to be thankful. Do you have your sense of taste so you can enjoy that piece of steak or bar of chocolate? Can you hear? Are you grateful for your spouse? Don’t take the basics for granted.
Meditate on a Bible verse before bedtime
Read a psalm, for example, and think about it just before you go to bed. You’ll probably find yourself thinking of it in the morning, which can get your mind started in the cheerfulness and gratefulness mode. In his book Meditation, author Jim Downing explains how this works.
“It is an excellent practice to give God the night key to your heart. This means locking God’s Word in your thoughts for the night. If God’s Word is locked in, and all thoughts are locked out, then your subconscious mind must think on what is in that Word.”
Memorize Philippians 4:8
Post this verse where you’ll see it often. Early in my marriage, I realized I had a habit of ruminating on negative things, and it was destructive to my relationship. I needed to replace negative thoughts with positive contemplation. It sounds simple, yet every new habit takes practice and effort.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, I found myself falling back into negative thinking. I had to tell myself to stop — and replace those thoughts with whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.
Say this simple prayer
Start the day with this request: “God, help me to be a blessing to someone today.” This moves your mind to consider others and look for opportunities to bless throughout the day, which is opposite of the self-involved complaining habit.
I started doing this after I read At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon. This book’s fictional pastor made this prayer a habit. I did too, and it helped. You could also make it a habit to pray, “God, help me to be a blessing to my spouse today.”
Keep beauty in your brain
God knows that beauty refreshes and cheers my spirit. And if I’m refreshed, I’m less apt to complain! If I recall the vivid hue of the bluebird I saw on my walk or the evening’s “fire in the sky” sunset, it lifts me out of complaining mode and into praising mode.
One morning several years ago, I was feeling down. So I prayed, asking God to help me change my attitude. As I drove to work through the hilly countryside of northwestern Wisconsin, I watched the first rays of sun meet the mist of a rolling hay field. Just at that moment, a song I’d never heard before began playing on the radio — “My Prayer,” sung by Andrea Bocelli and Céline Dion. This visual and musical combination delivered a stunning dose of beauty to my soul. To this day, remembering that scene puts a smile on my face.
Look for the beauty God created. And think about it. Psalm 90:17 says, “And let the beauty of the LORD be upon us.”
Give God extra worship
Singing a worship song I love changes how I feel, probably because I’m worshipping God and getting the focus off myself. Make time in your life to give God some extra worship. Can you listen to praise music while you’re in the car, cleaning the kitchen or taking a walk? Sometimes it’s so easy to rush through tasks without realizing we could do them with our minds on God (and off of complaints).
Build up your spouse
Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” I wasn’t building up my husband with grace-filled words on that day I complained so often, I was tearing him down with a constant drip, drip of negativity.
Use kind words instead of negative ones. Every day, find something positive about your spouse and verbalize it. Tell him you appreciate his humor or how he thought ahead and put chili in the slow cooker. Tell her how much you loved that flirty text or her extra effort to get the kids to bed because she knew you’d had a bad day.
With God’s help, you can learn how to stop complaining and use your words to make your marriage stronger, not weaker.