change your marriage by changing your mindJill: In life, we’re all leaders—influencers—of others in some way. You might not think of yourself as a leader, but you are! If you’re a parent, you’re a leader of your children. You might be a leader at work. However, the most important person you need to lead is actually yourself!

Mark: That’s right…self-leadership is a muscle that needs to be strengthened. The more you do it, the stronger you are. It’s about taking control of your emotions and feelings instead of letting them hijack your behavior.

Jill: Emotions are important. They send up a flag to us about things we need to pay attention to. In fact, I’ve spent the last 10 years re-engaging my emotions after shutting them down most of my life. I share some of that journey in our No More Perfect Marriages book when we explore the slow fade of avoiding emotion. While emotions are important, they don’t always tell us the truth. This is where self-leadership comes in.

Mark: For most of my life, I unknowingly let my emotions lead me. Over the past ten years since our crisis that we wrote about in our No More Perfect Marriages book and blog series, I’ve worked to lead myself well and take my thoughts captive as the Bible tells us in 2 Corinthians 10:5. I’ve come to understand that the emotions of stress and anxiety are bullies. They’re actually my enemy. Peace, joy, and contentment are my friends…and they’re friends to my marriage as well.

Jill: When we don’t let stress and anxiety get the best of us, we’re less likely to bite our spouse’s head off. We’re more likely to respond rather than react. On our recent mission trip to Vienna and Budapest, I worked hard to lead myself because navigating travel in a foreign country where you don’t know the language is a recipe for stress and therefore, conflict, in marriage. We used trains, planes, trolleys, and subways, often lugging two heavy suitcases each. Every time we needed to navigate something unknown and foreign I did two things: 1) I gave us extra time to figure things out (if possible), and 2) I told myself over and over that if we missed our transportation, another train or trolley would be along in a few minutes. It wasn’t worth getting all worked up about.

How to Lead Yourself Well

Mark: Need to lead yourself well when it comes to your emotions? Here are some practical steps:

Choose to think about the right things. Instead of ruminating on the negative parts of a situation, think about the positives. When we would miss a train on our recent trip (which we did a couple of times!), Jill worked to stay steady by focusing on the fact that we had a plan B and even C, D, and E, if needed! This reduced unnecessary conflict.

Be attentive to what’s going on inside of you. Why am I so full of anxiety and stress right now? What am I wrongly believing that’s leading me to become emotionally entangled? When I react to something I’m often thinking of shaming thoughts like: “I’m a fool,” or “I can’t get it right,” or “I should have known better,” or “Once again you’re a failure.”  These are lies from the enemy that I have to recognize and replace with truth like “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

Respond, don’t react. Consider the array of response choices you actually have and then choose the one you want to be characterized by. For instance, if someone hurts you, you can choose forgiveness. If someone irritates you, you can choose grace. If you make a mistake, you can choose to learn from it and embrace the lesson telling yourself, “This is hard right now, but you can do this. What are your best options?”

Change your mind. It’s nearly impossible to change your behavior without changing what’s going on inside your head. Romans 12:2 tells us that we need to renew our mind. When we slow down our responses, consider our options, and then choose our next step, we are actually allowing God to mature us. We’re allowing the Holy Spirit to influence us and renew our mind.

Jill: You really can change your marriage by changing your mind…and you can start today!

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