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In last week’s column, I wrote about the importance of being grateful for your spouse, your marriage and many other aspects of your life. Even in the midst of our harsh economic times, you still have much to be thankful for, and, as I mentioned last week, there are many in this world who would gladly exchange their difficulties for yours.

I want to continue the theme of gratitude this week because I truly believe developing the habit of looking for and focusing on the good can transform a challenged marriage into a successful and healthy one.

So here’s an idea to help you form such a habit. Shortly after you awaken in the morning, take a few moments to write down five aspects of your life for which you are grateful. For example, I am grateful for my faith, my wife, my career, my home and my community. Trust me, that did not take any more than 10 seconds. And I only stopped because the exercise calls for listing only five items.

If you haven’t done this in a while, it may present a challenge to consider five items that you appreciate. Stay with it, however, and I just can just about guarantee you your problem will soon be limiting yourself to just five each day.

It is a psychological principle that what we focus on tends to grow. When we focus on the negative aspects of life, of which all of us have at least a few, our thoughts tend to gravitate toward the negative. Focusing on the positive aspects of your life will not make the negative ones disappear, but you will find they have less power to influence your mood and thoughts during your day.

My challenge to you is to write down on an index card your five items and carry the card with you. At periodic moments in your day, pull out the card and read it. By the way, feel free to let your face know you are grateful. Smiling has great health benefits, but we’ll save that for the topic of another column.

Another positive benefit of being grateful for what you have is that is protects you from becoming overly selfish and self-serving, both of which are dangerous in a marriage. I think we can all admit that as humans we tend to be self-centered, but marriage is an excellent opportunity to lessen that condition. By focusing on the positive aspects of your mate, you will more likely be inclined to consider how you might bring pleasure to him or her.

It is ironic that the more you focus on getting your own needs met and waiting for your spouse to deliver, the more distant and loveless your marriage will become. On the other hand, the more you focus on what you can do for your mate, the more joy and satisfaction you will likely find for yourself.

Borrowing loosely from John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration address, ask not what your spouse can do for you, ask what you can do for your spouse.

I have never been a huge fan of poetry, but I do have a favorite that goes along so well with the points I am making in this column. It’s called "The Key to Living is Giving" by Helen Steiner Rice. I’ll paraphrase it for you here, but I encourage you to seek out the full version. You might even want to get a fancy version to frame on your wall at home.

In essence, the poem is about the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, both are located in the nation of Israel, and both are fed by the same source: the Jordan River. Apart from location and source, these two bodies of water are vastly different from each other. As Rice points out in her poem, the Sea of Galilee is "a sparkling sapphire jewel. Its waters are clean and clear and cool. Along its shores the children play and travelers seek it on their way." She goes on to describe the Dead Sea as being "a sea where nothing grows, no splash of fish, no singing bird, no children’s laughter is ever heard."

Again, both seas are fed by the identical source. So what causes one to be thriving and inviting while the other is anything but? The answer is simple. The Sea of Galilee has an outlet at its southern edge. This allows the water to continue flowing through. The Dead Sea, however, has no such outlet. The water it receives from the Jordan River sits and stagnates.

Referring to the Galilee, Rice writes: "And in the laughing, living sea, that takes and gives so generously we find the way to life and living is not in keeping, but in giving."

She closes the poem with "Yes, there are two Palestinian seas, and mankind is fashioned after these!"

I might add that marriage is also fashioned in the same way. If you focus on getting and keeping, you and your marriage will suffer. If you choose to focus on giving and blessing, you and your marriage will reap huge benefit.

Not knowing all the circumstances of your marriage, I cannot guarantee the validity of that last statement. I am confident, however, that it is well worth a try. Please consider forming the habit of being grateful for your spouse and giving particular attention to what you can do to make his or her life more enjoyable.

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