When I was 8 years old, i got my first pair of glasses. I can distinctly remember my amazement as I surveyed the new world. Trees had individual leaves that moved about, not just blobs of green. I could see the chalkboard. I could see how cute Ingrid was from way across the room. I could see clearly.
In my counseling practice, I see people who have stressed and struggling marriages. Most come because they want things better; they want a marriage with joy, peace, and love. The excitement of a first date for some, and the comfort of a favorite pair of jeans for others. Over the years I have noticed a barrier to their goals that is simple to understand, but hard to remove. In order to remove it, they must put on new glasses.
Inattentional blindness is a phenomenon that has been observed in many contexts. Our brains take in an enormous amount of information, and it is necessary to filter out the less important things in order to attend to the more important things. Inattentional blindness is a result of this filtering, and paradoxically, the more attention is focused, the worse the blindness can become. Two experiments illustrate this: In one, a group of radiologists were asked to look at 5 scans of patients lungs looking for cancer. The final scan had a gorilla 48 times as large as the cancerous nodules, yet 83% of the radiologists did not see it. In another experiment, participants were asked to watch a basketball game and count how many passes were made. During the segment, a person in a gorilla costume (not sure what the gorilla connection is) crosses the court. Subjects were able to report the number of passes, but were shocked to learn of the gorilla person.
One last example that we can all relate to immediately is our nose. It is very prominent in our field of vision, yet our brains edit it out and even "patch in" what is expected to be behind it.
So, what does this have to do with marriage? A phrase that is frighteningly true unless you have learned to use it to your advantage is this: You see what you expect to see. I hear phrases like this: "he always does _______" "when _____ happens, she always______" "this is what he does......" I can never _______, because she __________" and so on. It is the narrative that I know how things go and they always go that way and he/she needs to change so that things can be better. Things can never be better until he/she stops doing the things they do." Once this mindset has developed, it creates inattentional blindness to anything that does not support it. The mind thinks it is doing us a favor (simplifying life) by excluding the data that do not support what we expect. So, how do we counteract this phenomenon?
1. Look for evidence that your preconceived ideas are wrong--look for exceptions and magnify them. When she expresses appreciation for the yard work you did, don't miss it because "she never appreciates anything I do". Use it as an opportunity to say how good it feels when she expresses appreciation.
2. Focus on the positives and the things you like/love about your spouse. The things you pay attention to will become more important in your mind. (which is why things go downhill when the focus is on the negative).
For example, rather than focusing on how little time your husband spends with you and how you feel unappreciated, focus on how he works consistently, he is a good father, and he is faithful. This doesn't mean the other things are not important, it means that if you focus on what you have instead of what you don't have, things will tend to get better. If you focus on what you don't have things will always get worse.
3. Practice Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy.
I do recognize that all three of these overlap. It just feels good to have 3 points instead of one. The main idea is to purpose to look for things that are going to put the eye glasses of grace and truth on our relationships. In addition, it is encouraging us to spend more time looking at the leaves, and less time looking in the sewer.