--By H. Norman Wright

         Anxiety & worry are common causes of trouble in marriage. When either marriage partner is tied in knots with fear & anxiety, there is unhappiness. Hours spent in worry add up to discouraging, out-of-kilter days for both husband & wife, even if only one of them is the worrier.
         Worry is almost exclusively concerned with the past or the future. You dwell on past mistakes or what someone did to you yesterday...or what they didn't do or say. And before you know it you're having a terrible day, all because you're concentrating on the past. True, it is often necessary to evaluate what happened & it is wise to learn from past experiences. But how much clearheaded evaluating & learning takes place when you worry? And, more important, did worry ever change yesterday?
         Or maybe the past isn't what bothers you. It's the future that sends your worry out of control. You look at the bills & the financial obligations you will have to meet in the next six months & it's all too much to cope with. Perhaps you have a nagging health fear that you fret about.
You can win over worry. Practically everyone agrees that anxiety & worry are destructive. But how does a person break out of worry patterns?
         Don't try to face your troubles on your own. Worry takes over when you look at a dark situation & you begin to fret, "This is awful. There's no way out. I'm sunk." That may (or may not) be true as far as you're concerned, but you're not alone. You can turn to God & tell Him how hard things are & trust Him for help. Depend on His power & strength to get you through.
         Remember you have a choice of who "runs the ranch". Do your thoughts control you or do you control your thoughts? For example, when you wake up in the morning do worries take over & begin dictating your mood to you? Or do you say, "Hold it! Worry is not going to help." Get busy thinking about something else. Get busy doing something that demands your attention. Don't let worry "run your ranch." With God's help choose
not to worry.
         Concentrate on reality. Imagining what might happen or daydreaming about the consequences can lead to an extreme state of worry & anxiety. Face up to the actual situation & tell God your needs.
         Think in terms of possible solutions. List your worries & anxieties. Be specific & complete in your descriptions. If you're really worried about the house payment this month don't just write "finances". Instead, put down "money for house payment" & any other pressing money problems you have. Then write a list of possible solutions.
         Actively work on solutions. Thinking up possible solutions isn't enough. Act if you feel that something must be wrong with you; vitamin deficiencies, allergies, lack of exercise & emotional or physical fatigue can sometimes disguise themselves as worry or anxiety. As you look for reasons why you worry, rule out any possible physical causes to start with.
         Accept what can't be changed. You've probably read the prayer: "O God, give us serenity to accept what cannot be changed, courage to change what should be changed, & wisdom to distinguish the one from the other." What about making it a personal prayer that you really mean?
         Face up to it that no amount of worry, nothing you can say, will really change your marriage partner. On the other hand, accepting your mate & loving him (or her) for what he (or she) is, can free each of you from worry.
         Live one day at a time. Are you worrying about your marriage, or enjoying it? Have you enjoyed your marriage partner today? Or are you too worried about what's coming up tomorrow to get the
now into focus?
What's the Word say?: "Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you."--1Pet.5:7. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee."--Isa.26:3. "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer & supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts & minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, & if there be any praise, think on these things."--Phil.4:6-8.

         No matter where you are as husband & wife, you will want to keep communication lines open. A key to communication--perhaps
the key--is building your mate's self-esteem. A person's self-esteem is his overall judgement of himself--how much he likes his particular person.
         Marriage partners with high self-esteem are bound to be happier & communicate better. High self-esteem means an absence or at least a considerable lessening of anxieties, complexes, hangups, & the other problems that prevent good communications. The spouse with low self-esteem is seldom a good communicator. Low self-esteem often drives a person into a shell of silence or compels a person to become a dominating over-talkative, unacceptant dictator in one-way communication--"my way".
         Following are some practical principles for building self-esteem in your mate.
Make it safe to communicate. Strive to establish & maintain an open atmosphere in your home. In an open atmosphere both marriage partners are free to share openly & honestly what they feel, think & believe. Each family member is allowed to speak the truth in love.
         Perhaps speaking the truth will hurt, perhaps it will not. Too often, marriage partners avoid constructive discussions because they feel that they would have to make changes in their own lives.
Seek to understand, not to be understood. Spend as much time & effort trying to understand your mate's viewpoint as you do trying to make him or her understand yours. Perhaps there's a good & legitimate reason for your spouse's beliefs, actions or habits. Everyone's background & environment are different & they bring this background with them to the marriage relationship.
         When one spouse sulks, stews or balks because the other "doesn't understand", what is really being said? The real message is, "You don't understand
me! You don't want to adjust to my ideas & way of doing things. You don't want to give me my way!"
         As long as a man is preoccupied primarily with being understood by his wife, he is miserable, overcome with self-pity, the spirit of demanding, & bitter withdrawal. As soon as he becomes preoccupied with understanding
her, seeking to understand that which he had not before understood, then the direction taken by events begins to change. As soon as a person feels understood, he opens up & because he lowers his defenses he is also able to make himself better understood.
Don't assume you know--ask. Recognise that there is some information you cannot get by any other means than by asking your spouse about it. Never assume that you know what your spouse thinks. Have you ever heard a husband saying, "My wife thinks..."? How does he really know? Does he really know she thinks or believes that? Or is he just taking it for granted? Has he asked her? Has he ever really discussed the matter?
         If you really want to know what your spouse is thinking, start talking about it. Husband-wife communication will automatically improve if both stop assuming & start communicating.
Listen--don't interrupt. Enough can't be said about this skill, which is so rusty with disuse in so many marriages.
         Listening takes discipline. We fail to listen to our spouse because of impatience & a lack of concentration, especially when he or she is saying something that we don't particularly want to hear.
Spouse with horse sense never becomes nag." When trying to communicate with your mate, keep in mind the ironic fact that too much talking can be as bad as too little. If you have adequately discussed a problem or a subject, drop it & move on. Do not restate your case & your conclusions over & over again. Too often you can create a bigger problem if you talk too much. Proverbs puts this nicely, if a bit bluntly: "In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin; but he that refraineth his lips is wise."
         A typical form of "too much talking" is nagging--constantly harping or hassling your mate for one reason or another. A technical definition is "critical faulting"--but whatever you call it, nagging usually doesn't work. It irritates & frustrates both marriage partners--the nagger as well as the "naggee."
         According to a national survey conducted by a leading magazine, the thing that irritates most men more than anything else is the wife's nagging.
         If you have to say things a half-dozen times or more before you get any action your spouse is either: 1.) not paying attention, 2.) doesn't believe you mean anything the first time you speak.
         How then can you gain your spouse's attention & not have to repeat & repeat?
         Maybe your wife is engrossed in planning the big dinner party for Saturday night & you need to give her the word on servicing the car before you leave for work. The last thing she wants to hear is about what oil needs changing & where the grease has to go. So, go up to her & try looking her right in the eye as you talk to her. Perhaps you may want to put your hand on her shoulder (better yet, put your arms around her waist) & tell her what you have to say. There are all kinds of ways--the best of them are pleasant--to be something else than a nagger. Be creative & experiment. And keep Solomon's advice in mind:..."the contentions of a wife are a continual dropping."--Prov.19:13.
Use sincere compliments! One obvious area where husbands can't say enough at the right moment is when complimenting their woman's appearance. Instead of waiting for her to pry approval out of you about her hair, dress, cooking, etc., take a little more notice of your wife & pay her sincere compliments without having to have them solicited. A compliment coming from a husband, a spontaneous compliment, is worth a hundred times more in self-esteem value than the typical grunt: "Oh, yes...looks very nice..."
         As for the wives, they should never forget that their husbands are just as vain as they are (& more so). They also like compliments on their appearance &, again, it's better to do it at a spontaneous moment rather than wait till he is just putting on his new suit. All of us have the built-in resistance to compliments when they're given at those times "when a compliment is expected." Learn to give compliments when they're not expected, & they'll be worth much more on the self-esteem market with your mate.
Deal in potential--not the past. Don't limit your mate by what he or she has done in the past that hasn't measured up or met completely with your approval. Are you guilty of putting your spouse in a pigeon-hole? Check yourself & see if you ever (or often) make comments like these:
         "He never understands me."
         "She doesn't listen to what I say."
         "He just won't change."
         "She says one thing & then does another."
         "I just can't reach him...he's hopeless."
         God is far more interested in what a person can be than in what a person has been.
         If God had dealt with us strictly on the basis of our past, He would never have sent Christ to die for our sins. But God loved us. He saw us as persons of worth, value, with potential, & He forgave.
Pray for one another. All of the ideas & suggestions here will be of little use to the Christian couple if they neglect prayer, one for another. In fact, many of these ideas & suggestions, especially those that suggest or imply changes that either spouse must make, will be impossible to achieve or use without prayer. God is the One who changes a marriage--not manuals or books!
         There is one other guideline to help you & your mate apply this counsel to your marriage. Better communication depends upon change--changes in both of you. Changing some of your patterns may take a long time, but change is possible through Jesus Christ. To say that you are so set in your ways that you cannot change is to contradict the good news that Jesus Christ
can & will make us new creatures.
Marriage communication guidelines. Prov.18:21; 25:11; Job 19:12; James 3:8-10; 1Peter 3:10.
         1. Be a ready listener & do not answer until the other person has finished talking. Prov.18:13; Jam.1:19.
         2. Be slow to speak. Think first. Don't be hasty in your words. Speak in such a way that the other person can understand & accept what you say. Prov.15:23,28; 21:23; 29:20; Jam.1:19.
         3. Speak the truth always but do it in love. Do not exaggerate. Eph.4:15,25; Col.3:9.
         4. Do not use silence to frustrate the other person. Explain why you are hesitant to talk at this time.
         5. Do not become involved in quarrels. It
is possible to disagree without quarreling. Prov.17:14; 20:3; Rom.13:13; Eph.4:31.
         6. Do not respond in anger. Use a soft & kind response. Prov.14:29; 15:1,25:15; 29:11; Eph.4:26,31.
         7. When you are in the wrong, admit it & ask for forgiveness. Jam.5:16. When someone confesses to you, tell them you forgive them. Be sure it is forgotten & not brought up to the person later. Prov.17:9; Eph.4:32; Col.3:13; 1Pet.4:8.
         8. Avoid nagging. Prov.10:19; 17:9; 20:5.
         9. Do not blame or criticise the other person. Instead, restore...encourage...edify. Rom.14:13; Gal.6:1; 1Thes.5:11. If someone verbally attacks, criticizes or blames you, try not to respond in the same manner. Rom.12:17,21; 1Pet.2:23; 3:9.
         10. Try to understand the other person's opinion. Make allowances for differences. Be concerned about their interests. Phil.2:1-4; Eph.4:2.