How to Combat Hidden Soundtracks Before They Derail Your Relationship
“Ta daaa!!!” My husband Carey swept his arm toward something never spotted before in our humble garage.
It was a brand new kayak, all gleaming and baby blue.
“Yay!! Thanks, hon!”, I said. As I looked over the small plastic vessel, I noticed one thing was missing. Our lake across the way seemed to be under the power of turbo-powered jets that whipped it from calm to swells within minutes. Our lake has a boat wrecking reputation. This is a kayak for calm waters. It has no rudder, I thought.
Carey read the quizzical look in my eyes.
“What? You don’t like it?” Then with a sigh like the one your mother used to use, he said “It’s impossible to buy gifts for you!”
Which struck up a struggle inside me, because I did appreciate the thought behind the gift, but I doubted its practicality. I certainly didn’t want it to sit idly in the garage, welcoming all the critters already eyeing it.
All I could think was, ‘you don’t get me!’ I’m not ungrateful. I don’t want to waste something that someone else could put to good use…
In your marriage, have you ever given up on the rational conversation your better wisdom tells you to have? Maybe you’re feeling drained. Feeling down from the last disagreement that fizzled with frustration. You agree with ‘I just don’t have it in me right now’. I packed a sack with these and more, and headed down the vacuous tunnel of negativity. I ended up in the dingy hide-out of, ‘you’ll never get me!’
‘You’ll never get me!’
What a shifty, shadowy bandit of a thought. Looking to steal everything out of a living room of love, leaving nothing but the scarred wooden floor.
When I finally sought professional help unpacking that sack, I learned it was filled with cutting, isolating internal messages that sounded like, “I’m better off alone!” and “I’m not _____ enough” (fill in the blank with just about anything: smart, capable, fast, strong, faithful…).
I wonder what life-stealing soundtracks you have in your sack?
You Have to Make Your Brain Your Ally
Like it or not, “your brain can be a real jerk”. So says Jon Acuff in his recent book, Soundtracks . He tackles the insidious problem of unchecked negative internal messaging, otherwise known as overthinking.
Jon says, “Overthinking is essentially when your brain spins on a thought or an idea for longer than you anticipated. Unfortunately, overthinking tends to lean toward the negative. Left to its own devices, it will naturally gravitate toward things you don’t want to dwell on…Fear does not take work. Doubt does not take work. Insecurity does not take work.” 
If there’s any place a tendency toward overthinking shows up, it’s in your very closest relationships.
I bet you wouldn’t have to look far to spot someone around you with a broken soundtrack about their marriage. “He’ll never change!”, or “All she cares about is the kids!” or “Maybe we’re just not compatible.”
All of these are sweeping statements with a kernel of truth wrapped in layers of fiction.
If you unquestioningly follow your naturally-occurring, negative thoughts about your spouse, even if you don’t speak them out loud, you’ll eventually find yourself dragging a nasty sack down a dank hole.
Negativity breeds negativity. In your marriage, it steals hope.
Your brain, left unchecked, will tend to generate broken thoughts. Fortunately, you are the one who gets to choose your thoughts.
A Measuring Stick for Your Thoughts
Part of what Acuff recommends is a three-pronged test for that recurring thought. Let’s take “Maybe we’re just not compatible!” for example.
- Is it true? Yes, you’ve been back and forth over one or more issues so many times that you now have an allergic reaction to carrying on. You’re both firmly convinced that you’re right and the other person isn’t. But, have you tried searching for more information? Consulting with an expert? Going to a counselor for help?
Sometimes ‘we’re not compatible’ is a pain signal more than it is a true conclusion. If the issue has become all wound up with pride, fear, or a complex web of grievances, try working on getting to the roots of your reactions instead. Just because you’re stepping on each other’s toes (and egos, perhaps?!) doesn’t mean that you’re incompatible.
- Is it helpful? If you both are standing, looking into your marriage and desiring for it to work despite your deep frustration, then taking cues from a negative, defeated soundtrack isn’t going to help you achieve what you want. How about pre-arming yourself with a positive mantra to lean on at a time like this?
- Is it kind? Even if it’s not spoken, often the ‘we’re not compatible’ statement isn’t kind to your spouse. It doesn’t stand in the other’s shoes and earnestly try to understand from their perspective. It’s underlying meaning is ‘you’re so ______ (suggestions: “stubborn” “controlling” “lacking in common sense” “stuck in your ways”…) that I’m not sure I can stick with you.’
Your thoughts don’t pass the kindness test if they affix to your partner’s weakness without loving the whole person, strengths, faults and all.
Jon says that once you spot the broken soundtrack, you need to retire it and replace it with one that is more worthy of your brain space. Retire the negative thoughts, replace them with better ones, and repeat the new ones until you intuitively accept them to be true. 
How does this work in marriage?
Take my story above.
‘You’ll never get me’ cries out to be retired. Buried without honor in the dark hole from which it came.
A worthy replacement? How about, ‘You’re so thoughtful in the ways you love me. Wow!!’
Or perhaps, ‘Carey can’t read my mind. It’s up to me to communicate openly about what I believe and desire.’ If I want our love to grow, it’s up to me to give Carey a window to what’s going on inside.
Or, ‘I’ll believe the best. Carey has my best interests at heart.’
Just one note of caution. I’m not asking you to construct a fiction and then try to convince yourself to believe it. Your brain sniffs out inauthenticity, and it won’t be fooled by groundless words. It’s not negative to acknowledge a problem, but set your efforts toward the solution and avoid overthinking.
Might an induction of positivity, toward yourself or toward your spouse, give your relationship some new life? What soundtrack do you need to retire and replace?
“You’ll never get me!” is now a bandit on the loose. Might have been hiding out with the critters in the kayak when it was eventually carted away.
I don’t know about you, but I want soundtracks about my marriage so amazing they burst out in song.
Let me know what you come up with!
 Acuff, Jon. Soundtracks: The Surprising Solution to Overthinking. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2021 at 21.
 Ibid, at 22.
 Ibid, at 35