07/07/2010 11:50 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

We Need a Marriage Attitude Check

On my parent's refrigerator growing up there was a poem that read, "Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny."

I believe that. So you can imagine the frustration I feel when I hear people down-talk marriage. Sure, I understand that not every marriage is rainbows and unicorns, and I believe individuals have the right to express their dissatisfaction. My problem is the general agreement and the projection of one person's situation onto others.

I recently had a friend get married and I overheard one person say to him, "Good luck with that." Can you imagine if you announced you were going to have a baby and someone commented, "Good luck with that?" You would hear a needle scratching across a record. Too often when we're talking about marriage, however, the reaction is a laugh and nod like it's a relatable joke.

Why is it so acceptable to talk trash about marriage? Why aren't people more protective of their relationship as they are with other things? If you were with a group of married men you'd probably get a stronger response if you spoke poorly about their favorite football team than if you talked bad about their marriage. Don't we realize that our thoughts and words will become our actions? Imagine if you're out at lunch with friends and talking about how horrible your spouse is and their shortcomings, it's going to be extremely difficult to arrive home and shower them with love and affection.

When I was a kid, I thought I was awesome! As in, the greatest kid on the planet. Worse, I wasn't afraid to let others know. Often, my awesome thoughts meant I would put others down, including friends. My parents, in their wisdom, thought this might become a problem down the line and came up with a solution. Every time they heard me say something inappropriate ("Why do I have to play with him, he sucks at football!") my parents would look at me and say, "Attitude check." This let me know that even when I wasn't conscious of my thoughts and words, they were coming out and others were being affected.

If I received multiple "attitude checks" in a day or week, I would be grounded, which meant I wouldn't get to play at all, including football with my friends whom I thought weren't very good at it. It didn't take long before I began thinking about my words before saying them. I wonder why, as adults, we seem to have lost this filter.

Being in the marriage industry I get a lot of reaction when I tell people what I do. The reactions are either really positive or jokingly negative. I understand that there are many times when jokes are appropriate and funny, but I can also recognize when those words have become someone's actions. Research has shown repeatedly that it's not fights or disagreements in relationships that matter, it's the manner in which we engage--the words we use and how we use them. Even using the pronoun "we" instead of "you" when discussing problems in marriage is an indicator of less marital happiness, according to a 2006 study, "Pronouns in Marital Interaction" by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of North Carolina--Chapel Hill.

So where do we go from here? We could start a cultural revolution saying, "attitude check" every time someone projects their dissatisfied marriage on the entire institution. A more subtle approach, however, would be to lead by example. Let us all be mindful of our own thoughts and words; these will soon become our actions and carry over into who we are.

How many of us say negative things simply because that's what we hear around us and find it more comfortable? We may not know how to make positive statements about our marriage.

I was recently in a conversation with someone where they said, "That's what happens when you get married." (It was said with negative connotation). I replied, "That's not how my marriage is. We're really happy." I try to take the opportunity to turn their negative thoughts and words into positive ones. In the kindest way possible, I let them know they need a marriage "attitude check."