21 October 2011

Q & A- What to Do if You're in an Unhappy Marriage

 (From Danny....)

So I guess it's my turn to post.  By way of introduction, it now goes without saying that I have married a truly remarkable woman.  Whatever praise or gratitude many of you have expressed in your comments and private emails is only exceeded by the praise and love I express personally to my wife for the wonderful woman she is, and to God for bringing her to me and me to her.  I feel she is my perfect partner in all things, including every word she writes on this blog.  Until now I've played editor and adviser, and occasional commenter.  But, I have just as much interest as she does in sharing our message of love and hope, and so I begin today with this post.

Apparently the rules of this blog are that I lead a post with a head shot...so here you go!  haha. 



Two days ago we received a comment on the "A Major Dating Tip" post wondering what to do when you are in an energy draining marriage, and not just dating.  I started to reply in the comment, realizing soon I had two pages of info and would be better off turning it into a post.  Below is the abbreviated question from Anonymous:

Q: How do you figure out what to do and how to handle a situation in a marriage where you no longer want to tolerate bad behavior or a dysfunctional relationship? What do you do? 

A: 
There is no one-size-fits-all answer...unless you focus on personal responsibility.  I try my hardest to avoid telling people what to do with their marriage, but I don't mind butting in with what I think they can do INTERNALLY to make the best of a bad marriage (this also applies to good marriages and any other situation for that matter).

So what do you do?  Well, your question got me thinking about one of my favorite books - Man's Search for Meaning - by concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl.  One of the key messages of his book is that there CAN be meaning in suffering (whether or not there is meaning is up to us).  Given his extreme experiences, I appreciate his insights.  He says: 

"We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed.  For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one's predicament into a human achievement....When we cannot change a situation - we are challenged to change ourselves."

Granted, the very nature of marriage, and your question, means it is still open to change.  But, assuming one has made the decision that changing the situation is currently not an option, that means it is incumbent upon one to change themselves.  And with that personal change, one can and will achieve personal triumph. 

This might be too simplistic, but I look at our personal changes happening on two different levels...we can change *what* we do, and we can change *how* we do the *whats* we're already doing. 

For example - I can pay a compliment, or I can not pay a compliment.  The compliment is the *what*.  Now, most would say that paying a compliment is a good thing, but that depends also on *how* we pay the compliment.  Did we do it sincerely with love and kindness, seeking truly to uplift the intended recipient?  Or did we give the compliment grudgingly, out of obligation, or to manipulate? 

I'll bet we all know how different the internal reactions are when we freely and lovingly do something, compared to when we do that same thing out of obligation, manipulation, or expectation of a reward.  The difference is truly night and day. 

Given the scenario above, it's fair to say that often times (if not all the time) *how* we do things is just as important, if not more important than *what* we do.

I think that applies to your question of figuring out how to handle a not-so-happy marriage.  If what one has decided to do is stay, I applaud that decision, especially when children are involved.  Since that big *what* has already been decided, the only thing remaining is choosing one's *how* (and of course a thousand other little whats that happen every day).

Personally, I am constantly checking the root cause of my emotions and thoughts to make sure they are more consistent with the virtues of faith, hope, and love...and as far distant as possible from the negativity of fear, doubt, and anger.  The more aware I've become of that *how*, the easier it is for me to make minor adjustments when I sense I'm veering off course...which has unquestionably resulted in a happier Danny.  This self-awareness and single-minded focus on making minor corrections (when I sensed negative emotions brewing) brought me a level of peace, joy, and happiness I would have thought impossible while watching my previous marriage crumble very unexpectedly.  Consistently applied, it replaced every sense of self-doubt, fear, hurt, and anger with an overwhelming sense of compassion, forgiveness, hope, non-judgement, and love. 

I can't sum up Frankl's book or his insights in a single comment (though apparently I'm trying).  All I know is it was hugely influential on me.  Each time I review it, I am reminded of the awesome power of choice.  So, back to the question of what does one do?  I know only one answer: get better and better...and better at consciously choosing a more loving, faithful and kind way of carrying out the *what* you've already chosen. 

Just as there is no happiness in giving a compliment begrudgingly or out of obligation, there is no happiness in staying in a marriage begrudgingly or out of obligation.  I guess we have to take responsibility not only for choosing to leave or stay, but also for choosing a sense of gratitude, love,  selflessness and forgiveness.  Frankl said he saw some people in the horrific situations of the concentration camp rise to the highest heights of human nature, nearly approaching the divine.  Others descended to the lowest lows, becoming worse than animals.  I'm guessing the same range is possible for each of us when placed in a less than wonderful marriage (or situation).  The choice is ours.  I know of no other way to approach the divine than making sure whatever we do is done in a spirit of real love: the best *how*. 
I'll defer to Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 on the definition of real love:  "Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails."

23 comments:

  1. I love your blog. You and your wife are fantastic. Even in my happy marriage these are great reminders. I love Viktor Frankl book as well, it really is inspiring.

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  2. Danny - nice to meet you in blogland and I enjoy reading your new daily posts right before I head off to bed. They are an uplifting end to my day.

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  3. Danny,you are an amazing person and quite good looking as well. Thank you for sharing with us today. I look forward to seeing more photos of just you.

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  4. Thanks Anonymous, you made me laugh...though you may be disappointed, photos of just me are a rare commodity, seeing as how I generally carry the camera :)

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  5. Stop teasing us with this crap. I want to know how you do your hair! See you next week.

    Ross

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  6. Wow, Mara is a lucky lady to have such an insightful and caring man. It is so interesting to hear a man's perspective on this topic! Post more Danny!

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  7. Thank you for this! I definitely needed this.

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  8. Yay! Danny's first post! Thank you for your insights. An excellent reminder for me this week. I feel I am too quick to anger with my children when they don't do what I ask of them, something I really dislike about myself and I am working to change. I wish I had a photographic memory so I could mentally read this post when the frustration starts to build.

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  9. Well said. You want to know something? If you asked me things I needed to be better at, improving my marriage would not be on the list, but after reading this blog for the past couple days and applying some small changes, my marriage is happier than before. I am happier. Thank you.

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  10. Danny, thank you for this powerful post. So uplifting, inspiring! There's such a feeling of freedom and empowerment knowing that when I change ME, life will get better.

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  11. debsfreckles - thanks for the great comment. What you've just described is one of the main reasons Mara and I decided to start the blog in the first place. Wonderful!

    Erin - You're very welcome! Sounds like you're already on your way to becoming an even better mother than before.

    Brian - thanks to your request, I will work without delay to prepare a "Straight & Short hair tips for men" post.

    Sarah - YES- It is empowering isn't it!

    Amanda - thank you for your encouragement, I've got a few ideas I'm working on.

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  12. Danny, thank you for this post. I read the original question in the comments from the other post last week, and thought "that's me, I have the same question". Then I checked the blog today and saw this post. As I scrolled down the page and saw the title, I got a little choked up. Now I have tears running down my face (at work!) Especially because at the end you quoted a passage that I (and I'm sure many others) had as part of their wedding ceremony. Thank you for your wise advice. I am trying to figure out what happiness means for me, in my current situation - reading this helped more than you could ever know.

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  13. Karen - thank you very much for your heartfelt comment. It really means a lot to me and Mara. I'm grateful that this post helped you and reminded you of the things that really matter. I truly wish you the best in your search for happiness. I'll just reiterate one more time how unbelievably important it is to make loving thoughts, actions, and words a part of all your relationships (not just marriage). Please know that it is a learned skill! Mara and I get better at it all the time :). Always feel free to ask any of your own questions or send an email. If we can help you we most certainly will try. Love - Danny and Mara.

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  14. Because many don't like the anonymous comments feel free to call me Jane :) First I'd like to say THANK YOU Mara and Danny for creating this blog. It has been a light for me in my place of darkness. Reminding me that there is hope and proving to me that with the help of our Savior and the many truths he taught I too can find peace and happiness. Though after much reading, praying and searching my problem and question still remain. I am married/sealed to a man that is often rude, disrespectful, moody, irritable and no longer shows faith in The Gospel. He continually expects love and service from me but does nothing to fill my love tank. We have been to counseling multiple times, and even in our lowest times I see not even little bits of trying coming from him. I can honestly say for the past seven years I have tried my very very best to serve him and love him in a language that he felt and understood. Because I am not in a marriage of physical abuse or infidelity I can not figure where the line is to continue to stay and work on myself or leave. I get that for each marriage it is different but I am loosing hope here. Allow me to add a couple things. For the past three months I have kind of broke. Not intentionally, I have just stopped serving, loving, caring for and giving to him when I feel nothing coming back. In many ways I feel he is a robber of me. Robbing intimacy, service, gifts, and love and doing nothing to help love or better me. I am scared to keep going because I am only 28 and worry I will grow old with someone who remains a stranger to me. But my fear is my covenants I made in the temple and breaking those, my fear is my three young children and the changes and trouble it will bring to them. Oh and did I mention my husband has never noticed all my giving and service and love I was giving tell now. Now that I am lower than low and emptier than ever, he notices now because what he has been given for so long is close to nonexistent. At what point does a woman in a marriage make the decision to stay or choose another path? I mean does any human really deserve to live a full life in a marriage where they don't feel loved? How much longer do I go on? I know I can be happy as an individual in an unhappy relationship but what about being in love, what about being loved? Uuuuhhhh, so frustrated. I am sorry to pour my heart out here. I just feel so confused. Would love help, words of comfort, wisdom from either you or Danny or other blog readers. XoXo Jane ;)

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  15. Dear Anon/Jane - I wanted you to know that though I haven't responded yet, I've been thinking a lot about what you wrote. I mean it when I say that our hearts truly go out to you in this very difficult moment. I know we don't actually know you, and you don't know us (though I guess this blog gives you a pretty good idea)...but I do want you to know that we have a lot of LOVE for you, and I mean A LOT!!!

    I wish I could speak to every pain and disappointment that you've described, I wish I had the eloquence and wisdom to sum up the answer in a post or a comment, or at least I wish Mara and I could have you over for dinner and talk more freely, and do so for hours. Few things would make me happier.

    This next part may sound a little strange...but I'm also sorry for your husband. For him to treat you in such a way means he's probably not doing too well either. What person full of love, hope, happiness and joy would treat their spouse the way you've described. I think the answer is there isn't one. Referring to the original post, not only does your husband not offer a compliment, but he offers rudeness (which ends up being both his What and his How). So I feel sorry for him...I feel sorry for any person who finds themselves in such a state. Though I can't know for certain, I imagine at the root of his negativity is some "reason", some excuse he says justifies it all. Maybe his parents weren't very loving, maybe he is full of self-doubts and insecurities, maybe he's always feared that he wouldn't be a good father or husband and now that fear is playing itself out as a self-fulfilling prophecy...which if this were the case, it would only increase his self loathing. Again, I don't know why, I'm not trying to guess at which one it is...only that I wish he could be healed as well.

    My plea for now, as I continue to think about your question, is don't let him become YOUR "reason" for not being happy. That may sound kind of stupid, considering the person speaking that to you arguably has the kind of relationship you say you desire...so what could I know of the pain you currently feel. Well, you know it wasn't always that way for me or for Mara. And though my joy has been magnified a hundred times over since I met Mara, the truth is we both found happiness in the MIDST of our darkest hours as our marriages were crumbling, and long before we met.

    I'll continue thinking and post more. Until then I wish you all the very best in your continued search for meaning, happiness and direction.

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    1. Danny,

      I found this blog and even though it is nine months old, I wanted to comment. I am glad you feel sorry for me. In fact, I feel sorry for myself as well. I'm not yet to the point of saying thanks for creating this blog as Anon/Jane did, as I just now stumbled upon it and don't quite know what to make of it yet, but I have always been a fan of Viktor Frankl too. I clicked on the link to your interview you and Mara had on KBYU. Very interesting, although to be truthful I was looking at the blog at the same time, so was multitasking reading/listening. :) I'm glad for Jane that she mentions hope here and if I read more recent, I might learn more, but want to comment here first. I am a person full of love, hope, happiness and joy. I'm not pretrending to be perfect at love, not saying I don't get down, that I never feel sad or never know misery. We cannot know the good without the bad, right? We don't know about the husband of Jane except for through her eyes on this blog. I make no accusation that what she says is invalid. I only read her comments and yours from my own point of reference. We do not know but that within his mind he has tried to offer a compliment. We do not know that he has done so and felt his efforts rejected and we do not know that he seemingly does not offer any now for fear of being rejected again. There is no "reason" that justifies it, however. He knows that within himself as sure as I know it. Can you imagine what misery one must live with who may also feel trapped in a commitment that due to religious or cultural expectations, they do not know how to undue gracefully. Truly, there is no graceful way. Divorce, like war, is always an ugly thing, especially once children enter into the picture. People often offer in return what they receive, even if they should always tgry to be the bigger person. We cannot know that his "rudeness" is in fact a perceived rudeness by others when we cannot tell what happened previously that may have been the spark that seemed to ignite the appearance of rudeness. There is no excuse, he knows it and that is the misery. I have been trapped in that lose-lose-lose-lose situation myself. I tried my best. I gave my marriage and my family my best shot. In the end, I was losing, she was losing, the kids were losing and everyone misfortunate enough to have any connection with us were losing. It's easy to sit and judge another. We just don't know what they are struggling with. My mother was a very loving individual, but she was abused by my father. All my siblings including myself, were abused emotionally, mentally, verbally, and physically from my father.

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    2. My father hated me the most because I was always the most outspoken about the injustice of his abuse to my mother and us children. It wasn't my place to tell him what to do. I was supposed to keep my (fill in the blank) mouth shut. So while I tried to do right and be right, I was filled with insecurities and self-doubts. When I left home, I began to develop my confidence a little, and had many opportunitoes to marry certain girls that I wasn't in love with. The ones I pursued were never interested in me. I suppose this could be because it was hard to hide my lack of proper social upbringing. But one girl stalked me (I found out later that she had been pursuing me to be in places where I was because she knew someone who had access to which classes I was taking). Then when I realized we had some things in common, I decided I am tired of chasing after girls I cannot get, and I am 25, so my life is wasting away, so I must try to get married, so I got to know her and realized we have some things in common. The next thing I know, I hear myself ask if she wants to get married, and her father consented so she wanted to get married right away and I was like in a daze going along with it. She even movesd the date to a sooner time and I was unphased, telling everyone I was sure avbout her, but I was lying to myself and everyone else. The night before, I came to my senses. I told her I am not ready and don't want to do it so soon. Give me a chance to court for a year to be sure. She refused to call it off. She said I would have to do it mysealf. Everything was already planned. I didn't have the courage to face all my family and hers, friends and community and tell them i was a faker this whole time and can't do it. What a coward they will think I am. But she knew how I felt. I was honest with her. But since she would not call it off and I didn't have the nerve, I committed before God, angels and witnesses. Later, I tried my best to make the most of it because that is what we were commanded to do, but she had a mental illness. Even though I bore with patience her mental illness, in time stresses of choosing to go along with everything she said, like suggesting I join the military, were getting the most of me. I was away because I had to be and while I was away, my children learned to hate me. Of course I wanted to be the best husband and father I could be. The fears that I had before marrying her about whether it would work out or not became an ever increasing self-fulfilling prophecy until I was viewed by her and my children and everyone in the church and the community as the worst father and husband. My in-laws despised me and the only ones who really knew the truth about what I was dealing with were a few personal friends who had experiendced the same or something similar or simply cared enough to understand what I was going through and not judge me. I didn't want to leave her and I didn't want to lose my three children, but when she chose to leave me about three years ago and start the filings for divorce that she accused me of being the only one who wanted one, she actually did me a favor. It's not happy knowing my children all think I'm a hideous monster. They have no concept of the demons I have gone through as a child and into married life and a career I wasn't all that suited for. All they know are the lies my ex and in-laws tell about me on a daily basis.

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    3. Hello Anon,

      Thanks for your comments and for sharing your point of view. I think you describe a kind of frustration many people feel when they are in an unsatisfying marriage. And you are right to bring up some of your points...much like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, many times rudeness and ingratitude are in the eye of the beholder too. Sometimes one party truly does try to give compliments, only to be ignored or rejected, practically desensitizing and de-incentivizing them from offering compliments and kindness in the future. It's a very sad thing.

      It's a sad thing for both parties. Sometimes we take that rejection very personally. If a husband offers sincere compliments, love, and affection, but it is not received (for whatever reason), it is very discouraging. It may lead the husband to stop offering those things, as you suggested, because it is too painful to have that love ignored. And then the husband finally becomes guilty of the very thing they were being unjustly criticized of before. Ughhh. I wish you didn't have to experience what you described.

      Similar to what I said to Jane, sometimes it is helpful to not take those offenses personally, but to try to have compassion. You mentioned mental illness playing a role, it can help to remember that if she were truly doing well she might not so easily have rejected your best efforts. I know such thoughts don't change the past, they don't make all that pain go away, they certainly don't make your children think highly of you....but when I can find a reason to have compassion of some sort, it usually makes me feel better. It helps me love the person who has offended or continues to offend me. It helps me see them in a better light...which usually helps me respond to them in a better way. It may not always change the relationship, but it usually changes me.

      I hope you too can find more of the peace you are clearly seeking. I'm sorry for your losses, I'm sorry for the pain you experienced. I hope you can find some kind of healthy forgiveness and compassion for those who have hurt you. That doesn't necessarily mean that whatever they did was okay...often times it might just mean "forgive them, for they know not what they do". If they knew better, they might have done better.

      Best - Danny

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    4. Thanks for your reply to my hurtful rant. :) The truth is I brought a lot of my own pain and suffering upon myself from the bad choices I made throughout my life, a series of them, not any given one, but they have all added up to one great whole that has gotten me to the broken place that I am in right now. I cannot blame my father for my choices, nor any of my siblings. I am so ashamed of what I have become and I do not know that I can contribute it solely to my bad choices or to mere circumstances or God's will to help humble me.

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  16. Hello Anon/Jane, not that I know much but I'd like to share a tiny little ray of light that I received in a similar situation. You will know! You will know what to do when the time is right (for whatever thing you decide) you'll know what to do. It may sound crazy, but trust me, the minute you decide to put your heart in the right place (you, not being dependent on your husband for ANY of your happiness) you'll know what to do. I was in a very similar situation and the moment I decided I was going to be happy for me, everything else started falling in place. It's crazy how it works, but you'll know exactly what to do FOR YOU. And it's even crazier how things will drop from your life (call it your husband will change, or maybe he'll leave) but it's like magic how everything kind of fades out.

    And this may not sound very nice/fun, but if you are having a hard time believing this is true, then your heart is probably not yet where it needs to be, but keep working at it, it will feel like you're going through hell and back but it will come! I promise it will come! You'll know exactly what to do and you won't be afraid of following through with what you know is right. Best of luck to you!

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  17. Kate, thank you for what you added here. I meant to comment earlier, because I really appreciate what you said. I think the same was true for me and for Mara in our situations. And I'll add that yes, although what you say does sound a little crazy when you haven't experienced it yourself, it is indeed true.

    The more I was able to separate my happiness from the actions of another or my circumstances, the more clear was the direction I needed to take. And again, as I said in the original post...that direction was usually a "how" and not a "what"...the direction was love, kindness, forgiveness, etc.

    Jane/Anon - I hope you can understand what Kate and I have said. I think you might benefit from some additional reading and studying so that you know what Kate is talking about. Take a look at Mara's post "Become your Best Self" for some suggested books. I've been looking back at Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth" while thinking of your situation and keep thinking you'd find a lot of direction and guidance. Eckhart describes how to develop the awareness required to develop the happiness Kate talks about above. He's also very good at describing the tricks our ego (natural man) mind play on us in our quest for happiness and peace.

    By the way, one of the reasons I think I described my sorrow for your husband above, is because to me, that's part of what forgiveness looks like. I try to replace anger or hurt with understanding and compassion. I try not to take the actions or words against me as purposely offensive, because sometimes it's not about me (or you), but about the pain THEY feel. If it wasn't you he was being rude to, his pain would cause him to be unnecessarily rude to someone else. When I realize that someone hurting me is not operating as their best self, it allows me to step back from my initial reactions of anger and pain, and work towards something better.

    Anyway, we'll continue to post with you and others like you in mind. In the mean time, please find time to read that book and see if it helps you clarify the path you want to walk.

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  18. What Anon/Jane is describing is what I am learning is the definition of co-dependency as I attend an LDS Support Group for my own husband's addiction. What Anon/Jane is describing sounds to me like a husband pained with the struggles of addiction. I am not diagnosing their marriage...but I have watched my husband for the past 10 years as he has struggled with a pornography addiction go down this same road of self loathing and then manifesting it into our marriage. The more I go to the LDS Support group for spouses and loved ones...the more I realize that my responsibility to myself, my children and my God are to take care of these 3 relationships first and NOT rely on my husband to make me happy or unhappy whether staying in the marriage or not. When I react or choose how I will treat him (dependent on how he treats me)...I am becoming codependent. It is a very negative spiral down from that point on. I don't profess to know a lot...just passing on valuable insight I have received from my source of hope and peace-the LDS Support Groups. Whether your husband has an addiction or not...the 12 Steps will help you overcome these emotions and feelings of neglect/abuse and help you to see light/hope and a sense of peace. They are not religion specific, I live in Utah so the options for these meetings are abundant (both time and days) but I HOPE this is an option for you where you live...you will receive support and common ground with other wives/mothers and from very knowlegeable missionaries and facilitators who understand what you are going through. The only way to survive these struggles is to REACH OUT. Isolation is the tool the adversary will use to destroy your family, your self esteem and self worth and your marriage. The more you talk and express yourself as you did in this comment, the stronger and more hopefuly you will feel.
    I hope this helps. I know it has made a world of difference for me and my children...regardless of where my husband stands today or next month...I can have the support and the knowledge to stand on my own and not be codependent.
    Natalie

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    1. It's almost impossible not to be exposed in some way to this evil in or out of Utah, even though not all of us have the luxury or the misfortune of living there. A young man who has this stuff shoved in his face is naturally curious about it and can become addicted before he barely understands that it can ruin his life. Fortunately, through the atonement, he can repent and still go out and do the right thing for two years, return with honor and get married in the right place hopefully at the right time and with the right person. He can go for several years striving to be the perfect husband in spite of the inconsistencies of his past being raised in a family whose everyday living seemed different from what was heard from the stand every Sunday, and little by little his controlling partner who is completely self-absorbed and only happy as long as the kingdom is theirs to rule over becomes more and more manipulative of every decision and choice that is made and ever the more depriving of affection until more and more of a truth he decides that there has to be, must be something better than this, but how to obtain it? When there seems no other answer that is right by the church, then it does become easy within the mind to justify this or that, but knowing how wrong it is, and how there is no excuse, of course he feels like a total wretch. And when he is caught by his mentally ill partner who instead of being supportive as the 12 SWtep Support Groups suggest works best for those who fall into this snare, they right away begin to fill volumes and volumes of journals about how evil he is for doing this and prayers to self from God confirming it, that one would not even know about if she did not leave these journals everywhere in the bedroom and living room open not only for himself, but for children to read and so read then they either can't avoid b ecause it is staring them in the face, or for the purpose of spiting him and making him out to be the worst person alive. She snores so loud that she can't be slept with, we don't care about that, she'll run off like a lunatic, but to stop her would be controlling even though she might go off and get manic or hurt herself late at night, and if he did it, he would be immature and a jerk, but it's ok for her. She'll probably running off to momma and we probably deserve it, but we just don't know, but it doesn't do us any good to care. The 12 Step Group is great. It has helped me a lot.

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