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.”