Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Number One Complaint I Heard from Husbands (Part 1)

I have to say that, with little exception, husbands who came to see me as bishop were respectful of their wives. They honored them in spite of their difficulties with them, or weaknesses in their marriages. I was always very impressed by this.

Though they were respectful, one complaint emerged as the most common one offered across the bishop's desk.

This is what it was. Sometimes wives could get almost entirely focused on the negative aspects of a situation or a person, especially those of her husband or children, and close friends or relatives. This negative focus could turn into long, painful bouts of bitter criticism and stinging complaint.

Men, to be sure, do this, too. But I have seen or heard of it coming from women more often than from men.

This is pretty discouraging to men. Little, I think, is more discouraging to them. Some men put up a wall of resistance and engage in defensive arguments with their wives. Others turn off their ear drums and drift into silence.  In both situations, most men build up walls of confused resentment. I say confused because few men understand where this bitterness comes from or what to do about it. Most men just write off the behavior and say, "She's just that way."

The fact is that nearly all women can be "that way" at one time or another, some more than others. And it's not just because of a monthly hormonal imbalance, either. It goes deeper than that. Much deeper.

I don't know or understand every women's situation—of course not—but I have seen this behavior in enough marriages that I can offer a little insight. These bouts with negativity and bitterness occur in women when their deepest needs are not being met, when they are not getting the attention or respect they deserve, or when they do not feel completely loved for who they are. Some feel judged, others ignored. Whatever the case, they are unhappy and unfulfilled.

Sometimes I think the clamor is an attempt (usually unconscious) to get attention. Observe children and you'll know that they'll sometimes do just about anything to get attention, be it positive or negative. If we don't get enough positive attention in our lives, especially from spouse and family, we can wilt and shrivel. And we'll take negative attention over no attention. I think this is what is at the core of the negativity I have seen in a lot of marriages.

Let's start with the opposite end of the spectrum, with a wife who feels loved, honored, respected and cherished, and who, most importantly, loves herself. When this is the case, you will see little of bitterness and complaining. The poison well just dries up. A wife who has these needs fulfilled consistently is less likely to be overcome with negativity. If her spouse is showing her love and honor and respect consistently, and she is still angry and negative most of the time, well, there often is something else going on.

Although there may be a logical reason behind these negative emotions, there is a higher standard for expressing them. For example, in the epistle to the Ephesians we read:
    Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
    And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.
    Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
    And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:29–32.)
I think we should all be free to express ourselves, openly and honestly, but without the adornment of anger and bitterness. If anything is coming out of your mouth that is not edifying, that is not building others up, then the devil has power in your life. If you are blaming others for your unhappiness, you are laying your power at the feet of an idol.
And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. (D&C 50:23)
I trust the Word of the Lord to guide me. I don't let darkness have power in my life. (I have dark moments, but I don't let them last long.) I can say what I need to say without holding back, but I say it with respect and kindness. If I imagine that Christ is part of every conversation I have (and He is whether I recognize it or not), I have learned that I can say anything I have to say to anyone with grace and honor.

One of the reasons we feel a need to "vent" is because we hold in our feelings so long that they start to rot and fester. If you are a stuffer, you are going to suffer. Don't stuff your feelings. Let them out, but not on the tip of a dagger.

What about a husband who does his level best to show his wife his love, honor and respect, on a regular basis, and she is still bitter and unhappy. Often when this is the case, there is something troubling going on. Something more profound and personal that may not involve the husband that much. It might have something to do with a past relationship or experience where feelings are unresolved and the wife takes it out on her husband. Or it might be something worse, like an addiction, a serious transgression, a grave temptation, or past abuse. I have the greatest respect for those husbands who patiently endure marriages where the relationship is dominated by their wives' negative or unresolved emotions. Happy is the man who learns how to help his wife untangle her feelings, get them out in the open, and start finding ways to communicate positively.

My wife sometimes says to me,"You can't make me happy" meaning that she realizes that it is her choice to be happy, no matter what anyone else does or says. When she says that, I usually quip, "But I can do more for your happiness than any other person on the planet." I think we are both right.

My advice to husbands and wives was always to keep their covenants at all cost. The covenants you make in holy places are primarily between you and God. You can keep those covenants, no matter what someone else says or does, or doesn't say or do. But I also know that there are times when a marriage becomes unendurable if your spouse is involved in repeated infidelity, or evil, abusive, or even criminal behavior.

Whatever the case, I would err on the side of kindness and mercy and patience. I would give my spouse as many chances to get it right as I would want for myself. (But there is a limit in extreme cases.)

Finally, here is a little test for husbands. If you find that your wife is more negative than positive, ask yourself these questions and what you might do differently:
  1. How often do you plan and take your wife on a date?
  2. Do you read the scriptures together as a family or as a couple regularly?
  3. Can you admit that you are wrong and sincerely apologize?
  4. Do you pray together as a family or couple on a daily basis?
  5. When was the last time you went to the temple together?
  6. Do you ever offer to give your wife a break and send her away for an evening while you clean up after dinner and get the kids to bed?
  7. Do you sincerely compliment your wife or tell her honestly that you love her every day?
If you have answered no to any of these questions, you will probably have more negativity in your home than you'd like. But I promise you that, if you follow the seven items listed above, you can do more to help your wife resolve her feelings than anyone else. You may disagree with me, but I consider it my number one job, outside of my devotion to God, to love, honor, respect and cherish my wife, no matter her disposition for the moment.

I work pretty hard at this and I can tell you that I am among the happiest married men I know. I really am. Yes, we have our moments, but they pass quickly. Since I believe I am in charge of my own happiness, I throw a lot of forward passes and play very little defense. I hope your wife responds as tenderly and lovingly as my wife does to me. If she does, you will be a very happy man as well.

P.S. I know there are exceptions (read my disclaimer). If you cannot find peace and happiness in your relationship with your wife, I would seek for counseling and other help. If you are at a total impasse, and both of you are in a degree of misery, then I pray that you will find a way to break free and move forward again.

Next, Part 2.

8 comments:

Cynthia L. said...

This is a helpful post and hits on a lot of truth. However, imho it shys away from an important truth that is less feel-good but at the crux of the issue.

The words missing from this analysis are "power" and "control." People don't complain about things that are in their power and control to fix.

In most marriage relationships, men have the power to control the money and other major decisions. Women don't. If something around the house is broken and it bugs a man, he pulls out the plastic and fixes it. If something around the house is broken and it bugs the woman, she may not have recourse other than to complain complain complain until the husband pulls out the plastic and fixes it.

Some people look at that situation and say the women is a complainer. Really it just reflects a power imbalance.

Men just saying "I love you" to their wives doesn't fix the underlying problem. Men who say "I love you" to their wives and mean it and back it up with actual actions that put them in control of their destinies and have real power over money decisions etc, well that's when you get what you described here: "Let's start with the opposite end of the spectrum, with a wife who feels loved, honored, respected and cherished, and who, most importantly, loves herself. When this is the case, you will see little of bitterness and complaining." But that doesn't happen with just surface fixes.

So if there is a gender gap in complaining (more women complainers than men) what it really reflects is a gender gap in power.

Anonymous said...

I understand where Cynthia is coming from, but if there is non-unity with respect to money matters, the marriage is not equal and therefore needs some shoring up, anyway. I think the article is focused more on long term negativity that he observed as a Bishop, not a sister complaining about a husband's failure to fix a leaking water fauset. My wife has "plastic" and if she wants something, she gets it. I trust her judgment. Obviously, she doesn't walk out the door and get us thousands of dollars into debt. But if there is anything we need to make our house a home, she's free to get it. Anyway, I would say on average, if husbands were to treat their wives as suggested, most wives would be happy. I personally believe that woman have the ultimate power. Every man I know subscribes to the adage "If Mama's not happy, nobody is happy." Therefore, making sure wives/mothers have what they need emotionally, temporally and spiritually should of the highest priority.

Anonymous said...

I was enjoying your article & feeling you were giving really good advice, up until you opened the door to divorce if things were at an impasse & your wife or relationship didn't improve despite all your efforts.

One of the problems with that thinking is that most people will feel like they are at an impasse & have unsolvable problems & that their situation justifies divorce. So when people offer it & even encourage it, they usually take it. And there goes another marriage & family that could have been saved. And worse of all innocent children caused to suffer who should have been instead protected from such.

All marriages can be saved, eventually. All marriage problems will be solved eventually, if not in this life then the next. For everyone must eventually repent & become pure & holy.

If a spouse who has even an unrepentant abusive or adulterous spouse decides to keep their covenants to have 'Christ's unconditional true love' for their spouse, they will receive the power & revelation necessary to endure & eventually save & exalt their marriage for all eternity, no matter if their spouse never repents in this life.

Now of course if a spouse's abuse ia at a dangerous level, then the other spouse should seek to protect themselves & the children as best they can. But even if a separation is needed for safety reasons, that doesn't mean the good spouse can't keep loving & serving their abusive spouse from a safe distance & try to help them repent & thus keep their covenants until their spouse does repent, even if it may not be until the next life.

Only unconditional True Love can save any & all marriages. It's impossible to have an eternal marriage if at least one spouse does not have this love here on earth. Of course the other spouse will eventually gain this same true love after they repent in Spirit Prison, if they don't gain it here.

It just takes one spouse to save any marriage if they choose to have this kind of everlasting love. For it truly does conquer all.

The kind of love that serves as Ammon served, asking daily, What would you have me do for you?"
The "As you wish" kind of love that serves a spouse's every wish (unless they ask for something evil) is the kind that can produce miracles & exultant ecstasy in any marriage, no matter what the other does.

We must serve our spouse's every wish whether they deserve it or not or whether they ever do the same for us or not in this life.

They will eventually make it all up to us in the next life for all eternity & someday be the perfect spouse.

When we put our own welfare & happiness & desires & needs ahead of our spouses, then the marriage starts to fail & has little hope. Our spouse's needs, desires, happiness & eternal welfare must always come 1st before our own.

We are commanded to love our spouse even more than we love ourselves or our children. We would never divorce ourself or our children no matter what we or they do. Neither should we ever divorce the person we covenanted to love, serve & save.

Divorce is Satan's tool, that Heavenly Father hates & never approves of. But Satan is trying to get everyone to divorce & destroy their marriage & family, the one thing he can never have.

We can never even think of divorce. It is just not an option. Christ taught that 'fornication' (not adultery or abuse) was the only justification for divorce. But that doesn't mean we should do it, even then, for such justified divorce is still not true love & thus will never exalt us.

Only those with true love, for their 1st spouse, the kind that never ends or gives up, will have the Spirit & not lose their promise of Exaltation.

As we seek to save our spouse & marriage & family, against all odds, we will surely save ourselves.

Mike Fitzgerald said...

Anonymous, Thank you for your comments. In many areas you are right on the spot. I do not believe, however, that Heavenly Father "never approves of divorce." I have never heard such a claim by a Church leader nor read it in any official Church publication. I believe it always grieves Him, in any circumstance, but there are situations I have seen when serious crime and abuse is involved and where there is an utter and complete loss of trust. I do not believe that a merciful God requires one to remain attached to a convicted pedophile or murderer, for example. There is a point at which divorce is essential for the safety and health, physical, emotional and spiritual, of individuals. Sometimes divorce is part of a repentance process. Having served as a Church leader for a number of years, I can tell you with the utmost assurance that there are circumstances under which divorce is the right option, though it will be surrounded by much pain and sorrow.

Anonymous said...

Mike,
I understand your feelings & beliefs about divorce, for almost everyone believes the same way today, even in the Church. For it is the world's popular philosophy on marriage that sounds so good to us to have a way out of a painful or lonely marriage.

Your philosophy is exactly what the Adversary whispers into everyone's ears today, hoping to get everyone to divorce, helping them feel justified because their spouse is adulterous or abusive, etc., which both are rampant today in & out of the Church.

So the Adversary says stuff like, "You deserve a life" "You deserve to find alittle happiness" "Heavenly Father wouldn't want you to suffer & be alone" "He doesn't deserve you" "You are justified & your kids will adjust" "There is no such thing as unconditional true love", etc etc. His whisperings & philosophies are mighty hard to resist, for they sound so right & good, & even are half right, but he just doesn't tell us the rest of the story or consequences if we do divorce, even with good cause.

I believe differently, I believe in Christ & his unchanging & eternal teachings on love, marriage & divorce & how marriage is impossible to dissolve.

I agree that there are rare situations in marriages where it is dangerous to stay living with a spouse, & separation & even in rare cases 'divorce' may be necessary for safety & legal reasons.

But that does not mean the good spouse has to break their sacred marriage covenants & start looking around to date &/or remarry. The spouse can still maintain their covenants & love & serve their abusive spouse from a safe distance if possible. If contact is not possible then they can just wait until the next life to be reunited with that wicked spouse after he/she repents in Spirit Prison, for they all have to repent & then he/she will be the perfect spouse & will desire to make it all up to you throughout eternity.

I do not believe Heavenly Father ever wants anyone to ever break their marriage covenants, no matter what the other spouse does or where they go, even if they abandon & divorce you & remarry someone else. (For their remarriage is not even valid in God's eyes & is adultery & the remarriage won't be valid in the next life)

I believe Heavenly Father not only desires, but commands us to have 'unconditional true everlasting pure love' for our spouse, the kind Christ had & has for us, no matter how wicked we may be. The kind of love that never ends & as Elder Scott says, never gives up on a wicked spouse.

A righteous spouse would rather die than lose their sealing or marriage to even a wicked spouse, for they would love them too much & thus could never break their covenants & date or remarry someone else, even if they had to be separated for life for safety reasons or cause their spouse abandoned them.

When spouses develop this kind of perfect love for their spouse, they would never seek an eternal separation from their spouse, they would always desire to faithfully wait til their spouse repents.

Heavenly Father knew that most marriages on earth & even in the Church would have abuse or adultery, etc, in some form or degree, going on in the marriage, by one or both spouses. But Heavenly Father never intended them to just divorce & leave their spouse in the dust, so they could find a nicer more righteous spouse & put their own happiness & welfare 1st.

He commanded us to put our spouse's happiness, needs & welfare always ahead of our own.

Anonymous said...

Continued:

Heavenly Father hoped that at least 'one' spouse in the marriage would have Christ's 'true love' for their spouse & thus 'save' that errant or wicked spouse by their valiant love & sacrifice, which the Prophets & Holy Spirit teach we can.

Though this kind of love in marriage is very rare, & very few even believe in it anymore, it is still very possible & is just a choice that those who possess the Holy Spirit make.

While Heavenly Father does want us to protect ourselves from abuse etc, the best we can, he also wants us to maintain true love for our spouse. It is possible to do both.

The greatest purpose of Marriage is to save our spouse & children eternally, by our valiant love & service, especially if they need help being saved, as most spouses & children do.

If a good spouse breaks their covenants to a wicked spouse by moving on to find someone new, then they will not have the power that perfect love would have given them, to save & bring their errant spouse to the Celestial Kingdom some day, after that errant spouse or child repents completely & pays for their sins in Spirit Prison. That errant spouse will just have to go to the Telestial Kingdom that they earned & suffer for eternity knowing what they lost, since they were wicked & since their spouse did not love them enough to wait for & save them.


That scenario will be one of the saddest there will be, especially for the spouse who refused to save their errant spouse. For while there is great joy in saving a soul, there is also tremendous eternal pain & remorse for choosing to not save a soul when we could have.

Though this knowledge is not generally known, it is taught by Prophets & scriptures & by the Holy Spirit if one seeks for such knowledge & truly loves their spouse & want's to save their marriage & family no matter what.

Christ warned that we will know his true disciples because they will preach, practice & possess this kind of unconditional true love, especially for their spouse. It is the sure test to discern the righteous.

Heavenly Father blesses those who possess true Charity or true love for their spouse, with the greatest power there is, the power to save souls. It is by this love that Christ saved all of us, but on a much grander scale then we can for those in our family.

Anonymous said...

Continued:

Though it may seem hard & too much to ask, to have to live alone or suffer while waiting until our spouse repents, especially if that's not until the next life, it is the only way to true happiness in this life & the next. If we knew how awful the remorse will be for not saving our spouse, we would be very fearful of ever breaking our covenants for any reason, especially when our spouse needed our love & help the most, which we promised & covenanted to do, by vowing to have true love.

But though true love is rare & few there be that possess it, all righteous spouses choose to have it, for only marriages blessed by true love will be eternal, if at least one spouse possess it in this life & saved the spouse & marriage & family forever.

Christ gave 'one' justification for divorce, 'fornication', which is premarital relations with someone else that they did not disclose to their spouse before marriage. Christ did not include 'adultery' or even 'abuse' or any crime, etc. as justification for divorce. He knew that most all marriages experience abuse or adultery, in some form or degree.

So he wasn't about to give almost all couples the justification to divorce, for he knew that even 'justified' divorce destroys families, churches & societies quicker than probably anything else.

Christ instead commanded us to have his unconditional true love for our spouse, even if & especially if they act like our enemy, & thus save them, for he knew at least one spouse in almost every marriage would need saving or the errant spouse would be lost forever.

Loving & serving even a wicked spouse who doesn't deserve it, will help us grow stronger not weaker, & grow 'spiritually' faster than probably any other trial, IF we have the Holy Spirit to sustain us.

For loving one's enemy is the hardest test in life , especially if it's your spouse & it perfects the soul, as Elder McConkie said it does.

Breaking our covenants for any reason, will always bring us eternal remorse & misery & the loss of the Spirit, even if we don't think or feel so now.

Heavenly Father doesn't like the sacrifice & pain that Christ had to go through to save us, nor the sacrifice & pain that a lonely spouse has to go through to love, serve & one day 'save' their wicked or abandoning spouse But He knows that it will all be very worth it in the end & we will be in eternal ecstasy if we do make that sacrifice & eternal misery if we don't.

Mike Fitzgerald said...

Thank you, Anonymous, for your comments. I have never been divorced, so I am not sure a person like me who has not been divorced can fully comprehend the experience of others. When I served as bishop, I never counseled anyone to get a divorce, even under very difficult circumstances. In the majority of cases, it is best to hold on and endure. But I have been personally aware of a handful of cases, which I am not at liberty to share, where horrible sins and crimes which led to prison and the permanent loss of parental rights, led to divorce. This has led me to have a wider, more compassionate view of the kind of suffering people can experience. In fact, while I was bishop, I saw things I had never conceived of being possible. The result was that I became less judgmental and more compassionate, and I am working on becoming even less judgmental. I plan to write a blog post on divorce. I hope I can write plainly enough so that you and others will not mistake my view of the subject, which is not that far from yours. P.S. The views I express on this blog are mine alone.