YOU ONLY HAVE ONE SPOUSE

April 18, 2022

I am a devoted listener of my friend, Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife. I think anyone interested in a better marital relationship or personal development could benefit from her perspective. The issues she discusses are highly sensitive and, therefore, highly impactful. She often discusses the dynamic between a low desire partner and a high desire partner as they create a sexual relationship. I think she does a good job of balancing this dynamic to avoid having one party feel validated while the other feels blamed.

Often Jennifer's perspective focuses on where people are getting stuck and killing desire in their partners. Much of this is not straightforward. For example, she has often talked about how sometimes getting married kills sexual desire because sex is no longer forbidden and there is little danger of rejection. So, just when you have permission to engage, you don't care anymore. (By the way, that is a singularly unsatisfying conclusion if you can't find a way to go beyond it.) I could list numerous other examples but you get the idea.

As I ponder these dynamics, I sometimes wonder if people actually stop to think, "this is the only marriage I've got." When you become resentful of your partner, for whatever reason, where does that take you? If you decide to get angry and be emotionally or otherwise withholding to teach your spouse a lesson, who is substituting for your spouse while that lesson is being administered? If you choose to shut down the sexual relationship for months or even years, what happens to the marriage--the only marriage you have? Are you content to be married to someone who is constantly disappointed? If you are the spouse, are you content to be constantly disappointed that your marriage is not closer and more intimate?

I recently learned of another long-term marriage ending at about 30 years. It is not the first and certainly won't be the last. I have heard of dozens of people who are married 30 or 40 years to the same person and then get divorced. I don't want to cast aspersions. I have been divorced following a long-term marriage too. But the recurring thought I keep having is, "why did it take 30 or 40 years to discover it wasn't going to work?" You would think there would have been some little clue along the way.

Our friend, Dr. Greg Baer says that, in any relationship, you have only three choices: 1. Live with it and love it; 2. Live with it and hate it; or 3. Leave. Notice that he does not include an option to make your partner change--because that is not loving and rarely works in the long term. Those really are your only choices.

Unfortunately, most people pick number 2, "Live with it and hate it." That is, by far, the worst option. It is the "grin and bear it" approach. It makes you an unhappy martyr and an insufferable companion yourself. It lacks either the competence to love or the courage to leave. In my case, it was both. Years later, I realize that I was not unconditionally loving to my first wife. I had expectations of what I should be getting out of marriage and the reality was far different--so I was dissatisfied and unhappy.

I wasn't a "bad husband." I did my best to be kind and supportive of her (to a fault) and earn a decent living for my family. But when there is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction or even resentment, your spouse is going to know it. It's not something we hide very well. Even if we hide it pretty well, we will end up emotionally distancing out of a desire to protect ourselves from getting hurt and create pain and problems in our marriages.

So, how do mid-singles approach dating and creating new marriages that have a good chance to beat the odds? With intention. You will either govern your marriage with emotion or intention. If you govern it with emotion, you are going to have a hot mess. Emotion is the fuel of the relationship--not the steering wheel. Can you decide, in advance, to kneel and pray together when you are both upset and neither of you feels like praying? Can you decide, in advance of ever getting married, to take a time out when you are angry and flooded, and every cell in your body wants to lash out in anger and keep fighting? Can you decide to be intentional about using your sexuality to bring goodness to your partner--whatever that means in your own situation? Or will you just allow yourself to lope along in dissatisfaction, doing nothing about it except hoping your partner will change?

I hear a lot of mid-singles talk about how they are determined to marry someone they have more in common with the second time around. Folks, I hate to break it to you, but that is not the answer. There is enough stuff in every marriage on the planet to create serious divisions, no matter how much you believe you have in common. Conversely, there is enough commonality in every marriage to build something beautiful. What your future marriage will look like depends a lot on your decisions. How will you decide to show up? How will you decide to bring goodness to your relationship?

In my first marriage, there were certain intolerable conditions that I accepted year after year because I loved my wife and hoped she would change. But hoping she will change isn't really loving her is it? It's loving the person I hoped to remake her into--not the person she is. So I wasn't being as loving as I thought. I was making myself into a martyr-hero as I selflessly "put up with her." I was picking option number two, "live with it and hate it." She was doing the same thing. However, at the time, she was the only spouse I had. How did I spend all of those years telling myself to "stick it out" and just accepting a relationship that was hurting both of us? I didn't exactly accept it. I kicked and screamed and threw a (figurative) 15-year tantrum over it.

I am suggesting that you make a bold choice to live with it and love it. I would make leaving a last resort remedy. But I would take "live with it and hate it" completely off the table. Refuse to live in that space.

When you are married, you only have one spouse. It isn't a situation where you can snub a spouse and then go take refuge in the arms of another one. This is your only spouse. So do your best to love him or her unconditionally and honor his or her agency; and do your half of the relationship the best you can. Often, it is within your power to change the dynamic of your relationship by just challenging your own thinking and changing your conduct. Maturing in your own perspective will do more than all the pressure you try to put on your partner to change -- which is usually counter-productive.

To those who are single, I suggest that you pick a partner who is self-reflective and capable of being intentional. Then strive to become that kind of person yourself. This is something you can work on with dating partners -- particularly those you become serious with.

I want to conclude with this admonition from Elder F. Burton Howard:

"If you want something to last forever, you treat it differently. You shield it and protect it. You never abuse it. You don’t expose it to the elements. You don’t make it common or ordinary. If it ever becomes tarnished, you lovingly polish it until it gleams like new. It becomes special because you have made it so, and it grows more beautiful and precious as time goes by."

Don't be content or comfortable sitting in chronic resentment of your spouse. When you do that, you are wasting your life and your spouse's. When you get married, you will only have one spouse. Your hopes and dreams for a happy marriage sink or swim with this one person. So, why would you ever be content to just live in dissatisfied resentment most of the time? If you choose that, you are choosing to sink instead of swim -- and it is very much a choice.

Because I have loved and lost, I treasure my marriage for the unique opportunity it is to make a beautiful life with someone who chose me. Whatever her other flaws or quirks or selfish moments (and we all have them), living in gratitude rather than dissatisfaction can make all the difference. Thinking of your relationship as something truly unique and special can make all the difference.
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