DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…
- WHEREFORE ART THOU?
If you took English Literature courses in America, you were probably somehow engaged with the story of Romeo and Juliet. Apart from the awkwardness of reading the dialogue in the Queen’s English of Elizabethan, I really connected with that poor couple’s struggle. I related even more with the musical rendition of this timeless romance called Westside Story. After all, I was a Chicago west side girl, attending Catholic school, who wanted to date a south side boy in public school.
- WESTSIDE MEETS SOUTHSIDE
Then later as an adult, I found that dating men of various ethnic backgrounds presented additional challenges after I began seeking to become a Mrs. somebody. There were differences in opinions about child rearing, family, housekeeping and more. For me, the differences were so vast that I forced myself to eliminate the potential of marrying someone who was not African American. At the same time, I must admit that I later found that the ethnic differences did not appear to be as much of an issue as was the geographic or family influences. Yet it appeared easier to navigate the differences within my own ethnic environment.
I ultimately married twice with my second (and last)husband being a native south side Chicagoan who at times caused me to long for a translator. There had been discussions with my husband where I was happy and relieved to have my younger sister around. Having spent more time around the Windy City than me, my sister spoke very fluent south-sider. After listening for several long minutes to my native south side spouse, my sister would respond to my distressed look beginning with “in other words, etc. …” However, I feel that the culture clashes between my husband and me were not nearly as intense as what I have witnessed with some other couples.
- CONFRONTING THE “ IN” WORD
I know of couples whose cultural clashes clearly impact the family peace. Much like Romeo and Juliet, it is not so much the couple that creates the instability as it is the in-laws. (I hope that no one is bothered by my usage of that in word.) Imagine an East Indian geek married to a Nubian actress – in a relationship on steroids. This is a bi-polar couple where the North Pole husband appears to have no weather variations at all while the South Pole wife experiences every season imaginable. However the seasonal atmospheric conflicts are primarily orchestrated by the ever present influences of the in-laws.
The husband’s mother wants to tell his wife the correct methods for raising an East Indian child. However the wife considers her children to be Indian – African American children. Who knows what the husband really feels? He tries to stay neutral in order to keep the peace. Unfortunately, this non-committal response by the husband irritates both the wife and his mother. Still, without the in-law interlopers, the climate conditions between this couple is generally loving and compatible.
I suspect that parents whose offspring are marrying into foreign cultures remain fearful that their own legacy will be lost in an ethnic stew that totally disregards time-honored traditions. Perhaps they fear that the resulting family flavors will develop cultural taste buds that ultimately find the parents not so palatable as well.
- MIXIN’ COUSINS
On the other hand, one of my relatives has found a way to have a lasting relationship with a white woman. Unlike some of the mixed couples that I have sometimes experienced, our Caucasian cousin is not almost black or even trying to act black. Likewise, my blood cousin has not tried to assimilate a white male as many mixed marriage black men have been accused of doing. Cousin Henry is still Cuz Henry and his wife Carrie is just Carrie. These are not their real names, but family and friends will know who they are.
I have watched Cuz Henry and Carrie for years and have experienced some of their development as they raised well mannered and loving interracial children. Although there may have been challenges related to the fact that they are an interracially mixed couple, this never appeared to be an issue at family gatherings.
We actually have a number of mixed marriage scenarios in our family. There is a niece who married outside of our ethnicity as well as a nephew with a new wife who speaks less English than our 12 month old grandson. These are fairly new unions that line up with the growing trend of mixed marriages in America.
Actually my concern is more for the children and how they will ultimately impact (and be impacted by) the marital relationships. America can be quite difficult for children of cultural roots that make them appear different from the other kids. Besides the obvious physical distinctions, from dress to holiday celebrations, children of different cultural backgrounds are often ridiculed because of their uniqueness. Some of the mixed marriages may be further complicated with religious differences such as Hindu ideology versus Christian doctrine, etc.
- SUGGESTED SOLUTION(S):
I believe that couples should surround themselves with friends and family who were clearly supportive of their relationship even before they decided to marry. Family and friends of newly married couples often want to hold on to the old ways of doing things as well as old relationships. However the relationship dynamics need to change according to the new requirements of a new marriage. This appears to be a major adjustment with regards to mixed marriages. Friends and family of the bride also need to be open to becoming friends and family of the groom, so that both sides can be good friends and family in support of the marriage.
DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…
- WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TO SAY….IT SHOWS
An African American woman listener of Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s radio talk show called in identifying herself as a spouse of a racially mixed marriage. She began expressing her discomfort regarding her husband’s friend’s use of the “N” word and racist comments without regard of the fact that she was African American.
This defining moment of Dr. Laura’s long radio career provoked a series of comments that many interpreted as racist and insensitive. The fact that the caller was asking for help to deal with this clashing of cultures took a back seat to the fact that Dr. Laura was now using the offensive language repeatedly as though it was no big deal. In fact, she went on to call the caller “hypersensitive” about the term the caller described as offensive. Dr. Schlessinger was fired from her talk show of many years and later repented of her offensive statements. Her comments also sparked much discussion about life within mixed marriages and cultural clashes that seem inevitable.
- RACIST TERMS MAKE POOR PILLOW TALK
Many of us have grown up with biases that frame our levels of tolerances. Varying degrees of tolerance for sexual preferences, types of social networks, music genres and even profanity are rarely defined in courting stages. Much of that behavior has been tempered as we commit to being on our best behavior at least in the beginning. Overlooking that smack on your rear-end as sensually playful is quite different than a threatening fist. Profanity laced rants that surface in the car when someone cuts him off is suddenly a little frightening.
During the initial stages of the relationship, racist terms or comments are carefully navigated around to avoid blowing up the relationship in a minefield of insensitive verbal abuse. On the other hand, as the infatuation fades, you begin to experience your partner questioning you about how frequently you speak with your family. It feels rather controlling and unsettling. You stop to pick up food from the supermarket on the way home from work only to be grilled with why you are so late and why you always prepare the same type of meals. Now you realize that there are trust issues and issues of discontentment. You enroll for post-grad classes only to hear that you are not home enough and that you’re behaving selfish rather than tending to his/her needs. You ask what’s wrong with you striving towards your dreams only to find out that you are being talked about by relatives that don’t approve of your new ambitions. You thought that you were being embraced because of how unique and funny you were and now you are being criticized for not being more like someone else’s wife/husband. Finally, in a heated exchange, you are exposed to characterizations and assumptions that reveal the biases that were hidden deep below the surface of your partner’s ideology.
- COMPATIBILITY ACCORDING TO BACKGROUND CHECKS
In this information age where blogs, pictures, movies and news are being shared at the speed of the internet, many people are a bit trigger happy in advancing through stages of relationships similar to speed-dating models that use to unfold over the slow process of courting, dating, feeling each other out, etc. Now people are relying more on background checks, and financial profiles with little to no hesitation or consideration for the cultural clashes that will manifest in challenges over the course of a relationship.
S/he may not have a criminal background, and may have a decent credit score; however, those are hardly indicators for the volatile dynamics that usually accompany relationships with couples from diverse backgrounds.
- SHADES OF BEAUTY
Today, the young man or young woman often sees beauty in blended shades, colored or weaved hair styles and shapes that have been surgically etched or enhanced to reflect the newest trends. Huge dance parties with elaborate productions are on the rise and targeted customers are not defined by race, religion or heritage. Social Networks are huge and prominent in profiling our likes, interests and risky episodes we dared to photograph or video tape. Music continues to amplify the passions of our young people and the lyrics of those songs often seed the dreams and aspirations of our young people. Fashion trends and the beats of the “DJ mix-ologist” frame a forum that is both sensual and radical. This is not a setting for conformity and the relationships that are introduced in these settings inspire them to jump into a social free fall without a parachute.
Anyone can look “hot” in these settings if you have been practicing the latest moves and grooves from the latest house mixes coupled with a few beverages that all but neutralize those childhood inhibitions. An animalistic, pulsating drive groans from somewhere deep in your loins and you can’t imagine life without her or him… and before reason has a chance to step in you say… “I sure do…”, and your partners says “me too.”
- WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?
But what happens after the adrenaline returns to normal levels? What happens when you finally realize that you have knitted your life and the lives of your children to someone that has vastly different norms and extremes? What happens when your children ask the question, “Mom… Dad… why do they call me a Zebra?” Confused about how to address a bias that was framed in a “black and white” world, you say “Because they have never seen someone that is as uniquely beautiful/handsome as you.”
Clever phrasing, however, that is only part of the challenge. You have grown to appreciate a more diverse blend of music as a family but now you host a house party or holiday celebration that threatens to re-introduce the norms of your past that you never really shared with your spouse. Here comes a blend of dishes, language, and behaviors that you never even imagined to be a part of your partner’s past. You have forgotten the jokes that you used to laugh at that now seem to be offensive. You’ve missed the reckless squealing and seemingly harmless flirting of “friends” that
faded into the background as you re-defined new boundaries for this “blended relationship.” However, now you can tell that your new partner is painfully uncomfortable with the comments and behaviors that just keep surfacing from your life-long friends. You begin to wonder if your marriage will survive life after this party.
- RELATIONSHIP RAINBOW
Blending relationships is far different than mixing spices or drinks. You don’t just add a little more water to tone it down… and some things lead to a whole lot more than indigestion. In fact, some relationships clashes are quite toxic. I am not speaking of skin color differences, but clashes with cultural biases that color the lenses that we use to see life.
We live in the midst of vivid colors rather than black and white. I believe it is wise to acknowledge that every rainbow does not lead to a pot of gold but it usually follows a storm. Do we know if we can handle the storms? If not, then the devastation may prove destructive even at the core of our identity. If we can endure the storms then we may in fact eat from that pot of gold that comes from extraordinary relationships that dare to embrace different. But this is a journey of hills and valleys that cannot be navigated through by ignoring differences. Harmony can be beautiful but each person must be valued and not diminished. Each has a colorful character that must be blended not neutralized. Dissonance must be acknowledged but not allowed to leverage control or
define the relationship.
- IN CONCLUSION
I have found that beyond the romantic assertions of stretching the boundaries and discovering the secret and hidden passions of your blended relationship are the more practical staples of security and living “happily ever after” dynamics that require far more clarity about what to do with your future. Growing old together is not what new couples consider when courting or sweating while dancing through a 20 minute house mix. But somewhere in the quiet of morning dew after a sleepless night you begin to wonder… “What did I get myself in to?” “Who am I becoming? Did I choose this or did it just happen to me?” “How can these be his friends if he is not like them?” “I’m not a bigot but I don’t like people like that.” “Am I getting scared or just more like my mother than I realized?”
Social Intelligence represents learned competencies that must be applied intentionally and seasoned with sacrificial love. “For better or worse” is more than hook for your wedding vows. It is a forecast of a probably outcome. Prepare wisely for change that will come. When “worse” has arrived it is not evidence of a failed relationship, but it does require deeper levels of communication to withstand the strong currents of emotions.
Join Celebrate Marriage! by completing the brief form below. Email us a couple’s photo with your name for us to post on your anniversary to: IdoMe2Mail@gmail.com
PLAN TO JOIN THE LIVE DUSCUSSION ONLINE ABOUT HIS TOPIC ON TUESDAY NIGHT AT 6:30 PST/ 7:30 MST/ 8:30 CST/ 9:30 EST/ CLICK HERE: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/idome2/2012/03/21/handling-mental-illness-in-relationships
DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…
There is an ugly rumor going around that black women are apprehensive about getting mental health treatment. If you have not heard that rumor, I need to be more diligent with spreading it around. It is no secret that people like me are often referred to as an “angry black women”. I have spent many years counseling ladies who even refer to themselves as “angry black women.” But I have come to believe that much of what is simply attributed to as anger is in reality mental
When I was (even a few years) younger if you had told me that I needed to seek mental help, I might have told you that
you were crazy. Even though my own mother suggested that I seek counseling, I figured that she simply misunderstood that I was just different. Ultimately, I agreed to take a serious look at the possibility that maybe there were some issues
with my own mental health. After I decided to study counseling, I realized that I could no longer refer to a Freudian Slip as a line of lingerie for psychotic women. There were real reasons for my harsh communication and erratic behavior that were linked to past experiences.
- A FREUDIAN SLIP, CAN EXPOSE VICTORIA’S SECRET
In a fit of anger, a woman called her husband the same name as her dead stepfather. We will call her step father Ray and her husband, Harold. One day, Harold wanted to be intimate with his wife who we will call Victoria. Unfortunately, on this day, Victoria had just watched a movie that included a brutal rape scene. She saw this movie after having viewed episodes of popular “doggy men and whorish women” day-time talk shows. Her head was certainly not ready to receive acts of affection from her husband.
On the other hand, Harold was returning home after being around co-workers that were excited about having a great and productive day. In the excitement, Harold found himself sharing his good feelings with one of the female co-workers. He had never really entertained thoughts of an affair. But for a moment he felt stimulated by this woman. Harold fought to push aside those feelings provoked by the co-worker and rushed home to release his passion where he thought it should be shared- with his wife Victoria.
Upon approaching Victoria, Harold was met by immediate rejection as she declared how she did not appreciate being forced to be intimate when she was “not feeling it.” Harold’s attempts to get Victoria to “feel it” somehow escalated into an argument. Their hostile banter quickly resulted in Victoria yelling, “just leave me alone, Ray!” This mis-speak was an accident. She meant to yell Harold’s name. Sometime later Victoria revealed that her stepfather Ray had molested her when she was a child.
Although Harold was finally able to see that Victoria’s frequent rejections of his physical advances were due to previous abuse, he simply grew weary of fighting and not having his need for intimacy met. Victoria and Harold were ultimately divorced. While the documented grounds for their divorce was irreconcilable differences, Harold claimed that he would have considered staying if Victoria had “just tried to get some mental help.”
- IN (MENTAL) SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH…
In another situation, a relative that I had never imagined to be so committed, learned that his wife was suffering from a disorder diagnosed as “Bi-Polar.” The extensive severity of her ailment included unnerving and sometimes violent mood swings. When we met, his wife was friendly and a clearly outgoing fun-loving woman. In a few years after their marriage, she grew paranoid and suspicious of his relationships with every woman, including siblings. She even digressed to the degree that she no longer wanted to be in public because neither of them was comfortable with how she might behave. To my delight and surprise, this relative has demonstrated his commitment to being a loving husband and committed caretaker for his wife. I am certain that hardly any members of the family (if any) would have blamed him if he had decided to abandon his marriage under such dire circumstances.
I wonder how many of us actually think about mental illness when we state our wedding vows. I am referring to the portion that includes “in sickness and in health…” I wonder if there would be cause for pause if it was stated “in sickness, including mental illness and in health… .” What if pre-marital counseling included painting a picture of a spouse being diagnosed with some mental disorder? Would love struck couples actually re-think their plans for marriage?
- WHEN MENTAL ILLNESS HITS HOME
I must admit that this is a difficult subject for me to address objectively. My husband has already demonstrated that he is willing to tolerate a certain level of mental instability regarding me. However, I am not certain that he would be able to handle some of the situations that we have witnessed in other couples. As we progress in age, it appears that we become less adventurous as well as less tolerant of conflict.
Although I am willing to stand with my husband if he suffers from mental illness, I am not certain that I would be able to handle any and every behavior without significant support. I have seen heart-wrenching portrayals of couples dealing with Alzheimer’s disease and other debilitating mental illness. Each time that I experience movies with such storylines, I realize that I do my best to keep from imagining myself in those situations.
There is a tasteful movie production called “A Vow to Cherish” that portrays a family faced with a wife and mother being diagnosed with Dementia from having Alzheimer’s disease. The movie, starring Barbara Babcock, Ken Howard, Ossie Davis is filled with topics that could arise in a family forced to deal with discovering that a spouse is struggling with mental illness. This is the one movie where I allowed myself to empathize with both spouses. I appreciated the realism of reactions that are presented which made it more inviting for me to explore. But if mental illness was to invade our own home, how many of us would really feel good about our responses?
As the movie indicates, I believe that prayer and support are needed to deal with mental illness in a marriage. Even if one feels that divorce or some form of separation is inevitable, it should be done with much prayer. I believe that connecting with God through the process will offer much needed peace through this journey. I refer to it as a journey because being separated will not terminate the relationship and sense of obligation. Unfortunately, too many people think that divorce or separation insures finality in a relationship. But for many couples, the separation actually makes life even more complicated.
I strongly believe that adequate support should be diligently explored even if one feels “OK” with a decision -to stay or go- after mental illness has been diagnosed. There is a good reason that more support services are being developed for caregivers as well as divorce survivors. The reason that support services are being offered for caregivers is because mental health providers are recognizing the extent of trauma and stress that occurs from having to deal with the illness of a loved one.
I believe that the trauma experienced as a result of having a mentally ill spouse or from divorce is far too under assessed. I strongly encourage those who experience either of these situations to seek active prayer as well as seek (or start) a support group.
DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…
- BRANDON MARSHALL & BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER
Recent stories surrounding Brandon Marshall, MVP and new NFL Wide Receiver for the Chicago Bears, have started some heated discussions. Mr. Marshall has publicly declared that he suffers an emotional disorder called Borderline Personality Disorder, also called BPD. With his wife standing right by his side, Mr. Marshall answered questions about his past behavior and the disease he is trying to give voice to. During a press conference, the calm and articulate Brandon provided unrehearsed responses to a range of questions that were personal and way beyond the scope of “on the field” behavior. However, much of the reaction to his comments that followed the interview revealed the troubled stigma
associated with mental illness.
Many of the people that called in to sports oriented talk shows were probably suffering from some level of ignorance about mental illness as a whole, however, the range of emotionally charged comments ranged from wide acceptance and support for Brandon to ridicule and malicious character assaults. Brandon has not shared that he or his wife were seeking divorce. However, it is well documented that they have experienced some turbulent and violent times resulting from his chronic disorder.
- ESTABLISHING GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE
Speaking of divorce, allow me to preface my premise about divorce with some clarity. Divorce is the legal dissolution of a marriage by a court or other competent body. When we start talking about “grounds for divorce”, then we are not suggesting the popular no-fault divorce type. Often this type of divorce (at-fault divorce) is used when it is necessary to provide required proof by one party that the other party had committed an act incompatible to the marriage. In the case of divorce based on the grounds of mental illness, the evidence must be presented comprehensively and beyond the hearsay of neighbors, usually supported by the diagnosis of a mental health professional.
However, the fact that someone is seeking grounds for or permission to divorce their life-partner is tragic to begin with. The stories behind that sentiment are certainly more comprehensive than I have room to address in this brief blog. There are probably stories of suffering, frustration, humiliation, loneliness, betrayal, helplessness, and more. Statistics show that patients with mental illnesses that have a partner in marriage are far more likely to live longer and even adapt to an effective treatment protocol. However, the partners of those marriages are often overwhelmed with feelings of being trapped, guilt, and even bitterness about why their lives have turned into a living hell.
- FROM SYMPTOMS TO SUPPORT
How incredibly frustrating it must be to continuously offer explanations for your partner’s inexplicable behavior. Where is the support for you? Who is going to rescue you from the volatile and sometimes violent circumstances that hijack every “normal” day of your life? The cumulative effects of acting with disregard for your own needs can produce a socially deprived, and emotionally starved set of needs that desperately cry out for some relief. This is not the picture of every spouse of a mentally ill partner. Still, this picture must be represented as well.
When dating someone, the subject of mental health is rarely if ever discussed. That reality frames the attitude of being betrayed in many of the people that are dealing with unforeseen challenges from their spouse’s illness. I know that there are those that say, “You make me crazy!” but don’t truly mean that they provoked a psychotic episode. However, there truly are triggers to many of the symptoms that unless controlled through medication and treatment can lead to violent or even deadly outcomes.
So should people be permitted to divorce on the grounds of mental illness? Even notifying a mentally ill spouse of intent to divorce could prove extremely dangerous. On the other hand, if given the right balance of support and resources, it is possible to restore the relationship that fostered your heart-felt “I do” during your wedding vows.
Divorce is a legal process that should always be a last course of action. Mental illness is veiled with so much misinformation and stigmatization that it is difficult to imagine any life that would resemble “normalcy”. My hope is to just scratch the surface of this complex problem in order to provoke more conversation and inspire more education about the social and societal problems associated with marriage and mental illness.
Many experts describe these disorders to be active over days, weeks, months or years before diagnosing that there is a mental disorder. These disorders are not typically measured in increments of minutes or hours. On the other hand, behaviors such as spending sprees, promiscuous sexual activities, gambling, excessive drinking, or using drugs are different disorders that though they can and often are compulsive, do not meet the same consideration as bipolar or borderline personality disorders. Dementia is among the most tragic and degenerative mental illnesses that challenges marriage.
What is also confounding to partners is when co-occurring disorders of paranoia cause the mentally ill partner to protect themselves from being victimized. Science is still gaining progress in battling these chronic disorders. However, for the partner of a mentally ill spouse, the clock may appear to be standing still.
IT’S YOUR FAULT I’M LIKE THIS!
There is also a propensity for blaming others for the way you feel when you are dealing with many personality disorders. Similarly, those struggling with Substance Use Disorder, (SUD) often resist taking responsibility for the collateral damage and choices that have led to their circumstance. “I got caught.” seems easier for many of them to admit than to reflect on how reckless, self-centered, or deceitful their behaviors have been. Having written that, there is also a strong stigmatization associated with mental illness of any type. For centuries, people with mental illnesses have been rejected as socially unacceptable and therefore relegated to being institutionalized rather than supported.
- “IN SICKNESS AND HEALTH, IN POVERTY AND WEALTH
Christian models of marriage typically include vows that promise to endure through sickness and health, poverty and wealth. However, the model does not define the extent of that sickness before permitting divorce. Jesus spoke to the people about divorce saying in Matthew !9: “8 “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.(NKJV)
The behavior associated with the “hardness of your hearts” is not explained in this Scripture reference, however, it has been argued that God does not want anyone to suffer in their union, trapped by a ceremony of inequality and oppression. What I think is critical in reaching a conclusion about justification for divorce is that we reframe from using a broad brush to define what is going on, or to determine the resolve for the complexity of problems they face. However, since the focus of this article is divorce and mental health, I will refrain from elaborating at this time.
- THE DESTRUCTIVE-NESS OF DIVORCE
Speaking from my own personal views, I believe that divorce is a destructive and sometimes violent/civil process that should be a last course of action. I also believe that most of the relationship challenges within a marriage are treatable and able to be placed in the past for those couples that are willing to do the work. I also recognize that the depth of damage caused through adulterous relationships can inflict irreparable setbacks to the trust and integrity of a marriage. However, there have been those that have survived adultery as well as mental illness.
Mental health issues are often addressed after a great deal of trauma has happened to the family as a whole and even friends and/or neighbors. PTSD (Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder) is sometimes diagnosed for survivors of traumatic events. If that survivor is also victimized by an unrelated chronic disorder, the diagnosis for treatment becomes profoundly more complex.
Imagine a young girl that is suffering from the effects and trauma of being molested/raped as a child. If that surviving child grows up and marries a partner who also has a mental disorder that manifests itself because of stress, loss of job, hopelessness, etc., there could be multiple traumatic episodes that would leave this young girl struggling through co-occurring symptoms similar to PTSD and BPD. However, if properly diagnosed and treated, this couple could recapture their desire to spend the rest of their lives together even though both have degrees of mental illness that may prove difficult to navigate through.
Education, prayer, and competent palliative care models could prove quite successful in providing significant improvement of mental health resulting in the restoration of this marriage.
- IN CONCLUSUON
In conclusion, I don’t want to pass judgment or make recommendations for a spouse regarding the viability of the suggestions listed above and/or the culpability of mental illness regarding you getting a divorce. My greatest hope is to educate people to some of the factors that should be considered in their decision making process. If you are considering divorce then you are probably in a great deal of anguish and I do not want to contribute more to that. My prayer is that you find love, support, unspeakable peace, and hope to experience the rest of your life while prospering.
The following links provide supporting support and details about this subject.
PLAN TO JOIN THE LIVE DUSCUSSION ONLINE ABOUT HIS TOPIC ON TUESDAY NIGHT AT 6:30 PST/ 7:30 MST/ 8:30 CST/ 9:30 EST/ CLICK HERE: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/idome2/2012/03/14/avoiding-the-dangers-of-discontentment-in-relationships
DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…
Mick Jagger delivered a song that I remember embracing many years ago. Unfortunately, too many couples are singing that song today. It’s “I can’t get no satisfaction…but I tried and I tried and I tried. I CAN’T GET NO…”
Feeling like there is no satisfaction in a relationship can quickly lead to an attitude of discontentment. Discontentment is being unhappy and annoyed with a situation. This attitude of discontentment can give way to restlessness, which may ultimately lead to wandering in dangerous relationship territory. The dangerous territory that I am alluding to is the area of exploring excitement and stimulation outside of the committed relationship. When satisfactory stimulation continues to happen from other sources (other than your spouse) you may seriously question the value of your present relationship.
I recently listened to a married woman express how much she appreciated the way another man was so thoughtful and interesting. She added how she wished that her husband was more like him. This is what I would consider dangerous territory of discontentment. Thinking that you would be better off with something else only feeds thoughts of discontentment. As these thoughts are nurtured, they may lead to reckless actions that can cause great damage to a relationship.
- WHEN YOU FEEL YOU JUST GOTTA GO
Many years ago, I realized that I had a pattern of restlessness that resulted in my taking reckless, impromptu excursions. I would end up in different cities, hotels and even pressed my way through to Canada in one such episode. I began these escapes while I was single, but they continued into my marriage.
I actually had not realized that I had a seasonal pattern until my mother warned my husband to look out for it. It was good that my husband loved me and trusted our love for each other, because he was prepared to respond when the urge hit me. I remember one episode as if it were just last week.
My husband had come home from a gig. For those who may not know my husband, Dr. Aaron Jamal is also an accomplished musician, former recording artist, author, ordained minister and counselor, etc. Anyway, my husband dragged himself into the house early in the morning after driving from his gig and declared that he was tired and needed some sleep. Well, being the morning person that I am, I announced that I wanted to go out. I also decided that it was a good time to let him know how I have been feeling neglected and that I was tired of being cooped up in the house. I wanted attention and was discontented with my treatment. In short, it was the season for me to take flight.
My weary husband mustered up enough energy to ask me to wait until he got some rest to continue the conversation. But I was already too restless to wait. His response was one that made me think 1) I married a crazy man and 2) Maybe I can wait just a bit until my husband has rested.
- IT PAYS TO KNOW YOUR SPOUSE
My husband knew that I had issues with wrinkles in my clothes and that I had a routine of ironing my clothes before getting dressed. After I reached for the iron, he somehow ripped the cord from the base so I could not plug it in. This is the moment that I thought he might be a bit crazy. At the same time, this only made me even more determined to leave
so I announced that I would get away with wrinkles if I had to.
Still too tired to argue, my husband was thinking about the best way to keep me from going off somewhere. We had a chair that could be converted into a sleeper which we made available for guests. My quick thinking husband got enough strength to flip out the chair and drag it in front of the door where he dropped into an exhausted heap. His weight was too much for me to move and his action was so unexpected that I was amused enough to calm down. I shook my head and chuckled at him as I watched him slip into his much needed slumber. This was the moment that I considered that maybe I can vent after my husband has rested up a little.
Oddly, I was able to overcome my restlessness this time. I refrained from my seasonal escape long enough to vent my feelings when my husband was more prepared to hear me. I expressed not being satisfied with the lack of attention that I was receiving. I was clearly filled with discontentment. But I had no idea about how I arrived at that state in the first place.
- WHEN YOU LOOK FOR THE WRONG, YOU FIND WHAT YOU SEEK
Unfortunately, when we look for the wrong in others, we tend to find plenty of material to use. We may often use the common imperfections and mistakes of human-ness to confirm our assumption that someone is simply not all that we had hoped for. However, I learned that just as my flaws come with the territory, his flaws were included in my wedding vows. I had to remind myself that I said, “I do.” I never added “except when he… .” I never even said “I have to think about that one” or asked “Can we come back to that question a little later?”
Some years later, after looking more at myself, I realized that my feelings of discontentment were mostly self inflicted. I had been projecting my dissatisfaction with myself onto my husband. I came to understand that as I grew more satisfied with myself; my feelings of discontentment regarding my marriage began to fade considerably.
- SOLUTION STRATEGIES TO DISCONTENTMENT IN A RELATIONSHIP
I attended a retreat-type seminar facilitated by a wonderfully insightful woman named Evelyn Christenson. She taught from her book, called “Lord, Change Me.” I bought the book and feasted on her insights. I did my best to apply what I read and soon found myself seeing my husband and my marriage quite differently. That is when the change in attitude began for me.
I cannot remember who invited me to the conference or why I agreed to go, other than destiny. But Mrs. Christenson was able to inspire me to look at what I could do to help my attitude towards my marriage. I had to make myself open to consider that maybe the issue or fault was not all on my husband. The hardest element of my change was being able to consider that I might even be misunderstanding what was being said by my husband. How many times have we declared, “I heard what you said” even though the other person is insisting that those words were never stated? I had to consider that my mind could be processing information inaccurately. I had to learn to give my husband the benefit of trust. As I began to look for the good in my husband, as my mother advised, I begin to see how blessed I really am.
Ultimately, I had to learn to realize the good in Margaret. I had to stop condemning myself for all of my own past mistakes and hardships. I became aware of my constant assumption that my past wrongdoings and misfortunes somehow made me less of a person. Of course as I thought so little of myself, I assumed that my husband thought about me the same way. I had to admit that my discontentment was my own doing and that I had the ability to change it.
To avoid the dangers of discontentment we must first identify that we are struggling with it. This may be especially difficult if we are comfortable with blaming the other person for not giving us what we need. But this first step can be what is essential to make real progress in avoiding discontentment.
Then we may need to explore how much of our discontentment stems from self condemnation. Often some of what we experienced as children shaped our poor and condemning opinions of ourselves. We may need to do our best to separate our past tragedies from our present realities.
And finally, we need to look for the qualities in our mate that we were attracted to from the beginning. Those attractive traits are still there and we can have them operating again if we seek them and acknowledge them as we experience them. We will find that acknowledging the good that we experience from our spouses tends to encourage them to give us more of the same.
DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…
- Managing Dissonance in Communications and Daily Habits
In order for an orchestra to play well or for a couple that is dancing together to appear graceful there is a need for harmonious timing. However, when we apply that principle to couples and daily communications, there are a number of factors that challenge their ability to communicate in sync with one another’s emotional dynamics.
It is especially difficult to synchronize with one another when you are working in different cultural dynamics and have been delaying pleasure, release and comfort in hopes of a partner that would somehow facilitate that pleasure, comfort or release. If it becomes the responsibility of the partner to facilitate that and they know they are expected to bare that responsibility, then what may occur is that their own needs are delayed even further in order to meet the needs or requirements of their partner. If that continues for weeks, months or even years, it takes a toll on the facilitating partner and a root of bitterness begins to form and harden.
Unrealistic expectations about relationships based on “superman” or “superwoman” fantasies are part of the problem. There is too much potential for discontent when you walk into a relationship thinking they are going to save you from all of your ills or make you better. It is probable that two people can flourish together due to the synergy produced from the relationship. However, it is not realistic to plan on the flourishing based solely on the partner’s contribution.
- What Happened to you?
Dr. Frankenstein created a monster from parts of other people put together as his creation. Discontent formulates its own creation often through the influences of life and other people. Do you ever wonder what happened to that person that used to be so carefree, fun and full of laughter? Discontent may be holding that person hostage.
The source of discontentment often originates outside of a lab or the intimate settings of the bedroom. It is the repetitive, negative verbal exchanges that erode the harmony in relationships. For example: A husband that gets laid off from his job comes home only to hear “What did you do wrong this time?” He overhears his wife talking on the phone with someone saying “I don’t know what we are going to do if he doesn’t get a job soon.” The husband, if responsible, already feels a great deal of pressure to find a job and being laid off inflicts injury to the ego of even the most confident of men. Somehow he is supposed to muster up the courage and determination to risk rejection and compete for another opportunity/interview to get a job so he can bring in a living wage and take care of his family. However, when that “home” is also the source of another injury through accusations, complaints, ridicule, or worse, exposed embarrassment, then that husband is dangerously discontent.
Now the other side of that equation is that the wife is often over burdened by multitasking; dealing with debt collectors, managing children and the home in addition to the job she has to work to keep your home. If the husband comes home with unrealistic expectations like “Where’s dinner?” or comments like “Don’t you ever clean up this place?” or worse, “Don’t bother me with all of that! Ask your mother! I just got home!” It is probable that this wife is frustrated and discontent.
Unfortunately, some people have concluded that “If I can make my partner miserable enough then s/he will do what I want.” That misguided position usually leads toward divorce not a second honeymoon. Promising more hell in hopes of manipulating a partner into being an angel is insanity. I don’t know if these people are looking for marital advice from the Jerry Springer, or Maury Povich shows, but “violence begets violence” and “you reap what you sow” are spiritual laws that have existed forever.
- A SOLUTION STRATEGY
A better strategy is to find a coping mechanism to heal your attitude. It is also paramount that each partner recognizes that s/he is responsible for his/her own attitude or state of mind. It is true that trouble is inevitable but misery is optional. I may not be an expert in counting it all joy when I face trials for various types. However, I am a firm believer that the perseverance and character required for our hope is forged through troubled times. Therefore I must develop competencies in handling myself during those troubled times. They call this self control. I have to be willing to work on me and develop coping mechanisms that inspire me to rise up and try it again rather than rehearse my failed attempts or entertain feeling sympathy for myself.
For some, that coping mechanism is reading/hearing inspirational quotes, for others inspiring movies, or sports. However, for me it is usually music. The stories that are embedded in a song that is carefully framed with lyrics to meet me where I am and lift me when I am down, or push me when I want to quit, or just calm me when I am in a storm of worry. Those songs are treasured tools that I use to cope with life. That is not to say that my wife and “gift from heaven” does not provide inspiring support and relief at times. On the other hand, we are sometimes going through a need for that inspiration at the same time.
Choose your coping mechanism responsibly. If your coping mechanism is putting your family, your job, or your marriage at risk, it is not worth it. I am even careful about my social networking relationships. Far too many have put their marriage at risk as a result of re-igniting some past flame that now appears mysterious and intriguing. In contrast to the storm of your current marriage, the opportunity may appear attractive however, Proverb 14:12 reads: “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”
Another essential component is trust. When it comes to coping mechanisms, trust is invaluable to the relationship so share what and why you are using your coping mechanisms. Be transparent and responsible.
Remember! It is true that trouble is inevitable but misery is optional. Write a song of love together, in harmony while embracing and even learning from the dissonance that is inevitable.