Avoiding the Dangers of Discontentment in a Relationship

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


  • 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 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.


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