You may remember the song “I Say a Little Prayer for You” written by Burt Bacharach. I just listened to the version song by Aretha Franklin introduced by someone that might bring back some old memories.
Anyway the challenge is for couples to work together to write a short Marriage Prayer that can be framed and posted in your home. Write something short like the serenity prayer that is commonly shared in AA meetings“ God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
My husband and I discussed this a bit before agreeing to make this topic the next entry in our follow-up blog series regarding the top 10 Reasons to Stay Married. Sex was among my husband’s top 10 Reasons to Stay Married, and I thoroughly agree.
This may be one of those articles that our children would rather not read, but we both agree that it is a topic worth our time and effort. Both of our backgrounds include (perhaps too many) opportunities to make a reasonable comparison about sexual relations with and without the marital bond.
FROM HAVING SEX TO MAKING LOVE
There is little that my husband and I have not experienced in relationships, which allows us to speak from experiential perspectives. I realize that there is really no way to prove to others that sex is better in a good marriage than with being single. And I also realize that it is still up to the couple to maximize their marital relationship. However, I have found that as love grows deeper in marriage, everything needed for great sexual relations is also developed.
We understand and appreciate the gift of sexual gratification that results from our love for each other. After so many years of experiencing his selfless contributions towards pleasing me, I have absolutely no desire to explore any sexual relationship with anyone other than my husband. I certainly hope that my husband feels the same way about me. However it took time to arrive at this realization. The type of sexual bliss that we now have took time to develop. My youthful lust was gradually replaced by deep love, passionate engagement and sincere enjoyment that continues to grow for my husband.
SINGLE SEX VS. MARRIED SEX
There are those who might argue that sex outside of marriage is just as good. I have no inclination to argue with someone who wants to think that way. I simply know from my own experience that there is no way that I would welcome a return to that lifestyle. One of the greatest reasons is that without the security of a marital relationship, sex tends to remain open to possibilities outside of the couple. I believe that this openness causes distractions that prevent the opportunity to experience the holistic bond that occurs through long term monogamy. This holistic bond is what has significantly enhanced our sexual relationship. And our enhanced sexual relationship has other benefits as well. It helps relieve stress and really aids our weight management and health regimen.
Although many unmarried people are able to be dedicated to one partner at a time, other people will tend to view them as available. Until there is a declaration of commitment through marriage, unmarried people are considered fair game. They may even be hounded by those looking to “get lucky.”
I also have found that for many single people, sex may even be a source of stress and fear. Single people are often more concerned with performance and competition (stress)as well as what disease their partners might have (fear) than married people.
TIME WASTING SEX
Sex outside of my marriage would be a waste of valuable time and effort. I already know that my husband excites and stimulates me. There is no need nor desire for pretense or performance. I never feel guilty, cheated or bored with regards to having sex with my husband. I also know that even if something is not quite right, we can talk about it and try again. I believe that the state of deeply enjoyable and gratifying sexuality is most achievable in a relationship that is free of outside interference and distractions that occur when outside relationships are involved.
I am not impressed nor appreciative when people express that they consider me to be “sexy.” Being sexy simply means that someone thinks that you would make an enjoyable sex partner. I believe that anyone at any given time could wear that label. However, I am impressed that one man wants to have a thriving sexual relationship with me after so many years of marriage. I am very impressed that he cares enough about me to discuss and explore what makes us both happy.
A HIGH YIELD INVESTMENT
While growing in our marriage, we are also learning how to navigate the timing. I am still learning how to manage my time in a way that keeps me from being too tired when my husband is especially desiring intimacy with me. Likewise, I know that I have an open invitation to engage my husband’s full participation in satisfying my sexual desires. I am grateful that my husband spends the time to learn about my needs and desires as well. We have both invested the time to learn about each other’s sexuality. We trust and care about each other enough to inquire about what is good and what is not good.
I find that investing deep love and commitment into our marriage continues to produce highly gratifying physical rewards. However, I must add that there is also the element of spiritual investment that further contributes to our enjoyment. For example, I pray for my husband to find pleasure with me in every way. I also pray that we grow in our love and that we only desire each other. Then I am mindful to give thanks to God for blessing us with the ability to enjoy each other with such totality.
I believe that trulygreat sex begins with a great marriage. This is why I agree with my husband that sex should be listed among the top 10 reasons to stay married.
DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…
God’s Perfect Design for Intimacy
Passion, Rhythm and Grace
The lights dim and a sultry acoustic guitar begins to strum a simple but compelling latin rhythm of Jose Feliciano’s rendition of Light My Fire. A single spot light fades in and directs the audience’s eyes toward the center of the room. An attractive couple embraces each other with the man positioned behind the woman and arms wrapped around her. They begin moving in perfect rhythm, synchronized to this slow latin rhumba. Their eyes gaze in to each other, however, no words are spoken. They anticipate each others moves and engage into a sensual dance celebrating their passion of their relationship.
The man is graceful and yet masculine as his guiding hands lead his elegant and sensual partner through a series of twists, and turns that culminates in a very close embrace. Their breathing seems exaggerated and intentionally synched with the beat of the song. The woman flirtatiously pulls away from him only to be pulled back in with a firm and controlling grip. She surrenders because there is no competition here during this moment.
Both appear determined to please one another producing a synergy of passion, rhythm and hot breathing in an intimate and familiar zone that provides a refreshing and entertaining rhumba dance. The audience applauds with each turn and gasp in awe like voyeurs peeping into a private encounter of passion. The song ends with the couple facing each other wrapped tightly in each other’s arms. They thank each other and then bow toward the audience in appreciation of the applause of the audience.
It would be wonderful if this type of synchronization and synergy characterized the sexual encounters of every married couples. However, many married couples would state a different story regarding their own intimate encounters. On the other hand, the statistics state that there are more married couples that enjoy this intimacy with more frequency than their single counter parts.
Studies show that 40-50% of married people claim their sex lives are satisfying compared to 20-25% of the single and cohabiting counterparts. (Maggie Gallagher and researcher/co-author Linda J. Waite of The Case for Marriage (2001)) Of course there are those that would challenge the accuracy of the study. However, the crowded bars, clubs and frequent prowling of people seeking companionship suggest that finding a partner is not an easy chore. Additionally, the familiarity, trust and selflessness that is rooted within the structure of marriage frames a far more favorable setting for enjoyable intimacy.
Dating encounters that are often filled with clumsy pick up lines, and awkward conversations that are intended to lure the targets into a sexual relationship are rarely presented accurately in today’s TV sitcoms and movies. There are no second takes for the guy that approaches the woman that he has been lusting for the past half an hour only to forget his name while introducing him self before he begins to tell a story about something that has no barring on who he is or what she likes. Despite the level of mystery and intrigue of dating, I think there is little chance of this encounter reaching the levels of intimacy and satisfaction I have grown accustomed to within my marriage.
I agree there are a number of distractions and pressures that tend to plague and even hijack the spontaneous lust filled encounters that steamy movies and TV shows tend to profile. Even in a solid marriage, it is not easy for a man that has just experienced a humiliating and hard day at work, or a woman that fought her way through traffic to get home from her job early enough to make a dinner and pick up the kids to turn on the flirtatious and sensual non-verbal communicators that inspire an atmosphere for intimacy.
On the other hand, the seasoned couple that finds a way to develop the rhythm and synchronization needed to anticipate the moves and moods of their partner are far more likely to experience more frequent and satisfying sexual encounters. This seasoned couple has progressed beyond the awkward stages of clumsy experimentations. They have discovered a set of tried and true satisfying practices they can rely upon. They still experiment and are open for spontaneity, however, they can also do those things that continue to deliver satisfaction without worry of growing bored. I find it hard to fathom ever growing tired of the frequency and heights of satisfaction I share with my wife. The prelude is not often the same but the resolve always leaves us spent and satisfied. That’s not an experience I could count on during dating episodes before I married my wife.
Passion Sanctioned by God
Personally, I believe this type of intimacy is protected and designed by God Almighty for the heart’s desire of married couples. I can’t imagine anything I have ever done proving worthy enough to justify the level of intimacy and enjoyment I experience with my beautiful wife. We have what we have through His grace and mercy. Hallelujah!
In the Bible, we read; ” Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled”. I interpret that verse of Scripture to mean that my union with my wife is righteous in the site of God and that whatever we decide to do in bed is permitted. We are allowed to be creative, spontaneous, to moan as a quiet storm or scream as a loud volcano and God is alright with that. I will refrain from any other illustrations in order to keep this fit for family reading. However, the point I am making is I believe that what we do in the privacy of our bedroom is without regret, guilt or blame. That is one of the many reasons that I can look forward to the morning after our making love rather than my single, or cohabiting counterparts.
I heard it said that chocolate tastes better if you had to steal it, however, when it comes to my wife, I believe our intimacy is better because she is mine. I would never trade my plentiful gift from heaven for a risky night of being a thief. We hold nothing back during our intimacy and the reward is consistently satisfying.
The Biblical model for marriage makes a provision for frequency as a safe guard:
1 Corinthians 7:3 Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
This provision is not a license for either partner to abuse the other. It is the framework of trusting one’s own body into the hands and motives of your partner. It frames an offering toward the prolonged satisfaction of your partner. The authority over your partner’s body should be rooted in love and not lust. Love is sacrificial. Lust is self seeking.
For those that continue to insist that they enjoy a greater level of frequency and satisfaction because they are single or cohabiting, I am willing to consider that you may not know what you don’t know. Additionally, I believe there is no chance at all of my ever becoming a candidate to join your ranks.
Hazardous Hunting Grounds
On the other hand I have counseled a number of single and cohabiting adults that I have deep compassion for. The volume of social networks, dating sites, and singles clubs tell me that there are extremely large numbers of people that are hoping to “get lucky.” Their hunting grounds are dangerous, full of predators, STDs, and unknown challenges that are often deceitful, disappointing and under-deliver on their promises to satisfy.
Unfortunately, failed marriages may make the loudest noise regarding their dissatisfaction. However, my experience (and those of the couples that I know are happy), tend to avoid boasts about how great and or how frequent the levels of our intimacy meet or exceed satisfaction. It’s not a secret, but the intimate details should remain between us. We should never become arrogant or prideful.
Sharing Your Burning Passions for Each Other
In closing, I want to revisit the example of the dance partners I used in the beginning of this blog. The very graceful and exciting couples that win in dance competitions require training, practice, and a healthy level of boldness. Likewise, married couples must develop those things that work best for them. That level of communication requires trust, honesty, patience, sensitivity, confidence, a sincere desire to satisfy your spouse and a very active prayer life to protect your thought life and motives. If those lines of communication are active and proficient it is probable that this couple has learned and even established a consistent ritual of satisfying intimacy.
My wife and I often pray to only have desire for each other. I ask that God will help me to hold captive every thought obedient to Christ. If my mind, my heart and my spirit are all in line with God’s perfect design for intimacy, the results are always extraordinary. We always thank God for our marriage and the gift of intimacy He has designed for us.
I completely agree with the Scripture : “it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
How well do you know what love means to your spouse?
The #2 I Do Me2 Couples Challenge is for each of you to write down at least one way to “show love” to your spouse. You must try to think of something that your spouse would agree is proof or evidence of your love.
2) Then write down what you would like your spouse to do to “show love for you.”
3) Try not to discuss the results too much until the end of this challenge week.
4) Do your best to show love to each other this week and keep track of your efforts.
5) Be ready to share this experience on our next I Do Me 2 online radio show, Tuesday evening at 8:30PM CST.
In reflecting upon those questions, I have wondered if when we promise to love someone, we actually have a good idea about what love is. For example, think about the last time that you said “I love you” to your spouse. Now try to think
about exactly what you meant by that statement. Then think about times that you did not feel the love. Where did it go? Before you really try to meditate on your answer to those questions, please continue reading.
After having an argument about love with my husband, I decided to do some research on love to be ready when we later continue our argument. That may seem strange or funny, but that’s what we do. Anyway, I tried to uncover a true meaning of love that agreed with how I feel about love. This was actually quite a challenge that was beginning to frustrate me. I was beginning to hate my search for the true meaning of love. There were so many opinions and insights about love that seemed to keep me bouncing around a virtual pin ball table of perspectives. Finally, I decided that I would settle upon the Scriptural foundation of love since this is what is used to develop widely accepted marriage vows. Although I do not consider myself very religious, I strongly believe that there are spiritual laws which influence and govern our existence. Whether or not you agree, I trust that you will find the results interesting enough to consider.
LOVE AS A WORD
Basically, there are various language influences in Bible versions that include both Old and New Testaments. I tend to refer to the Hebrew and Aramaic texts because it makes sense to me that they are closer to authenticity. However, I respect that many others prefer King James and other translations. As a show of concession my statements will consider what I believe are points of agreement.
An area of agreement regarding love appears to reside within the Old Testament of the Scriptures. There is only one word for love in the Old Testament which is derived from the Hebrew term. The following is taken from an article that I believe sums this up best. “With respect to words for love, it resembles our languages like English or German: there is one and only one word for love (the verb ahav and the noun ahava) which covers the concept as broadly as our modern word “love”. God’s love (Jr.31:3), love of God (Dt.6:4), love of the fellow man (Lv.19:18), love of a friend (2Sam.1:26), love of a girl (Gen.29:20), mere sex (Prov.7:18), love of money (Eccl.5:9), and love of vanity (Ps.4:3) are all called by the same name.” http://www.lrz.de/~hr/bible/loves.html
WHERE DOES LOVE ORIGINATE?
I find that when it comes to marriage, there is love and there is the idea of love. The idea of love can be superficial and can easily fluctuate according to how one may feel from moment to moment. However I believe that love comes from God and that it is a spiritual gift. I further believe that the acquired gift of love resides within a person’s spirit that transcends what is rational or able to be fully understood. This gift of love is developed according to how and how much it is used.
I believe that love itself does not fluctuate and does not come in varieties. This means that if you have this spirit of love that the love flows to everyone, because love does what love is. I am convinced that love is consistent and not contingent upon the whims of those who possess it. I believe that we choosehow we use love and tend to combine it with other influences such as physical attraction, enjoyment, etc. I do not believe that there are different types of love, but only different ways that we apply and process love.
MY PERSPECTIVE OF WHAT LOVE DOES
Now with so much discussion about the makeup of love there is still the question of what love does. I believe that love is the essence of what is good. It is the spiritual element of our existence that causes us to ultimately feel good about others and about life. When I say that I love someone, I am willing to see and feel the good in and about that person. I am also willing to overlook any bad or perceived faults when I am in the active state of love. In the state of love, I easily forgive because I want what is good.
However, I am also of the opinion that many people are engaged with the idea of love which can easily fluctuate according to how they feel. When people are able to stop loving someone, I believe that they actually quench the spirit of love. I believe that love can be managed or even channeled. But the choice not to love is controlled by the beholder more than the influence of the receiver. My love for my husband is not contingent upon how he feels about me because my love is a gift from God that flows from my being a loving person.
I believe that God is the originator of love and that God is Love. I further believe that the state of love is defined by the originator of love and is described and defined in the spiritual reference of the Holy Scriptures. I have this scripturally based love for my husband and believe that this is the love that he has for me. With this love, I am able to overcome the times that I might feel hurt by his words or actions. This love compels me to forgive him and even want what is best for him. It so happens that I believe that being married to me is included in what I believe is best and good for my husband. Since I also believe that my husband loves me, I am confident that he realizes how much he is included in what is best and good for me. We are able to make it through the tough challenges that we face in marriage because our love compels us to want what is best and good for each other.
DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…
If a couple has to count reasons for them to stay married, then love’s ability to motivate and inspire has probably been severely challenged. However, one of the most powerful attributes about love is its resilience. Rekindling love is almost always a strategy to stimulate the memory; to reignite that “reckless, nobody but you will do” type of feeling you once had about your mate.
Some may say they have fallen out of love of their spouse. I believe that there are seasons that are less romantic in a relationship. I also believe that your relationship may require a defibrillator and some resuscitation but most relationships are worthy of another vigilant try. This marriage was probably initiated and founded on love and the promise to love through good and bad times…. Remember?
DEALING WITH TEMPTATIONS
On the other hand, there are a multitude of lures out there that target those seeking “action packed passion on steroid” type of experiences. There should be warning labels stamped on the front of every date (outside of your spouse) that is promising to give you what you’ve been missing. However, they also know you probably wouldn’t read the label. This area of lust only responds to scent (not sense) and picturesque thrills of short encounters.
Meanwhile, back at the normal home front, the adventure and mystique that accompanies your early dating process is often tossed aside for more practical and less romantic activities. Many couples are stressed just trying to navigate through finance (including consequences from impulse spending), health, children, and life in general. In the midst of some of the darkest and most difficult times of a marriage, those lures look especially distracting and attractive. However, they usually offer only short term satisfaction and often under represent the “fatal attraction” drama that accompanies their advances.
I still love my very stunningly beautiful wife and I am still aroused by her sensual and earthy scent that lingers after her warm embrace that assures me that I am still the only man for her. However, I am also guilty of not demonstrating and expressing the different dimensions of that love with enough regularity to off-set bouts of insecurity that surface. Most women will respond positively to spontaneous and romantic encounters that cast them in a starring role. On the other hand, that script has to be put in action more than once a year, or decade… Amen? (She will probably use this as leverage against me in the future…. )
On the other hand, stressful relationships can make even great plans appear unlikely and there is often an argument waiting to happen. Typically, in the midst of those stressful times, communication suffers and becomes stressful. Repeated episodes of those arguments and stress will erode the trust in a relationship.
HAVING THE BEST OF INTENTIONS
We must also address the need for your spouse to trust that you will be there for her/him, protect her, respect him and demonstrate trustworthiness. Finally, I have learned that most want to feel that s/he will always rank among the most important things that are getting your attention.
Outlined in verse 7 of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 we find what may be among the most important action things for a man to do. In this biblical listing of character traits of love, we find a very appealing plea for love being the catalyst for staying in a marriage. Paul declares:
(4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.)
Now, if a couple has reached the point in their marriage where they are seeking reasons to justify staying or leaving; “What’s love go to do with it?” Remember love always perseveres, always, hopes, and always trusts.
There will be problems in most marriages. Remember, there were even challenges in marriages during biblical times as there are now. The selfless attitudes that are illustrated through the true attributes of love is not like the noise in the head of a person considering divorce. It appears that people become far more self-centered and focused on personal needs when considering divorce.
I believe that is the justified motive behind framing covenant vows with promises to love in good times and bad. Contrasting times of bliss and struggle are inevitable in a marriage. However, the resilience of love can not only make that marriage bearable, but truly satisfying. It may require more than a “couples retreat” to reignite those flames of love. However, the reward of reigniting those flames should prove worthy of the effort.
When given an exercise to meditate and journal all the reasons that you love your spouse, many are able to push aside imperfections and focus on the most attractive aspects of their marriage. Even if poisonous arguments have tarnished the glow of those aspects; with a lot of prayer, professional help and the desire to make it work, love can once again place your relationship into that “reckless, nobody but you will do” spot. Because of the resilience of love, you can enjoy this relationship you promised to stay with in front of God and witnesses.
ADDRESSING THE SPIRIT OF “I TRIED EVERYTHING!” CONSIDER TRYING THIS…
Plan an appropriate outing, fitting your current budget. (Splurging can be a trigger for an argument and an example of your irresponsibility as well.)
(What’s the weather like?) For example; if you have been planning this special time to get away but your spouse does not trust you or is even suspicious of your intentions, you may find it impossible to be spontaneous because you need to be trusted to do what you are doing. However, if you confide in a trusted sibling, or friend that could back up your intentions to your spouse without giving away the plan, you can overcome some of the suspicion through a surrogate trustee.
Taking your wife to a sporting event might not be the best choice to make her feel like she is the star of the night. However, taking her to a dance club where you are constantly turning your head to look at other women is even worse. A medley of things that may begin at the Museum (as an example) and end up somewhere cozy and very private could be just the thing that frames a time of intimacy and sharing that reassures your spouse of the fact that she is still the star of your dreams. Aim for a win-win situation where you can both enjoy the night.
Essential to this date is to somehow capture this event with a photograph. Even a cell phone can capture this very special time and allow you to save and frame this memory/event for further review at the appropriate time.
If you are not very good at communicating your feelings, then search for that special song with those great lyrics that expresses what you are trying to say as clearly as possible. You should also plan on the follow up after playing the song. Dead silence could give room to questions like “What does that mean?” Be prepared to point to the specific line that captures what you are trying to say. No need to play the whole song unless relevant.
Remember and re-state plans you can still accomplish. Remember the goal is to rekindle. Rekindling amplifies what is still there while acknowledging the promise of what could still happen. If you try all of this and it still meets a wall of resistance, then stay hopeful and get ready to stand and persevere. Remember: in the end “Love never fails!”
I remember one day talking to two of our youngest children about what life would be like for them if my husband and I split up. It was during a time when arguments between me and my husband seemed to erupt with increasing frequency. Our youngest children were adolescents at the time and I was concerned that the discord was especially having an adverse effect on them. I was also considering possible living arrangements in the event that a divorce actually occurred.
CHILDREN NEED STABILITY
In response to my bringing up a “what if” concerning a possible separation, my daughter looked at me and said that it “would be too weird.” My son sort of chuckled and said “mom, stop playin. Don’t even think about it.” “Dad ain’t goin nowhere. And you definitely ain’t goin nowhere.” At that point I began to consider that a divorce would have a real negative impact on our children. But what I expected was even more of an issue was how their perception of us would change. Our children were confident that they knew us and could depend on us. I pondered how important it is that children believe that they know what their parents would or would not do.
I have learned that children need stability and truth from their parents in order to nurture healthy attitudes in them. One time, our youngest son was behaving like he had a huge grudge against the entire family. I finally decided to explore his issue because I was weary of how much his attitude was disturbing the peace in our home. I was surprised to find that our son was actually upset with my husband and me because we did not take them out like we had agreed to do. We had come home really tired and asked if we could reschedule an outing to a restaurant that we had planned with the children. Our son’s whole issue was that we did not keep our word. I later found out that all of our children expressed that it really bothered them if we cancelled something that we agreed to do for or with them. I also noticed that they were becoming increasingly unenthusiastic about planning anything together. I reasoned that this was because our children had grown to distrust that we would actually follow through as planned.
KEEPING DIVORCE OFF THE TABLE
Eventually, my husband and I discussed this issue and made a conscious effort to refrain from breaking anymore commitments to our children. I decided that I would do everything in my power to keep my word to our children after seeing how much it meant to them. I realized that this meant that this was another reason to keep the issue of divorce off the table. But since divorce was not an option, we had to learn how to get along and develop better communication skills- even if just for the sake of the children.
I must admit that there were times in our marriage where the disharmony in our marriage seemed too much to bear, even for the sake of the children. There were even times that I convinced myself that the children would be better off if my husband and I lived separately because we would have such hostile disagreements. I thought that our children would have a more peaceful existence because they would not have to be subjected to our violent, mean spirited bickering.
TEACHING CHILDREN TO BE CONSIDERATE OF OTHERS
But I had not realized how much our staying together was teaching our children valuable lessons. For example, they later expressed how much they learned that people can stay together and work out their differences if they love each other. Although they hated when we argued, they began to trust that we knew how to work things out because of our love for each other. It also showed them that we cared about them and each other in a way that was self sacrificing. They appreciated that we were considering their feelings even more than our own.
In today’s society, I hear too many people who simply do not have faith in marriage because of the many examples of divorce in their own families. I believe that if parents continue to teach children that marital relationships can be easily broken that our society will breed a generation of adults who lack community and commitment in general. I believe that on a broader scale, this will perpetuate a lack of trust and integrity that will hurt our overall progress – socially as well as economically.
I believe that when parents do not consider the impact that their decisions have on their children, that they risk steering them in ways that they are sure to regret later. For example, I did not want to influence my children to think that it was acceptable to be unreliable. I did not want to teach them how to go back on their word in matters of love, education, business or life in general. Today, I am so happy that our children were factored into the reasons that my husband and I stayed together.
DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…
Blessed to be the father of five children, I have had a number of their friends to claim me as their surrogate father. I have also had a number of much older people claim me as “dad”. Some were even older than me, which felt awkward at times. More importantly, this represents a haunting void that is present for so many people in our society, it seems clear that strategies for effective parenting and keeping fathers in the home are desperately needed.
PARENTS AS ROLE MODELS
My children did not grown up in a home where there were no arguments or slammed doors. However, they did grow up with the benefits of a two parent home. Raising children with two parents is hard enough without the added pressures of adjusting to divorce. I am not holding my wife and I up as model parents. However, I know from the testimonies of our children that they truly appreciate our commitment to working things out while refusing to let them suffer through a difficult and traumatic divorce.
Children do not get to choose their parents and of course there are good models and bad models of parents to examine. In retrospect, I doubt that there is a “perfect and trouble free” model of a family. Even the first family recorded in the Bible of Adam and Eve reported a sibling murder within their family. However, that does not prove that the best model for a family is not with a father, mother and children.
MATTERS OF WELFARE
The importance of the welfare of the children is often demonstrated by the level of sacrifice that many parents adopt as acceptable. Even in marriages where the parents have fallen out of the affectionate and intimate relationship they once enjoyed, parents are often willing to continue sacrificing and providing for the welfare of their children.
I cannot imagine anything more important to the welfare of those children than the combined efforts of the parents, some great friends and some skilled and knowledgeable professionals to build competencies to repair fractured and stressed relationships. Sometimes extended family members (in-laws) can assist as well, but those models appear to be less common.
Tragically, and far too often, grand parents, aunts and uncles have been compelled to assume parental roles due to the toxic and violent nature of a distressed marriage. In that case, neither of the parents appear to be a good choice to oversee the welfare of the children. Regrettably, even this scenario is not always ideal for raising children. The worse case scenario is often when the courts rule that the children are to be seized and placed into foster care systems. There are far too many horror stories associated with foster care to outline in this brief article.
Another side of this argument usually sites that children do not benefit from being in relationships that are toxic and even violent. I agree with that point. However, the alternative should be framed carefully and with consideration for the long term negative effects of children being separated from one or both of their parents.
I believe that far too frequently couples head for divorce after failing self-help strategies that were not well though out or just not effective enough to handle the complexity of their problems. I have also found that couples that seek a team of helpers that can address all sides of the marriage are far more successful in preserving their marriage than couples with self-help strategies. Effective strategies allow the children to gain the benefit of watching mom and dad work through issues rather than bailing out and leaving the children with feelings of abandonment.
The effective solution to marital issues that threaten the integrity of the family is not his way or her way but a new way that is framed with the understanding that the children’s financial, social, and emotional well being are part of what is at risk. That is why it is critical to seek comprehensive solutions that heal the whole relationship and develops coping tools to provide sustained results.
CHANGE FOR THE CHILDREN
Rather than make a choice that is based solely on the children, I believe you can make the choice considering all the issues while acknowledging the weighted importance of the welfare of the children. Often there is a need for real change that is not easy to develop but critical for the sustainability of the marriage and family.
A number of studies argue that children in single parent homes are more at risk for depression, suicide, in addition to poor performance in school. Additionally, children experience post traumatic stress from the parental battling while being uprooted and moving to new neighborhoods and schools. This is not to say that there are not exceptions to these statistics. You may be one of those super parents that has done an awesome job raising your child after experiencing a divorce. If that is your testimony, I applaud you and hope that you can write a “How-to” book that will teach others to do the same. However, this article is only to highlight the increased risks concerning children of divorced parents.
In conclusion, I believe the greatest asset any community has are the families that learn the competencies needed to sustain a marriage and keep a family together. My hope was to present one the greatest inspirations to fight for your marriage and your family.
Great marriages are not free from verbal fighting but they do learn how to verbally fight fair and avoid destroying the most precious gems in the eyes of their children, their parents and their family. Working through struggles and finding equitable solutions serve to teach invaluable lessons of conflict resolution and to build resilience into the character of your children.
It really bothers me to hear about couples getting divorced. While I understand that there could be valid reasons to make the break, it just feels like something good has been tragically destroyed. I believe that no matter what the relationship has become, it probably began as a wonderful experience of love, romance and hope. After reading about yet another couple who was breaking up, I wondered if being challenged to make a list of reasons to stay married would influence the thought of possible reconciliation.
With much enthusiasm, I challenged my husband to write about the top 10 reasons to stay married for our next I Do Me2 blog post. However, I found it difficult to come up with my own top 10 list. This difficulty came with my realizing that there were pros and cons for many of the items on my list. For example, Number 3 about “a sense of security” is not necessarily the case for some people. Whereas I feel like a burglar, etc. would have a serious battle if they tried something with us, I know that other spouses feel like it would be every man and woman for themselves.
Unfortunately there are many women who do not feel that their spouses would do whatever it takes to make them feel safe. Some have expressed that their husbands would push them in front of a robber if that person had a weapon. I married a very protective man and I have a tendency to look out for his welfare also.
With this in mind, I am merely posting my opinion of what I might consider to be good reasons for staying married. First, I am including a summary of my list. Then each week my husband and I will follow up with more details describing each of our choices that have been listed. This week will explain Reason #1.
By the way, we are each composing our lists separately. I must admit that I am a little curious about his list. I am sure that we will have much to discuss.
MY TOP 10 REASONS FOR STAYING MARRIED
1-You made a promise, 2-You love each other, 3-The marriage bond offers a unique sense of security, 4-Dating is a lonely pass time, 5- Losing a marriage tends to produce a chain reaction of failure in relationships, 6- Your spouse will know too many of your vulnerabilities and may use them against you if you try to enjoy life with someone else, 7- A marital relationship reduces the likelihood of contracting STDs, 8-You have given too much of yourself to your marriage to simply waste your investment, 9-People are weird and you pretty much know how weird your spouse is, 10-God hates divorce.
REASON # 1-You made a promise.
What is happening to people today who simply have no honor when it comes to keeping a promise? I figure that breaking a promise is the same as lying. This reality occurred to me after I actually began to read the content of some of those dreadfully long and tedious contracts that come with online software downloads. Have you ever actually read the agreement before clicking the box? I actually took the time to read one and barely understood 25% of what it was saying. I was not sure if I could agree or not. But I wanted to use the software, so I clicked AGREE. I made the same mistake with credit cards and other costly commitments.
But when I got married (this time), the commitment was clear and the question was brief. I was sober and believed that I was doing the right thing. I made a promise. Admittedly, there was a time that I was not a woman of my word and was more cavalier about commitment. But I have overcome (am overcoming) that poor character trait and now look forward to keeping my promises.
Why make a promise unless you intend to keep it? I also believe that if you cannot keep a promise made to God in front of witnesses, you probably are not very trustworthy in other areas as well. If you can turn your back on your wedding vows, I believe that you are probably not to be trusted with other relationship commitments such as business relationships or leadership. It certainly was the case with me. It was too easy for me to walk out on situations where people expected my commitment. Fortunately, I am finding that the recently acquired mindset of keeping my promise regarding my marriage is also developing my character in other areas.
DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…
In response to my wife’s challenge to list 10 reasons for staying married, I must admit that I discovered a consensus of writers that seem biased toward divorce rather than marriage. In today’s culture of quick no-fault divorces, it has become increasingly difficult to cling to reasons for enduring the ”better or worse” times that married couples vowed to endure. Johnny Taylor’s song, “It’s Cheaper to Keep Her” has only prompted more caution for prenuptial arrangements. Any Google search will provide mountains of links that support your getting a divorce. However, the volume of links encouraging people to stay married is much less and provide less compelling arguments for staying married.
On the other hand, I have discovered it is not wise to ask a drop-out about whether or not school is a great idea. I have also used similar wisdom to deal with those that are unemployed when they suggest that I should quit my job that I am unhappy with. The point is jobs, school and marriage will have seasons of challenge no matter the employment, education or marital partner. Marriage vows have appropriately framed this covenant protected journey while promising to stay through the best or worse. I have yet to be interviewed for a job that promised the same level of security. Most employers are only interested in employing you for your best and will fire you if your worse frequently shows up. Both dynamics will surface in a marriage.
Divorce is rarely expressed during a wedding ceremony as a plausible exception rule in case your worse shows up too frequently. Conventional vows to marry read something like: “In the presence of God, our family and friends, I offer you my solemn vow to be your faithful partner in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, and in joy as well as in sorrow.” These vows reflect a healthy respect for the higher authority of God, as well as a commitment to
embrace the contrasting conditions that will occur during marriage. There will be sickness, and health. There will be good times and bad. There will be joy and unfortunately sorrow. So how would it sound if people said “I offer you my solemn vow to be faithful with you as long as you make me feel awesome all of the time; as long as you look good; as long as you never say the wrong thing to me; as long as you are making a great income, and never, ever, ever get sick; as long as you remain faithful to me and never criticize me if I mess up.” Somehow that does not read like a great deal to me.
Personally, I cannot imagine facing the challenges of life and death without the companionship and emotional, intellectual, social and sexually gratifying support I have with my wife. Committing toward our marriage where divorce is not an option has given me a partner and cheering section that inspires and sharpens me when the hardest task I am facing is “working on me.” There is no chance of a healthy “us” if I am unhealthy spiritually, emotionally, socially and physically. I owe it to us to work on me and fortunately my wife works at least as hard on her self.
I have found that the process of blending personalities is a life long journey that provides countless blessings as well as challenges throughout the journey. The intimate connection of marriage can amplify the extremes we experience in our quests to pursue personal goals and dreams. On the other hand, those extremes can erupt in to passionate exchanges of arguments or sex as well as priceless support when you encounter the loss of a loved one or find yourself playing the role as a health provider for a severely ill family member.
The point is that we will face these challenges in life regardless if we marry or not. However, the inevitable challenges are far less overwhelming and we become a lot more resilient when we have a partner to embrace us while riding this roller coaster of challenges that life delivers to our door.
Now, before you run to exchange your married life for a single/divorced one, lets explore what other compelling evidence there is for you to consider. I will join my life partner and gift from heaven in profiling reasons for staying married over the next 10 weeks.
MY TOP 10 REASONS FOR STAYING MARRIED
1) Mental Heath-Evidence shows that your mental health is far more stable with less depression while married than singles or people divorced 2) Because the synergy formulated in your marriage in the form of children is priceless and their support system is vital to their development. 3)There is no such thing as a good divorce. 4) Married men and women live longer than their single counter parts. 5) 40-50% of Married people claim their sex lives are satisfying compared to 20-25% of the single and cohabiting counterparts. 6) Professionals that are married are more likely to be promoted, reliable in their attendance and perform at a higher standard than their single counterparts. 7) Married people are far less likely to contract STDs than single or cohabiting counter parts. 8) 77% of unhappy married couples that stayed married claimed a turn around in their marriage saying they are very happy or quite happy. 9) Single Dating is risky, expensive and usually does not provide desirable results. 10) Couples that seek help through counseling, marriage conferences, books, dvds, etc. are more likely to turn their relationship around and sustain satisfying marriages.
REASON # 1-Mental Health.
My first focus is not the best or the most compelling but it may be something that is rarely discussed. Mental Heath! That’s right! Contrary to what Hollywood projects and what so many people declare, statisticians have provided the research that reveals married men and women are less depressed, less anxious, and less psychologically distressed than single, divorced, or widowed adults. According to Maggie Gallagher and researcher/co-author Linda J. Waite of The Case for Marriage (2001), research shows “getting divorced lowers both men’s and women’s mental health, increasing depression and hostility, and lowering one’s self-esteem and sense of personal mastery and purpose in life.”
Dr. Robert Coombs, a biobehavioral scientist at UCLA, conducted a review of more than 130 studies on the relationship between well-being and marital status, concluding that “there is an intimate link between the two.” Married people have significantly lower rates of alcoholism, suicide, psychiatric care, and higher rates of self-reported happiness.
According to Dr. Coombs those in married relationships experienced a lower rate of severe depression than people in any other category.
The annual rate of majordepression per 100 is as follows:
Married (never divorced) 1.5 ; Never married 2.4; Divorced once 4.1; Cohabiting 5.1 house episode …
There is more evidence that supports the improved mental health of those that are married in contrast to their single or cohabiting counterparts. However, for the sake of brevity, I will limit my references.
I look forward to sharing more of my reasons for staying married in the coming weeks.
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 inword.) Imagine an East Indian geek married to a Nubian actress – in a relationship on steroids. This is a bi-polar couple where the North Polehusband 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.
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.
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 friendsand 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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.