Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dealing with a Flawed and Spiritually Superior Spouse

My last post dealt with religious tensions in marriage, especially when one spouse in an originally LDS marriage decides to fall away from the Church. In response, one anonymous commenter asked what to do when a spouse announces that they are on a higher spiritual plane (Zion Airlines, perhaps?). I'd like to discuss this briefly as a separate topic.

If your spouse ever tells you that you are spiritually inferior or that he or she is somehow on a higher spiritual plane, recognize that this is a red flag pointing to a serious problem. It indicates a huge gap in the marriage that needs to be resolved. Mutual respect and courtesy may be lacking and one or both parties may have a problem that needs attention. The recipient of this unkind statement will naturally feel that it is the self-professed more spiritual one that has the real problem here: arrogance, self-righteousness, unkindness, a tendency to nag and belittle, lack of respect, etc., etc. However, the real path to recovery at this point must begin with the response of Peter and the other Apostles when Christ announced that one of them would be betray him: "Lord, is it I?" (Matthew 26:22). There's a problem here: it it me?

We men instinctively know that the problems in marriage are the fault of the wife. But for some crazy reason, pointing to her flaws doesn't seem to help (I'm speaking hypothetically here, drawing upon the experience of others, since I married a nearly perfect woman). In fact, the more we try to help by pointing out her weaknesses and giving wise husbandly tips for her improvement, the worse marriage gets and the worse her apparent flaws become. When men do the counter-intuitive step of focusing on their own weaknesses (dig deep--surely there's some little flaw you can find?) and strive to become kinder, more loving, more self-sacrificing, and, above all, LESS CRITICAL at the very moment when all our male instincts are saying it's time to step up the critique of that very flawed other being who is obviously causing all the problems, then the most unexpected thing happens: her flaws start to become less severe, more tolerable, and maybe almost invisible, and marriage becomes more joyous and fun, almost as if the problem the whole time was with us and not her. Go figure! It's crazy stuff--we can't change them unless we only try to change ourselves--maybe that's why they say women are from a different planet. Actually, don't try to figure it out.

So if you have a highly flawed spouse who insults you by claiming to be on a higher spiritual plane (and it certainly does sound insulting and, like I said, a huge red flag pointing to a deep divide), the appropriate response is to recognize that there is a serious problem. While the problem may be 100% hers (or his), the course to recovery may well begin with a 100% focus on you.

In cases where the wife says something of this nature to a non-believing husband, it may sound like she's saying she wants him to convert and become some kind of saint, but she might really be saying that she wishes he would drop some offensive behavior or come to church with her occasionally. I would suggest to the husband in that case that he strive to become kinder, less critical, take the garbage out, get his socks off the floor, stop complaining, cook something nice for her, go to church with her occasionally or as much as he can stand, watch General Conference with her, and focus on what he can do and what he can change--and then perhaps he'll see the magic happen and find that all the work he did to change himself has actually changed her. He may find that his terribly flawed, arrogant, self-righteous wife has been transformed into someone closer to the perfect woman than he ever imagined possible.

This is just my seven cents (two cents in 1980 dollars). Again, I speak purely from a theoretical, hypothetical perspective, having only been married to a nearly perfect woman who has never had any need of stating the obvious: that she's on a higher spiritual plane than me. Which is why, I'm afraid, I sometimes still leave my socks on the floor. Be grateful for the opportunity before you!

24 comments:

Zerabp said...

I read the title and expected something completely different. Like you my wife is obviously the superior one and i thought this would be towards helping me deal with the small flaws she has comparatively to the way she deals with my enormously gargantuan ones. Either way though good post I enjoyed it thoroughly and am sure my wife will as well.

Matthew said...

Jeff,
I've been coming here for awhile and I know that I am often rather critical of LDS doctrine and theology in general.

I just really need to express my gratitude towards the types of attitudes that you're speaking of here though. So often in this world people seek to bury their own problems by blaming someone else. Marriage rates are pretty scary and I think it's in large part because of the types of selfish attitudes that people like myself find themselves resorting to.

The concept of looking more at one's own flaws then at the flaws of others is so important that I don't think it can be overstated.

Thank you for the reminder that while I disagree with many LDS doctrines, but things of this nature make so much sense to me and help make families become strong loving units. I'm really thankfull for a mother that epitomizes this sort of behavior and sacrificed so much to make sure that her children and husband felt loved, accepted and cared for.

The world could certainly use much more of this. :)

Anonymous said...

Hold on a second....

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like you saying:

1) If the wife makes this declaration, then it means the husband is, generally, at fault.

and

2) If the husband makes this declaration, then it means the husband is, generally, an ass.

Is this what you're trying to say? If so, I think that's really unfortunate.

Matthew said...

@ anon,
Maybe I missunderstood but it seems more like he's saying people should (in situations like these) spend more time focused on what THEY will change then what the other person needs to change.

If someone wrongs me, I can tell them until I'm blue in the face how wrong they were and how they need to apologize. That sort of mentality though doesn't improve my situation though. Focusing on how others have wronged you just makes you bitter. That was the basic understanding I took anyways.

Perhaps, being a male, Jeff posted from that standpoint. Were he a female it would probably been worded more from that point of view. Moral of story, you can only change your own behavior and how you react to it. Also that we're all flawed and imperfect so getting butt hurt that someone called you on something is not all that productive or honest.

Anonymous said...

Matthew,

I can accept that interpretation, but it just seems to me that we're hearing (again) the old saw that if there is a problem with spouses being "unequally yoked", spiritually speaking, zero in on the one with the Y-chromosome if you need a diagnosis.

Part of my pique is that I, in my long history of lurking in the bloggernacle, have seldom seen female bloggers offer this kind of self-examination within a marital context. In fact, it plays into the stereotype of men as bumbling spiritual clods, at whose feet all intra-marital spiritual disharmony may be placed.

This isn't humility -- its gender-based self-immolation.

Papa D said...

I agree that the first response should be, "Lord, is it I?" - and with what I perceive to be the point of this post, Jeff. However, . . . I just want to add one disclaimer:

If there is abuse going on from the one who claims superiority, the spouse can't solve ANYTHING through self-reflection. Such statements often are used by abusers and manipulators in order to make a partner/spouse continue to feel inferior and continue to accept abuse and manipulation out of a belief that nobody else ever will love them.

Again, I agree in general with the point you are making, Jeff. As in all things, however, there are exceptions - and I think this is an important one to articulate.

Morgan D. said...

On a personal note, my exwife tried this on me when were still married. Despite her myriad and obvious issues and emotionally abusive behavior I humbled myself and changed what I could about my behavior to help save the marriage (in the hopes that her heart would soften and she would repent if I led by example). After I did everything she asked and changed what was within my control her criticisms turned to things that I couldn't control, she excused away the changes I did make, and she filed for divorce anyway. So I think Papa makes a great point. People who ask "is it I" can be taken advantage of by those who like to say "it is you".

Jeff Lindsay: said...

Right - this was written with the assumption of an abuse-free relationship.

Anon, The discussion can apply to either gender. Your question suggests that I am taking a blame-the-man attitude. Actually, my desire is to have people back away from the game of assigning blame and focus on what they can do to lead the marriage to healthy change by changing themselves first.

Anonymous said...

You really slammed the man in that one Jeff. You assumed the guy was a real jerk and at fault. The woman was faultless in your writing. Of course if she is faultless and attending church it must be the husbands fault.

That was mean Jeff.

Anonymous said...

With the non attending man being assigned the fault and lower status in this case how does he ever attend church without feeling all eyes on him, the inactive?

thatgoodpart said...

I think that this post is really good. It is important, first and foremost, to inflect if there is a problem. In a healthy relationship, this will lead to more happiness in the home and satisfaction in marriage.

In my first marriage, I was married to a man who was leading a secret double life. For 6.5 years, I had no idea. He did all of the outward performances. However, I always felt like something was wrong. I couldn't put my finger on it. I never blamed him, I truly looked inward.

Shortly before discovering his many lies and double life, I did feel like we were travelling on completely separate paths. I didn't say that I felt I was above him - I didn't feel that way exactly, but I knew that I couldn't share some of my spiritual intimacies with him. It bothered me.

I could see, after finding out about his truth, that this was a subtle way that the Spirit was trying to teach me that the marriage was not what it seemed.

Anyways - interesting post, and I think that generally, your assessment is correct. It is best to search inward rather than try to blame someone else.

Jeff Lindsay: said...

Anon, whoever you are, I wasn't slamming any individual or gender. I was taking a generic question WITH NO PERSONAL DATA and giving my response from a calm, theoretical setting: What would it mean if my wife told me that? It would mean that there was a problem and that something needed to change. I could blame her and try to get her into counseling or therapy, but I hope in this setting I would be calm enough to realize that the problem might be me. Might be. In fact, in all relationships each person is often part of the problem, and the best thing they can each do, in my opinion - in the absence of hopeless abuse or other problems that demand flight - is to go the extra mile themselves to be better, kinder, more considerate.

If your spouse tells you you've got a problem, it's not a slam to suggest that self-sacrifice and personal change might be part of the solution. Sir, we all need to change and be more considerate to the thoughts and feelings of our spouse.

Jeff Lindsay: said...

With the non attending man being assigned the fault and lower status in this case how does he ever attend church without feeling all eyes on him, the inactive?

Great question. If he feels that his spouse has assigned him a lower status, that's a shame. Clearly there are some reasons why the man is not attending, even when the spouse obviously wants him to, as I can presume in the case you set forth. Whatever ed to inactivity in the first place may be the real issue, not the fear of being viewed as less active in the eyes of others. Going to church is the CURE for being viewed as less active. From what I've seen, people are happy and excited when a less active person comes back, even occasionally. The talk IS NOT: "Oh, look, there's that less active guy. What's he doing here? How dare he come back after all these years?" It's more like, "Hey, look, he's back - how cool."

Inactivity sadly leads to mountains of imagined new barriers and spiritual inertia that can make it hard to come back, and occasionally there are members who say or do something stupid that don't help, but the general attitude is one of rejoicing and acceptance when someone returns. The bigger issue, in my mind, is what the barriers are that led to inactivity in the first place. Some of these may be sensitive and difficult issues that the members might not get, and it's possible that they might step on some sore spots in the process of associating with the newly reactivated person. But the journey back is worth it, in my opinion. But I also feel it's healthy not to have super high expectations and just take one awkward step at a time.

If the questions you've posed are more than hypothetical and actually refer to you--if you're one of the people who feels assigned to a lower status by a spouse - can you share anything about the situation?

Jeff Lindsay: said...

And help me out: where do I say or assume the guy is a jerk? I fact I say that the problem may be completely hers, but I'm giving the very practical tip that even in such cases, the path to healing might best begin by taking action with the one person we are most able to change: us. I use words like "may" to indicate that there are exceptions, and my words are meant to apply to either gender, though written from my male perspective.

If you see that post as "mean", then I've either written very poorly (sure, that's possible) or you've read things into it that are not there. I don't think anything said there can be properly taken as mean. If you are in an abusive relationship where you feel verbally or physically abused by a "spiritually superior" wife, this is a complex matter outside the scope of this post, where I'm assuming there is a basis for a good relationship in the first place. More serious help may be needed if you're in such a situation.

SilverRain said...

Papa D beat me to it. Thank you for helping me not sound like a broken record.

The only addition I'd make is that usually, a spouse who is emotionally abused doesn't realize they are being abused. So if you have feelings of desperation when reading this, a question of "what more can I change?" Chances are you need to get yourself some counseling fast. Or at least read some of the MANY great online resources on emotional abuse.

I agree wholeheartedly with the OP that at the very least, such a statement indicates something very wrong.

Matthew said...

Going by some of the comments here I feel like I'm reading a different post then they did.

While from an outside perspective it may be obvious that person A is in the wrong, if you are person B it still is in your best interest to try and make positive changes. Positive changes are never bad. If you've pondered over your actions and been honest and still arrive at the conclusion that you are doing your best then keep doing that. If you find areas where you could improve then improve them.

The important part is that if you want a healthy marriage your primary concern is going to have to be on making YOURSELF a better person and putting all your effort into making things work. You can't force the other person to change and focusing on what they are doing wrong doesn't help the situation. If you ARE doing everything you can and it doesn't work then that's out of your control and nothing to be kicking yourself over.

I don't think Jeff was suggesting that everything is the man's fault but just that if you are the man in this situation then you need to focus on what things you need to/could change. If you're the woman in the situation the likewise. It's not a gender accusation but a key to happiness and positive progress in one's life.

Jeff Lindsay: said...

Matthew, thank you for your kind words and also for helping to clarify things for others.

Your comments in other areas have been fair and valuable, in spite our disagreeing with things. I appreciate your civil tone and meaningful dialog, and forgive me if I respond too curtly or harshly at times.

Matthew said...

You're welcome Jeff. :) I've never taken your responses in the wrong way. If anything it's my own tone that, at times, comes off as a bit brash.

This post reminds me so much of serving my mission.

I had a companion that had horrible hygiene and was rude to me and pretty much everyone. For the first 2 months (I was stuck with him for 4!) I was focused on how horrible he was and what he was doing wrong. I became more and more bitter about it and it was probably the most difficult 2 months of my life. Finally I got to this point where I was complaining to everyone about him and my district leader said, "Look, Elder Perry, don't take this the wrong way but what can YOU do to make things better?" I was annoyed and irritated at this question at first but I decided "well maybe he's right. Maybe I can try changing."

Over the next weeks I tried to be more patient and loving and the crazy part is after awhile I noticed I actually found myself getting to enjoy life, we were more successful and began to get along decently.

TL;DR version, swallowing a little pride can go along way in pretty much all our dealings with other human beings. :)

Bookslinger said...

Matthew: A few people, usually posting anonymously, have been visiting this blog for years and they almost always twist and mischaracterize what Jeff writes in order to put their own negative spin on it.

Whether it's taking it out of context, nit-picking, or actually making a false accusation, they always turn it into something negative. It's like anti-Mormonism or anti-Lindsayism is their hobby.

A majority of them are actually former or lapsed LDS.

It would be acceptable if they merely wanted to respectfully present opposing viewpoints, but that's not the limit of what they do. It's the twisting, misrepresenting, and actual lieing about what is written in the original posts, that illustrates their underlying motives.

Jeff is much more tolerant of their games than I would be.

Jeff Lindsay: said...

Matthew, your experience with the horrible companion sounds pretty painful - but it's interesting how the challenges of dealing with problem companions on missions can bless our lives. There are things we all need to learn about bending, being patient, and cooperating even when we don't want to that mission service teaches us. There are many lessons that can help make young men and women much better prepared for taking on a permanent companionship later.

Jeff Lindsay: said...

Bookslinger, you flatter me. I don't matter that much to the antis to e the subject of "Anti-Lindsayism." I think I just a lot of random people who are having bad days--perhaps because they noticed that Congress is going to rip them off and raise their taxes no matter what they say. Or perhaps because they noticed that their health care coverage is going to cost more and do less in spite of all the promises they got. or perhaps because they noticed that global warming isn't happening the way they were told and it's going to still be bitterly cold in Wisconsin this winter. So many reasons for people to be grouchy--it's OK if they vent here and take it out on me. Hey, it's just text. :)

Bookslinger said...

Give yourself some credit Jeff. I once snooped their anti-Lindsay forums, and caught them talking about you, and planning their smear campaigns, and bragging about how they (allegedly) scored some kind of debate points against you.

Of course, _they_ think (incorrectly, of course) that _they_ are the guardians of truth and right, and must protect the so-called feeble-minded who stumble across your blog from the tenets of Mormonism as presented in the Lindsay point of view.

Of course, in the big picture, it's an honor to be mocked by the anti's, and an indication that you're on the right track. (For so they treated the prophets.)

Matthew said...

@bookslinger,
Do you have a link to these anti sites? It sounds fascinating. :P I have to admit I'm a bit skeptical.

Joe said...

Bookslinger's shots at the anti's are rather amusing.
I would be considered an "anti" by any LDS standards, but I consider myself "pro-truth".
I have nothing against any individual in the LDS. It's the contradictory doctrine and the fantastic tales that get my knickers in a knot, such as the preaching of polytheism (King Follet discourse) and all of the BoM's errant details of North America, it's flora, fauna and inhabitants, and the ever changing spin on LDS doctrine require to make it more palatable to the masses.
So many LDS play the "poor me" card instead of offering any type of reasonable evidence toward the alleged truth of the BoM, other than "feelings" or inspiration from one of any number of available gods in the LDS universe.
Most LDS I have met are very decent people, completely illogical but very decent.