23 December 2011

Unequally yoked marriage | A hopeful note

This is a post among an unknown number of posts to come about "unequally yoked" marriage. Googling for "unequally yoked" produces an absurd amount of hits. I've found most to be about what to do before marriage. I'd like to write a bit about what it's like from within marriage.

Here's a link to the index for this series

My last post was a pretty sad story. Things were really tough for me. In talking to several people as well as my parents, I think things have eased up a bit. Part of it has to do with my personality. I tend to ignore or literally remain unaware of messes for sometime and then go into full-out-attack mode and clean like a madman until I'm satisfied. Perhaps that's what's happened over the past two years. On and off, I've had glimpses that something isn't right. But I've not really dug in to figure out what it is. Thus, I continue to have recurring bouts of acute negativity toward my situation.

Well, I thought I'd write whilst singing a different tune. I had a bit of a change in mindset driving home from work the other day, and I thought I'd share about it. Before explaining the change, there's some background. I expressed my hesitancy and feelings of emptiness about my social group and marriage to my wife last week. Perhaps not a great move, but it was being honest. That led, as expected, to quite a bit of marital strife and hurt feelings. Perhaps I overreacted. On my behalf, all I can say is that the last two weeks have been extremely difficult. I've had a massive feeling of being drowned in things like:
-- Thinking no one really respects me because I believe differently
-- Extreme intolerance of attitudes that seek to exert belief-based outcomes on others without having justification for said beliefs
-- Feeling like I would experience relief if I just ran away and started over in terms of a new social group
-- Feeling very, very, very alone, not understood or related to, isolated, etc.

That was an ugly situation. I still have those issues and will be seeing a counselor of some sort (either our previous couple's counselor or Marlene Winell) to attempt some resolution. I realize that my instinct is to run away. It feels like if I just left all of my past behind, I'd also leave behind the pain of separation/differences as well. This doesn't take into account future pains, though, such as loneliness, time delay in rebuilding friendships, and frustrations in trial and error in new-best-friend-finding. Anyway, my point is to paint the picture that I felt like I was in a burning building and thus wanted to run, but there wasn't necessarily a lot of thought about which way to head.

The other day, however, I had a shift in perspective. Rather than just focusing on the problem (burning building -> run), perhaps this could be a problem to solve. I love studying and analyzing things. I tried to get this across in my multi-level marketing analysis series. I used google scholar to track down 45 published scientific papers about marital success/failure predictors and factors. Rather than remain hopeless, I can be informed about the factors affecting satisfaction. Specifically, perhaps common interests and/or religion will turn out to be dominated by some other variable(s). If I know those variables, I have some knobs to tweak.

You may be reading this and thinking, "Yeah, right. This is ridiculous!" Maybe so. But for now, using my innate drive to fix problems and research is a good thing. It keeps me able to envision a future self that can share the results of this research to help others, especially if I've helped myself, not to mention an increase in relationship satisfaction if I succeed. I bought a John Gottman book at Half Price books that day as well. I also plan to finish a book recommended by our couples therapist as part of my research. Anyway, it's hard to exactly convey my change in state, but just know that it's far different from where it was, and in a good way. I'm up to the task of trying to invest time and effort into the practical applications of research on romantic relationships.

To testify to a bit of positive fruit that resulted from this change in mindset, I present you with Exhibit A, my Christmas present for my wife that I just gave her as a sign of my investment in our relationship:

We were on a budget this year, so this gift was one that had extremely high value, but not in the monetary sense, exactly. I was inspired to give my wife a bunch of things I probably should have been giving her all along. There were something like 40 coupons in total that she can use in 2012. They were things I knew she's really appreciate, but more importantly, I wanted to convey that I'd be around to redeem them. There was quite a bit of shakiness in our marriage recently; this was my way of trying to recommit and display my investment in making this relationship a success:
-- A fun night out x 6
-- A sweet back rub x 4
-- A rockin' foot rub x 4
-- Breakfast in bed x 4
-- Breakfast/coffee out with a friend x 6
-- A Saturday sleep in x 12
-- A weekend at the Santry Mansion or The Cottage (two local bed and breakfasts)
-- Beginner Lindy swing dancing lessons via Twin City Rebels Swing Dance Club

That's a lot of coupons :) I also tried to summarize my thought in a card. Here's an excerpt:


These gifts are my way of recommitting to you. You shouldn't need to be recommitted to; there shouldn't have been an "uncommitting" in the first place. Thus, I'm trying to do something I hope will help.

I had a change of mindset yesterday. While my study in one area has brought about significant issues, perhaps my gift for study could instead be advantageous. My disposition shifted yesterday on the way home from simply seeing a problem to seeing a problem to solve.

I plan to wrap up a couple of my current books and then turn my gaze toward relationships. I spent quite a bit of time hunting for scientific literature on relationships. I have 45 published articles on factors affecting relationships satisfaction. Perhaps if I knew the variables involved, I could improve myself and our relationship.

I think I panicked about us. Two years of on and off awareness of something no being right caught up to me. My instinct was to run -- perhaps "starting over" or just leaving the situation would help, I thought. But perhaps that's not necessary. I just don't want to hurt and to be happy. If that can come about by changing me and/or some variable in our lives, problem solved.

This gift is my way of showing you that I'm still here and still with you. I plan to work very hard on trying to understand my/our hurt and issues to try to make us work. I'm sorry that my issues hurt you so badly.

You shouldn't need coupons for most of this stuff -- a good husband would already having been giving them to you. Nevertheless, maybe I need a bit more push than the average good husband. this is my way of pushing myself for you. Here's to you -- my loving, tender, caring, fantastic wife.

Merry X-mas,

Long journey ahead. Nevertheless, I thought I'd post again with these updates. This is hard stuff. I continue to share as I think more people might benefit from reading the raw data on how this can go, the ups along with the downs. There's a horrid amount of ugly stuff when googling for "unequally yoked marriage." Most of it is hopeless and depressing. I, too, as evidenced by the last post, have my depressed and doubtful moments. But there's also changes in heart that can come about. I'm off next week from work, so I hope to finish my couple of [a]theistic books and get cracking on relationship information.

At the end of the day, I just don't want to be miserable. I want to thrive and be happy. It's helpful to just keep those in mind without any qualifiers. The temptation is to look at my situation, realize that there's some potential sources of unhappiness in it, and just think, "causation." That's not necessarily the case. I don't know why, exactly, I'm unhappy... just that I'm unhappy. If the issues lie in myself, there's nothing to be fixed or upset about with respect to my circumstances! If there are some independent factors coming from the situation itself, I'll have to look at those down the road. To combat my inclination to just run, I need to keep hopeful and optimistic, hence my act of pre-committing myself with coupons. I also am going to apply my desire for knowledge and self-improvement to this, just like I have with god, power tool purchases, and multi-level marketing schemes. I'll stay in touch.


... Zoe ~ said...

Hey Hendy, you made me well up with tears. :-) You sound optimistic. I'd love to know how your wife responded to this . . . though I understand that might be too personal. ;-)

DoOrDoNot said...

I, like Zoe, would love to know how this was received. I am encouraged for you. You're an example to me. We all need recommitting to our relationships from time to time. It's a life long endeavor and we lose steam periodically. I'm glad you found a John Gottman book! I always refer to his work when I do couples counseling. If you want marriage research, he's the go-to man!

Hendy said...

@Zoe/DoOrDoNot: Her reaction was most favorable. Obviously there's what we refer to as "residual damage." I expressed some serious issues and hopelessness I feel about the relationship's future. That's going to be hard to stomach for anyone. I'm not surprised there was quite a bit of fear, hurt, panic, and confusion going around.

This was definitely a step in the right direction. I'm learning more about myself as well. I get excited when the prospect of learning and self-improvement also has the potential to help other people. Obviously, my wife is another person, and improving myself and our relationship helps her. But there's another aspect of trying to write and share openly for others in a similar situation that really inspires and fuels me -- learning about relationship research in order to remove confusion in the minds of others. As in, I was surprised to find out that common interests was not a significant predictor of marital satisfaction. Thus, if I'm using my map of the territory to analyze the situation, I may form the following:

P1) Lack of common [religious] interests causes pain
P2) Lack of common [religious] interests is not likely to change
C) Therefore, it is not likely for my pain to go away

But... learning more shows me that my map is wrong! P1 is false according to studies.

Anyway, kind of silly example, but I get quite excited about learning new things and hoping that some passer-by comes across things like this and perhaps is able to adjust his/her map of the territory as well. If I don't even understand what the true issues are, then running away from them is like buying a new kitchen sink to remedy the broken pipe in your basement. I'll be doing a post soon about the upcoming shift in direction.

As always thanks for the comments and support. It's wonderful to have you two stopping by :)

D'Ma said...

Thanks for posting these, Hendy. I find myself sometimes thinking it would be easier just to run away and start all over again somewhere else. I actually have the opportunity to do that, but I'm not sure running away answers anything at all. Where ever I go there I'll be. Glad to know I'm not the only one who feels that way though.

Love the coupon idea and am glad it was well received. I applaud you and your wife for continuing to work on your relationship. Sometimes we place so much importance on a certain thing only to find out it wasn't really as essential as we once thought.

I look forward to reading more.

Hendy said...

| Where ever I go there I'll be.

Yeah, that. The problem is that I think my panic and desire to run was due to thinking that the problem wasn't with me, but with those around me and my situation. Hopefully with some therapy and reading I can understand more how I contribute, especially how my validation seeking and perfectionism causes me to feel so uncomfortable in social situations with believers, or that I'm always judged. Those feelings are no good and probably anyone would want relief from them after two years!

So... yes, I'm trying to open my mind to the probability that it is me who's causing the problems; thus you're absolutely right: I won't be able to lose my shadow, regardless of where I run.

Thanks for stopping by.

... Zoe ~ said...

You are showing great insight in my opinion Hendy.

I'd like to throw a word of caution in, coming from a post-perfectionist. I took the blame for everything and it wasn't fair to myself.

Relationships are partnerships. A little personal information about a close relative of mine. She left her pastor husband. In doing so, despite the abuse she suffered, she took total blame and believed it was all her fault. For years I sat and listened with compassion as she beat herself up over and over again. One day I waited for a pause in the conversation . . . when I was sure she would listen and I said, "You won't heal until you see that a marriage takes two people, not one. Until you at least see that he's responsible for even 50% of your marriage problems, you'll never move forward. You've got to see that he was part of this too. Until then, nothing will change." I had to repeat it one more time and I was being generous trying to get her to see that he was responsible at least half-way (I tend to see marriage as not 50/50 but 95/95 [leaving room for being human]). She sat there quietly and I waited. Then she looked at me, the light came on and she said, "You're right." And then she started on her journey to some sort of wellness and acceptance that marriage isn't just about one person. (There's more to this but I wanted to get to the point.) When she saw that he was part of the picture she could stop bearing the total burden for all the problems. A healthy way to proceed.

All that to say, be careful taking "full" blame and attributing all problems to you.

Hendy said...

@Zoe: Thanks for the comments. We both have our "contributions," for sure. I guess I was illustrating that I was actually on the complete other side. I looked at the problems as being wholly "outside" myself -- sterile things about reality: differences in common interest, lack of connecting about intellectual endeavors, our disagreement about belief, etc. In other words, not even blaming anyone, just more thinking that if this picture of reality was accurate and these differences were not going to change... perhaps, objectively, happiness would continue to be elusive.

My stance now is that perhaps those things about our state are not even the most important contributors to relationship happiness! Hence, I'd like to consider that I actually do have something to do about our future vs. feeling like a victim of an un-changeable state.

In any case, yes... it would be undesirable to swing completely to the opposite extreme and think I had everything to do with everything negative, and that is a tendency in my personality. Thanks for the note!

Great comment about two persons. A good friend of mine used to say that what makes marriage a miracle is two whole persons becoming whole (1+1=1); otherwise, it's just math (0.5+0.5=1) :)

Dan said...

I just discovered your blog last night (linked from Ken Daniels) and have found it very encouraging to hear you spell out a lot of things I have felt/feel. My wife and I met in Bible college and upon graduating became very involved at church. I was a deacon for a while and we were youth leaders and taught Sunday school. After continuing to study theology and textual criticism my faith began to slip until I finally came to the conclusion that my own religion was just as man-made as all of the other religions. It was a tough time to come out as a nonbeliever because church was life to us.My wife remains a believer today and I am an atheist. I have found that the less we discuss religion, the happier our relationship. This is difficult though with our three sons (7, 3, 1) involved in church. I don't regularly attend church with them and my oldest son recognizes that I am not a believer and has put it together that I am gong to hell. Recently he surmised that I had been lead astray by the devil. It really pains me as a father to know that my son fears for my soul and the
anxiety that carries. I anticipate that as the kids get older and are more indoctrinated this will become more difficult. ... I say all of this, not to get you down, but to let you know you aren't alone. Keep on persevering.

Hendy said...

@Dan: thanks for the support and note. I also have found that things go better when we don't discuss religion :) I had some questions for you based on your comments:

-- How old were your children when you deconverted?

-- Have you decided to keep "letting them" be raised religious, did it just sort of happen, or were they just already indoctrinated to the point where they would think such things about you?

My kids are 1 and 3. I'm quasi-opposing them being "raised" in anything. They pick it up as they stay home with my wife and are surrounded primarily by religious folks, but when I'm asked, I am pretty straight forward with my 3 yr. old that I don't pray because I don't think anyone is listening, that I don't go to church because I don't believe certain things are real like mommy, etc.

I feel for you in that from your comment it seems that you've been pushed aside and expected to just go along with the original plan. Is that accurate? I think I would have a very hard time in that situation. Thanks for the support and comments.

Dan said...

My oldest was 5 when I deconverted ... he has already been 'born again' ... although I hardly see how that could be an honest proclamation at his age, really he just believes what he was told in Sunday school and is afraid of hell.
From our initial discussions when I left the faith we agreed to raise the kids in the church. Now that it has been a few years I am not sure how that will work out. The kids go to church with my wife, but it really pains me to see them being taught fairy tales as truth. I would like them to discover truth for themselves, as this has a much greater impact than if they are just parroting what their parents say. My new tactic will be to let them continue attending church, but guide them towards a healthy skepticism about what they hear there, as well as what they hear in school so they can discern for themselves when they are older.

My main goal is to give them the framework to think for themselves

Hendy said...

@Dan: That sounds quite difficult. My deconversion happened much earlier -- my oldest was only 1, and we had just found out that #2 was on the way. I'm trying to figure out how to approach things... I have some other posts where I discussed how I see the options. If my wife and I can't compromise somehow, I'm not sure what I'll do. I think "fighting" for their minds will be more detrimental than just giving in and letting her do what she wants. Then again, I don't think I could allow myself to be written off as though I have no justification for opposing indoctrination.

I agree with you re. providing them some skepticism, awareness that belief is not homogeneous in the least, and the ability to think for themselves. I wish you the best in your navigating. Not easy stuff.

DMa said...

Do you mind if I ask if you ever did any counseling with Dr. Marlene Winell? How did you make contact with her? Was it through her email or telephone number?

Hendy said...

@DMa: No, not with Marlene. I did restart up with the same counselor we used for couple's counseling, though he won't see spouses individually (which makes some sense to me), so I now see him and my wife has started seeing someone else individually.

I contacted her (I think) through the email form HERE, though there's a direct gmail address at the bottom of the page if you'd rather do that.

Good luck!

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