What follows is part of a message I sent to a friend who asked me how he could enjoy life when so much of his life was tied to a spouse with whom he could not get along. The issue between them is Mormonism. She believes. He does not. They as a result do not communicate as they used to, and do not enjoy doing many things together. Hence, his comment regarding something I said on another thread here regarding the way in which post Mormonism has enabled me to enjoy each moment in ways not possible before, was that his relationship to his spouse radically limited his ability to do what I had described.
What follows supplements a Case Study Regarding Spousal Cognitive Dissonance atÂ http://mccue.cc/bob/medium.htm.
I like the wisdom that says we should decide what we value, decide what we can influence through our actions, decide whether we are willing to act in light of the probable consequences of our actions, then do what we are prepared to do, and finally and most importantly, fully accept and get happy with what we cannot influence. A great deal of our unhappiness relates to our recognition of things we cannot influence, and our unwillingness to accept them.
I note that the process just decribed seems to me to vary depending upon the breadth of the perspective we employ. For example, today I can either work out early in the morning, get some extra sleep or type this post. If I choose the sleep or this post, I should not brate myself for not working out. Sleep would provide the benefit of some extra rest that makes me feel better instead of the benefits of a workout that in a different way would make me feel better. I won’t discuss the merits of this post. But once I have made a choice, I should embrace the results or make a different choice. There is not point beating myself up for what I have chosen, or cannot change.
The decision as to whether to leave a relationship as important as that with our spouse, fraught with issues related to children etc., is worth a much greater investment of time and effort than most other decisions. So, I might decide what is important to me, and what I can do to increase the probability that I can achieve it (including leaving my marriage if necessary) and then say to myself, “This is one of those really important decisions that has wide ranging financial and relationship ramifications, so I am going to measure four times before cutting. I will use the next (x months, years, whatever) to maximize the probability that I have made a wise decision as to what is important to me, by gathering as many points of view as I can in that regard, and then I will use (x months, years, whatever) to try to bring what I value into my life as it currently stands. If it appears that I cannot achieve what I consider to be the minimally acceptable situation in that regard, I will leave my marriage.”
Once I have choosen the process just described, and embarked upon it, I have chosen a particular type of sunset, and can enjoy it to the max. I can revel in the learning process that occurs while I collect perspectives. After I have decided what is important to me, it is highly probable that I will have to plough through, and drag my spouse through, heavy emotional seas as we see whether there is enough overlap in our lives to make them worth living together. I can allow those heavy seas to simply wash over me. I need not fight my way through that process. I will be seasoned by it, and will explore part of the human terrain that most travellers either do not explore, or are so numb while they do so that they do not see much. This is a sunset of a different type. I have made a choice and I can fully accept and embrace the consequence of that choice. And when I decide either to leave my marriage and face many painful and joyful consequences in that regard, or to stay in what will assuredly be a less than perfect situation, I should embrace what I have chosen. It is another sunset.
So, I would say that your difficult spousal situation (which is not that different from what mine was) is a sunset. We cannot choose many of our sunsets in the short term. We can choose more of them in the longer term, but even then our choice is limited. But we can always choose whether to embrace, or fight with, what the combination of our choices and random circumstance has served up. That approach to life, it seems to me, is the factor that correlates most strongly with a long term satisfaction. While I don’t agree with all he says, Victor Frankl addresses this topic eloquently in “Man’s Search for Meaning”.
As I have said before, one of the Church’s greatest evils in my view is the manner in which it furthers its institutional agenda and as a consequence encourages innocent young people to build their lives together on false foundations. This is what puts people like you, me and our spouses in situation you have described. However, it seems that humans of various stripes have forever dealt with similar things. Some of the greatest art with which I am familiar comes from this font. And more to the point, we can either use this experience to plumb our human depths, or fight it, regret it, etc. Once we are sufficiently self aware and for those of us who have the tools to do this, it seems clear to me which route is likely to be more satisfying.
The process as I describe it above also makes it clear to me why so many Mormons simply refuse to look or think about Mormon history and the social and personal conseuquences of Mormon belief. They choose to embrace their current relationships. For many personality types, this could not be done with a full intellectual awareness of what Mormonism does, means, comes from, etc. So, they shut down the process of learning about those things. This allows them to embrace what they have chosen to the greatest extent possible. I do not believe I was capable of doing that, but am not overly critical of those who are steered by their unconscious mechanisms in that direction. The only people in that situation I challenge are those within my own home, because of the degree of love and concern I feel for them, and because of the way in which they affect my life and the lives of other family members for whom I feel similar love and concern.
All the best,