Part of my descent into that dark and angry place that ended with divorce papers, was my unrealistic expectations. I logically assumed that by doing good things for people, good things would come to me.
The fact is, doing good things for others is a spectacular way to live. Sowing and reaping. Karma. Generosity. Random acts of kindness. Whatever term you apply to it, it’s one of the keys to a happy life.
The problem is in only doing good things for an expected result.
Personally, I invested thousands of hours over two decades into people who repeatedly failed me. People who made promises and didn’t come through. People who led me to believe things. People who had no idea, just accepting the blessing of my help. Some people I probably just used to get some result.
I expected them to return as much effort as I gave and nobody came close.
Then, I began applying the same logic at home. I figured that my wife should pull her own weight. She should return as much as I give. I believed every act of goodness should be rewarded and acknowledged.
It’s a pretty solid sign of your emotional maturity when you think like this. I was essentially a 250 pound toddler, pouting and throwing tantrums when I didn’t get my way. Obviously, I couldn’t see that at the time. I just knew that my life wasn’t going the way I wanted and felt like it was everyone else’s fault.
The first result was disappointment.
Disappointment is easily managed if you are marginally reasonable and mature. Like buying a lottery ticket that doesn’t win. It’s unrealistic to expect a return on every investment. Some things just don’t work out. We move on.
The next result seemed to be resentment.
That’s a little harder to manage. There’s bitterness attached. It’s disappointment with a little anger mixed in. That one showed up when I began considering the results of my efforts compared to the folks I was helping.
I lived in a little trailer in the woods while they lived in a palace. We struggled to keep old cars running while they drove new ones. They had nice clothes while we shopped at thrift shops. Their family went on vacations while mine could barely afford groceries.
The lack of sleep from working long hours and volunteering almost as many, began to wear me down. Logic and love both seemed to slip away.
The resentment turned to anger.
I began to hate myself and my life. I felt trapped. Like someone had talked me into digging my own grave and I had done it.
My wife could have managed just fine through all of this. Our living conditions and amount of “stuff” wasn’t a problem for her. What got to her was the thought of spending the rest of her life with a husband who couldn’t even smile at her. The resentment and anger had changed me into someone she couldn’t be with.
And it all started with someone who couldn’t manage disappointments or priorities.
The revelation that got me through the worst years and hardest marriage counseling was about expectations. I learned that I could love her without the need for a response. I could love her no matter how she acted or what she said. It was irrelevant. I was learning to love her no matter what.
That seemed to spill over into other areas.
I didn’t have to volunteer and waste time on things that didn’t make my own family stronger. I could walk away from things that caused unnecessary stress. I could just work my job for the check without feeling like I had to find some deeper meaning there.
I didn’t have to be everyone’s hero. Being the hero to the family in my own house became my priority. Everyone else could wait or move on. All that Christian love and kindness began to affect my own home. I couldn’t justify offering goodness to anyone that I wasn’t first giving to my wife and kids.
I didn’t need her response. I didn’t have unrealistic expectations. I was managing my own stress by managing my own priorities. I found my purpose and meaning in being a father and husband.
My wife has fallen back in love with me. We are doing great. She responds to the good things and feels safe enough to talk about the bad. It took a while, but it was so worth it.
If you are willing to try something different, I spelled out the process in a book. Click the title below to get it.