Marriage: Broken and Restored

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.

21 Days to Save My Family


8 thoughts on “Marriage: Broken and Restored

  1. Hey Erik,

    I just re read this and I am in a different place now than I was then. I think I have eliminated all of the ‘maybe it’s this or that or the other, that’s causing the issues…..(read mental health/childhood trauma/flaky theology). I think I may have finall hit rock bottom and am looking at abuse…..mental, spititual, emotional, and physical…..this realization came recently from reading a book by Lundy Bancroft called Why Does He Do That, and from starting to get non judgemental support from real people who ‘get it ‘ for me via Al anon although alcohol is not in the picture at all. Anyway, my question is, were you an abuser? Is this why Joel and Cathy come down so hard on the men, because for an abuser, that’s the only way to do it?
    I am very grateful for your postings which started me on the journey of trying to help my hubby become a better man. It has affirmed me and what I intuitively know as a woman, and helped me stand firm and not go off into lala land. It has also enabled me to explore an entirely different way of spirituality, one which cannot be used against me as a weapon to make me submit and be a ‘good Christian wife’.
    Keep up the writing and blogging. It’s truth that sets people free if they receive it and work with it. Blessings.

    1. Yes. I was an abuser. Of the 21 forms of abuse, I was guilty of 16.
      And yes, Joel and Kathy are fully aware of the behaviors that qualify as abuse and don’t play games when they see it. They came down very hard on me. From the first phone call, Joel jumped all over me. The smartest thing I ever did was just shutting my mouth and listening.
      It sucked at first. It hurt for years. It was the hardest thing I ever went through. But, without that coaching I would still be self-destructive and abusive. Before then, I didn’t have a clue what it really meant to be a husband or a Christian. Ephesians 5:25 connects the two in away I never saw before.
      My wife saved me by taking a stand for herself. If she hadn’t stood up to me and filed for divorce, I would have kept going the way I was. My family was saved because of her. I wish more women understood that concept.
      Our wives are our first ministries. My marriage is honestly stronger than anyone else I know, with the possible exception of Joel and Kathy. This works.

  2. What a nice write up.In every relationship we must realize that our first priority is our family and they should always come first in everything we do because they are our reflection.

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