This is Dr. Wall’s second blog on the recent Al and Tipper Gore announcement of the end of their marriage after 40 years. Here he explores two more ways long-term marriages can meet their demise: Resentment and Stubbornness. For the first in the series click here.
Judge not, that ye be not judged.
In our last blog we used the occasion of Al and Tipper Gore’s announcement about their separation after a 40 year marriage to look at three things people invest in that can lead to the end of a long term marriage. Those three things were being too committed to our careers, children or outside interests. Keep in mind, also, that I wasn’t writing what I thought it was that led to the Gore’s marriage failing. I have no idea and I’m not going to add to the guesses. I was just using their announcement as a segue into theorizing what could possibly lead long-term marriages to end short of death.
Marital researchers have been pointing out for years now that the number one thing that predicts divorce is how a couple handles conflict, such as criticism, negative interpretation and invalidation. These behaviors can be quantified and analyzed and the numbers can be crunched and the results are pretty startling.
Couples that end up divorced frequently do these things during their marriages. But I’ve thought for a long time myself, that maybe conflict patterns predict divorce, but the number one thing that CAUSES divorce is resentment. I haven’t figured out a way to quantify resentment so it can be researched, but my guess is that it’s behind the measurable negative interaction effects. If you find stonewalling and criticism, you will find resentment behind the scenes, pulling the strings on the puppets and directing the play. Resentment will also will be funding the production and running the concession stand.
Take our last blog, for example. The person who invests all his time on his or her children, grandchildren, careers or interests ISN’T THE PERSON WHO FILES FOR DIVORCE. The person that enjoys these things usually is just coasting along enjoying these passions. The one who files for divorce is the neglected spouse, who has failed to see his or her partner’s dedication to whatever as an endearing trait and is instead harboring resentments about it.
Resentment is no respecter of persons. It can ruin your marriage at any time. But in long-term marriage it is particularly grueling, because the roots of resentment grow deeper with time, infiltrating every area of a person’s life. This insidious poison and particular sin of choice gets meaner and darker and more self-absorbed and rotten over time. Resentment is essentially the right to be hurt about something NOW that happened in the PAST, and the event, the hurtful situation, is over, but the hurtee tells herself that this hurt needs to be nurtured and watered and hoed and weeded and sprayed and fertilized, so that it can continue to grow and take over a her soul and the hurtee can feel justified in developing her own little inclination that never changes either. But, of course, the hurtees, the resentful, never are able to see their own resentment as anything but righteous! Of course not! They are justified for nurturing those wounds, right? Keep ripping that band-aid off. Don’t let it heal…..EVER. You have a right to be angry a right to be angry a right to be angry a right to be angry….
That’s one way to do it. The other way to do it is to take those unseemly attributes of your spouse in a negative way and to be personally offended by them and to see them as character defects and that you don’t deserve to be married to someone with character defects, because you are god after all, and you, as god, don’t take no crap, and so you create your own little hell for everyone in your path, because no one on earth, now, at this current time, doesn’t have faults and shortcomings and less than stellar habits and so there is no place in the world for you to live without you being offended.
So, if you are offended by your spouse’s shortcomings or even one-time individual lapses in judgment or your spouse purposefully hurting you that one time or more than one time, you will have plenty of reasons to be resentful your entire life and then you wake up one day, and, if you could get outside of yourself, you’ll see that your head is the shape of a threaded bolt, all twisted with wrinkles and deformities from your habitual scowling and if we could find a nut big enough we could screw it on your head. We all know people like that. Taking everything personal is a complete waste of time. I have news for you: No one in the universe cares about you, thinks enough about you, to hurt you as much as you are hurting. Even the Devil is probably too busy with Charlie Sheen right now to concentrate on you.
You aren’t going to find a spouse who doesn’t have idiosyncrasies that would not drive you or the rest of us crazy. There’s a better way to go.
The opposite of resentment over bad habits or character shortcomings is acceptance. Acceptance is finding a way to be entertained by your spouse’s less than stellar proclivities.
I know my wife has had to do that with me. If any of you women out there were my wife you’d be freakin’ out with all my faults. You’d be standing at the end of the hallway yelling frickin’ this and frickin’ that and pointing your finger at me and rolling your eyes and jerking your head around while scoffing away to emphasize and compartmentalize and actualize my unseemliness, so that I would “get it” and finally not have these glaring shortcomings anymore.
But they would still be there. It would all be futile effort.
My wife doesn’t do that. She teases me about them. Some of them she ignores. Or doesn’t even notice. Sometimes she just laughs. Some she may even find endearing. Really. She’s accepted me with all my faults. I don’t deserve that at all. This is one of the mysterious ways that marriage becomes a crucible of the holy. It’s hard to be accepted and forgiven for whom you are, when you know you don’t deserve it. You come away a little weak in the knees.
It’s also more motivating to overcome our infirmities when our spouse is cheering us on instead of pounding their fists in disgust.
But some people haven’t figured that out and instead of nurturing their relationship, they nurture their wounds. But not to heal. They keep ripping the scab off, making sure the wounds are good and fresh. Of course, with all the exposure to the elements, infection isn’t far behind.
Here’s a sad irony: Divorce your spouse; keep your resentments. You think you can divorce your resentments, too? Good luck. And what will divorce have taught you? You ain’t gonna take no crap, remember? And now, in your second or third marriage, all of a sudden you are going to drum up a forgiving spirit? Your next spouse is going to have problems, too, right? You’ve taught yourself to be offended and hurt. In your second marriage you’ll take even LESS crap and in your third, even less than that.
You can see that resentment isn’t far from stubbornness. They must be kindred spirits. I’ve heard people tell me with a certain superiority that they are the type of people that, if hurt, just cut people off. They’ve point blank told me that’s what led to their filing for divorce. I suppose if you are going to be stubborn about harboring resentments, stubborn about not letting things go, stubborn about not forgiving, stubborn about making sure your wounds keep on hurting, you wouldn’t be happily married for very long. You could be married a long time, just not happily!
Here’s a pretty funny way to live your whole life. You could be on E! or Biography or if nothing else a YouTube video or cut a HD DVD and everyone else would be thoroughly entertained. You and your spouse could be those stubborn types. You could say with sarcastic grins on your faces, you are both just stubborn. Wear it like a badge of pride. Of course, then you are going to fight a lot. Which grows old, people! Really old. Being really stubborn and fighting a lot. What fun. Very entertaining, though. How about a sitcom?
Funny on TV, but NOT your life. If you tell me that you are both very stubborn people, what you are really telling me is that you are both 14 years old and you are never going to grow up, because adults know they don’t know everything and 14 years olds don’t. Fourteen year olds think they know everything. But then they get knocked around a bit and have some problems and they seek advice and they seek some knowledge and wisdom and then they become 20, 25 and pretty soon they are 30 and by then they’ve learned a thing or two and they aren’t 14 any more and maybe by now they are married and have some kids and their spouses have opinions and they go, Oh, I hadn’t really thought of that, and they work things out.
That’s how it’s supposed to work. You aren’t supposed to be stubborn your whole life, because if you were you would be a fool. You are only supposed to be stubborn long enough to realize you are a fool and you need some input in your life or you are going to go down for the count. This is why marriage works. You compare notes with your spouse, who knows she doesn’t know everything either, and you pool your wisdom and you learn from your mistakes and the frustrations and obstacles and downright nasty stuff life flings at you, which become challenges for BOTH of you to rise up, so you can learn and grow and change and blossom and bloom and bring forth a harvest of perseverance and character and dignity and mutual respect and you learn to trust each other’s judgment, because you’ve seen her wisdom at work, and she’s seen your wisdom at work, and, wouldn’t you know it, over time, YOUR RELATIONSHIP JUST KEEPS GETTING BETTER OVER TIME.
Now the curious thing about resentment and stubbornness is they are both so devious that if you are so inclined to listen to their voices you more than likely are not aware, because they both tell you you are right. And if you are right then you don’t have anything to work on. That’d be your spouse’s responsibility!! The own-ness is off of you. What a relief to know that your marriage’s failure isn’t your fault! Whew! You won’t even need therapy! And for sure avoid church because you don’t want no preacher filling your head with thoughts of repentance and humility and forgiveness and all that Sunday School pabulum. Nursing wounds and pointing fingers is much more fun.
Sometimes these two are handmaidens of marital death. One partner stubbornly clings to a bad habit of choice, like overdrinking, say, and the other resentfully scoffs her partner. The cool thing about these handmaidens is if you divorce and someone asks you why you divorced you can easily point the finger: All he did was drink; she was a crazy woman. And no one will be the wiser!
Check out Dr. Wall’s first blog in this series on long-term marriages that fail:
Dr. Wall uses the latest announcement from Al and Tipper Gore, that they are divorcing after 40 years of marriage, to look at what we might learn.
Check out these other blogs by Dr. Wall on similar topics:
Dr. Wall lets his mind wander on the particularly depressing theme of the propensity of wives to complain and husbands to be defensive. He should probably keep his thoughts to himself.
Dr. Wall explains the two major principles behind the themes in his blogs and therapy practice. He suggests they are not just limited to his blogs, that they are played out in our lives every day. Maybe it’d be good to know what these principles are?
Dr. Wall explains that his philosophy of marital therapy can be reduced to the simple principle of a fork in the road. At any given moment, you can choose to go down the wide road or the narrow path.