Love

Mental and Spiritual Health Conference Challenge

Mental and Spiritual Health Conference Challenge

Twice a year we have the wonderful privilege of hearing from our leaders to receive spiritual guidance and counsel. Each year the messages of these amazing men and women seems to have a greater impact on my life. Maybe you're like me and sometimes feel they prepared their message specifically for you. Conference is a spiritual feast that nourishes your soul when so many other responsibilities and life tax your soul.

However, if you are like me and many others, conference can also be anxiety provoking and overwhelming. There are times a leader’s message doesn't seem to align with scriptural or spiritual guidance received in the course of seeking answers to prayers. Other times, the feelings of anxiety become overwhelming as you have spent the last weeks, months and even years doing all you can to be met with a message of "do more." Sometimes a speaker doesn't seem to understand the complexities of life with their overly simplified solutions, which then elicits the guilty, self-reflective, self-punishing idea that maybe you don't have enough faith.

Elder Holland warned about this risk;

"My brothers and sisters, except for Jesus, there have been no flawless performances on this earthly journey we are pursuing, so while in mortality let’s strive for steady improvement without obsessing over what behavioral scientists call “toxic perfectionism.” We should avoid that latter excessive expectation of ourselves and of others and, I might add, of those who are called to serve in the Church—which for Latter-day Saints means everyone, for we are all called to serve somewhere." Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually

Although I think most don't believe our leaders are infallible, this is this cultural assumption—that ALL things spoken in conference are "right", "true", "doctrine", or "scripture" and are meant as an infallible guide for your personal life. Unfortunately, this cultural belief feeds the toxic perfectionism spoken of by Elder Holland. Therefore, this conference I encourage you to get the most out of every message by taking the mental and spiritual health conference challenge. Here it is:

1. Verbally remind yourself that God is working though imperfect people with their own perceptions, bias, family culture and predispositions.

2. Verbally remind yourself that not everything—in fact most things—spoken in conference are NOT doctrine, but rather personal experiences of imperfect people making sense of an infinite and eternal gospel.

3. Verbally remind yourself to conscientiously check in with your Father in Heaven if the message is meant for you and is something you should prioritize in your life.

4. Verbally acknowledge that even leaders say things that are confusing, unclear and even wrong. Trust your ongoing relationship with God and allow clarity to come from HIM.

5. Verbally acknowledge if you come away from conference with the idea that you need to do more, be better, work harder, read more scriptures, sacrifice more. Most likely it’s the influence of toxic perfectionism and not the spirit of Christ.

6. Verbally promise yourself that you will not assume a speaker’s words are more important or correct than your personal relationship and revelation from God.

7. Verbally acknowledge that emotions are NOT the same as spiritual confirmation or revelation.

8. Verbally remind yourself to be present, feeling and thinking about your own experience during conference.

The gospel is joyous. We should be rejoicing and feeling God’s love and learning how to emulate that love. His love is healing, not hurtful or depressing.

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Because I Loved Her, I Left Her

Anonymous Question Series:

The following two questions are so similar that I chose to include them both in this response. I will be speaking in terms of divorce, but these concepts are equally applicable to "break ups" prior to marriage and within engagements.

Q: When do you suggest that a problematic/troubled partnership separate? Or stay together?

Q: How do you successfully break up with someone that you see no potential with?

A: The quick answer, with love.

_______________________________________________

See also:

Marital Myth of Communication

Book: Real Love

Subdivisions in the Celestial Kingdom

Thank You Doesn't Quite Do It

Book: Exploring Mormon Thought: The Problems With Theism And the Love of God

 (vol. 2) by Blake T. Ostler

Additional Resources

Facebook Group "Improving Intimacy in Mormon Marriages"  

Blog, "Mormon Marriages"

_______________________________________________

I left my wife because I loved her. 

The following is true and personal. I hesitate sharing this 1) because the experience isn't mine alone and 2) it's a sacred and vulnerable experience. Sharing this experience opens the door for much judgement and misperception. Additionally, in sharing something so personal, there is an acknowledged risk of bias in my recounting of these experiences, and I fear I may misrepresent others’ perspectives. As such, I am openly acknowledging the following as my perspective alone. Despite these risks, I felt the clear impression to share these things. There are so many lonely and hurting souls who don't have a loving example of healthy break ups, that I would feel selfish not to share. Divorce and break ups are never easy, but they are also a taboo topic and few know how to navigate them, and fewer with a healthy perspective. With that, I hope my experience guides those who are currently struggling, hurt and alone to a more loving and healthy path. 

For the first time in my 13 years of married life, I lay next to my wife with a peace and clarity I'd never felt before — at least not to this degree.

There had never been a time when I didn't love my wife, although life presented challenges and pain I never thought possible. Those challenges and the associated pain often proved my character, while at other times it revealed — with heart-wrenching clarity — my weaknesses. Nonetheless, my love, devotion, loyalty and hope never wavered in our marriage. In fact, they deepened with each new challenge and blessing. But with each new challenge and blessing, I felt our relationship becoming more distant and lonely. 

How is it that marriage could be so painful and lonely? Our stake president once told us, "I don't understand. I see two smart and worthy people who are fighting for a good marriage." I too didn't understand, but what I felt was pain and loneliness during this time. No matter how much faith, prayer, fasting, temple attendance, service, scripture reading or selflessness was given, the relationship seemed to get worse. It didn't make any sense. 

Knowing that, there I was lying in bed next to my love, my wife of 13 years and the mother of our two children. I was feeling a peace and clarity I had not previously felt in our relationship. These feelings didn't come because we made a "breakthrough" in our marriage and felt connected and joyful, but because it was then I knew it was time to leave. As we held each other close, tearfully discussing the path forward, it was ironically the easiest discussion I felt we had had in our married life. 

In order to not inappropriately discuss too sacred of personal experiences, I will share the doctrinal concept that God answers all prayers, James 1:5. The decision to end the marriage was made in serious fasting and prayer. It was entirely a spiritual decision; in no way was it a flippant decision, but one involving God in the process.  There was no infidelity, "sin" or behavior that is otherwise viewed as "sufficient" to leave a marriage. I emphasize this fact only to clearly communicate that this was completely a decision I made with my Father in Heaven. Although unhealthy behaviors existed within our marriage, the decision was made between the Lord and I, not me running away from the behaviors.

To this point, and in response to the questions asked above, there are quite a few toxic myths and traditions in our culture that cause us to distance ourselves from God.

  1. The assumption that divorce is not really an option

  2. The idea that divorce is only a consideration if abuse and infidelity occur

  3. The feeling that divorce is equivalent to a failed marriage or relationship

  4. The fear that divorce is perceived as an easy way out or a form of giving up

These myths are devices used by the adversary to prevent heavenly communication with your Father in Heaven. These myths make the assumption that God will not tell you to leave your spouse, that divorce is only acceptable if a spouse becomes so dangerous that their behavior has essentially ended the relationship already or has put you and the family at risk. Where is the joy and agency in these perspectives?

Myth One — Divorce is not an option

Divorce is absolutely an option.

There is a notion that if someone believes divorce is an option, it's somehow synonymous with rejecting the marriage covenants and will prevent couples from "fighting" for their marriage. If this were true, I assure you there would be bigger issues within the individual and relationship than their ability to "choose" marriage first. If these unhealthy issues are present, a mantra, a belief, or a moral standard that divorce is not an option will only foster resentment, feelings of isolation and in some cases a feeling of being a prisoner. It's very common for individuals who believe divorce is not an option to privately hope that illness or a crisis like a car accident will take their spouse from them. Some may even privately hope the same would happen to themselves just to be free from the relationship. Depending on how toxic the relationship becomes, some spouses will add to the toxic behavior by setting their spouse up for failure. They do this by withdrawing, denying sex and intimacy, becoming passive aggressive and/or constantly finding fault with their spouse. Ironically, due to the natural human need to feel connection, the one spouse who views choosing to leave as worse than participating in a relationship may end up seeing the other spouse seeking companionship elsewhere. By participating in the toxic behavior, the spouse actually exacerbated the issue at hand, which leads to myth two (divorce is only an option in cases of abuse or infidelity).

For example, a young wife came into my office expressing suicidal thoughts, feelings of depression and anxiety, and her absence of joy in living the gospel. She was doing her best, doing everything she could to have the Spirit and love of God in her life. She felt that her depression was a function of her biology and considered getting medicated. Before we explored that option, we explored her relationship with her spouse. There was significant conflict and emotional distress. Her husband was a good man who also struggled with his own weaknesses. These were two good people who were "fighting" for their marriage. In a sincere desire to support and encourage her in her marriage, priesthood leaders would frequently say things like, “Divorce isn't an option,” “Don't consider it,” “Work hard,” and "Don't give up on him.”

In her mind this was logical, but also created a feeling of despair and resentment that was like quick sand. She wanted to do the "right thing" and therefore pushed aside her feelings as her just being "selfish" and "unrighteous."

She shared her "resolve" to not give up, using incongruent optimism (the words were optimistic but her affect was depressive).  I then asked her why she wouldn’t divorce him. She looked at me with a little confusion, but also with some curiosity and asked, "Why would you say that?" She quickly added, "Aren't you suppose to encourage me to stay married?"

I replied, “No, my professional responsibility is to improve individual health and happiness. If that leads to a stronger, happier marriage, that is wonderful, but if it leads you to move on from an unhealthy relationship, that is also wonderful. Either way, you get the choice to stay or go. That is not my choice. It's yours with God.”

She broke down in tears and asked, "I get a choice?!"

“Yes,” I said. “Isn't that the agency you were blessed with? The power of owning your authenticity and identity?”

"I've always been told I made a covenant and can't ever back out of that choice. It made me feel trapped and lonely, like my spouse can say, do and act in any way he wants because he knows I can't leave," she tearfully explained.

Again, I calmly but confidently reassured her, "You get a choice. That choice is between you and God."

Something interesting happened. She came back the next session excited and hopeful. Her whole countenance changed, she expressed feeling joy for the first time in years. But get this, she said she decided to stay in the marriage.

What changed? She made a real choice with God. She felt empowered and was able to own her decision because it WAS her decision. Some may say she always had a choice. Maybe so, but when you are told over and over that it's not an option, you stop making it an option. When you stop making it an option, you don't really choose. When you don't choose, you secretly and sometimes openly wish for death to take you or your spouse away, to free you from that decision.

The doctrinal mistake people are making here is to not use their agency, to not counsel with their Heavenly Father and decide with Him — together — what is best. It has nothing to do with "breaking a covenant"; it's the fact that they are not choosing for themselves the next step, not recognizing that they even have the right to choose. Not embracing our agency is the greater sin. The entire Plan of Salvation was provided for us to have agency. Father's plan was for us to have the chance to choose "wrong," ergo the Atonement was also provided. Not using our agency and the Atonement is a rejection of His plan. Too many are so afraid to "make the wrong choice" that they make no choice at all. This places them in darkness where the Atonement feels distant and hope dissipates. No wonder those who give up their agency experience depression and anxiety.

It is no surprise that clients who learn to embrace their agency often find they have the ability to choose to joyfully remain in their marriages, where otherwise they would have either left or stayed out of fear.  But again, it's not about me convincing them to stay or leave. If they choose to leave, that is their choice, not mine. When individuals feel compelled, forced or are convinced there is no other option, they experience increasing resentment.

Myth Two — Divorce only if abuse exists

If abuse is present, you waited too long.

Meaning, you deserve better and this has gone on far too long already.

"Satan uses your abuse to undermine your self-confidence, destroy trust in authority, create fear, and generate feelings of despair. Abuse can damage your ability to form healthy human relationships. You must have faith that all of these negative consequences can be resolved; otherwise, they will keep you from full recovery. While these outcomes have powerful influence in your life, they do not define the real you.

Satan will strive to alienate you from your Father in Heaven with the thought that if He loved you He would have prevented the tragedy ...

To find relief from the consequences of abuse, it is helpful to understand their source. Satan is the author of all of the destructive outcomes of abuse. He has extraordinary capacity to lead an individual into blind alleys where the solution to extremely challenging problems cannot be found. His strategy is to separate the suffering soul from the healing attainable from a compassionate Heavenly Father and a loving Redeemer.

If you have been abused, Satan will strive to convince you that there is no solution." —Richard G. Scott, To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse

Abuse is a dangerous place to get to in a relationship. If experienced, it distorts our perceptions of our Father's love for us, our perception of human relationships, and even our ability to use the Atonement within our own lives. Abuse should never be tolerated in ANY degree within relationships. Abuse can be verbal, emotional, spiritual and physical. I have heard people say, if my spouse ever did ... to me, I would leave. Why would the Lord design a plan or commandment that would require severe abuse to be the only reason for divorce? Why do we wait until a relationship becomes so toxic and dangerous, to only then begin to consider divorce? If you have children, what are you teaching them? If you don't have children, what message are you communicating to yourself about what is acceptable in a relationship? 

For many years, I convinced myself that I must "long suffer" in my marriage and "endure to the end." There was hope that my spouse would "change," only to realize that my tolerating of the toxic behavior and me staying in it was merely enabling the unhealthy behavior and giving permission for it to continue. I was essentially teaching my children that "love" was to be abused and to accept abuse. When in fact, to honor the eternal marriage covenant is, in part, to teach our children how to love and be loved in God's way. Generations of youth have been taught that abusive relationships are acceptable and are a normal part of marriage, that unhealthy and unhappy parents are to remain in abusive or unloving relationships for "the sake of the kids."

"Men [and women] are, that they might have joy" is a concept I believe we fail to understand, embrace and teach to our children.

Myth Three — Divorce is equivalent to a failed marriage

Another form of denying agency is to view a marriage as "failed." This is a ridiculous notion and is toxic at its core.

To say a marriage has failed suggests that both people in the relationship can control each other, that one spouse's behavior is a reflection of the other's "righteousness" or "unrighteousness." This can be said in a different way: "Through my righteousness, I can 'control' my spouse's behavior. If their behavior doesn't change as a result of my prayers, fasting, obedience and sacrifice, then I must not have been faithful or righteous enough to save the marriage. Therefore, I have failed the marriage."

Sounds silly and a bit arrogant when written out, doesn't it? Now, think about how many actually view marriage that way, and then notice how that line of thinking — I argue — is similar to emotional and spiritual abuse.

It also suggests that someone failed or both individuals failed in the marriage. This is dangerous thinking and it does no good to entertain it. This line of thought isolates individuals and children of divorced parents. When my own divorce became public, those who knew me for many years made an assumption that I did something horribly wrong to cause the marriage to end. I'm not entirely clear why they came to that conclusion, other than they were influenced by a societal stereotype that women leave abusive men or that divorces are a result of men being unfaithful. With the exception of a couple people, I was fortunate not to experience this form of judgement publicly. What was more difficult was the absence of help during the difficult and lonely time of separation. As a single father working full time, I didn't get the support that is traditionally given to women in that same situation: meals, babysitting or emotional support. Fortunately, I did have amazing home teachers at the time who were as supportive as they could be in their visits.

The view that divorce is a failed marriage affects the children in negative ways too. Each of my three step-daughters experienced this first hand.

In my current marriage and family, we consider each child our own full son and daughter and refer to them as such. But, for clarity's sake in the following examples, I refer to my daughters as step-daughters.

A friend of my youngest step-daughter found out that she was a child of divorced parents and promptly assumed she needed comforting. In his attempt to sympathize with her he said, "I am sorry you come from a broken home." She was a startled when she heard this comment from her friend. She was deeply confused by it and replied passionately, "My home isn't broken!" Never had she been happier and felt more loved than after her parents separated. Before the divorce, her parents' marriage relationship didn't allow her parents to connect with her or with her sisters. After the divorce, the result was a uniting of the relationships between parent and child, and therefore an increase of joy. The divorce allowed my step-daughter to develop a more loving and connected relationship with her mother. Because of this, she was seriously surprised anyone would make such an observation (brash assumption that divorce could only be so negative and not be fulfilling a need within the family as a whole).

My middle step-daughter, while in a seminary class, was taught that her parents did "not keep their temple covenants" because they got a divorce. That mindset implies it's a serious sin to God to get divorced. This interaction during class both deeply troubled her and angered her because she began believing one of or both of her parents were "wicked" and did something horrible to end the marriage. Fortunately, she was mature and loving about her response and said, "I have a problem with that." She asked her teacher for further clarification. To the teacher's credit, he did his best to explain what he believed but ultimately left her troubled and unclear on the topic.

My oldest step-daughter also experienced the judgement of others assuming that divorce could only be a negative thing, but in a more abusive way. When her boyfriend was experiencing jealousy, he told her he didn't want her to have friends outside of their relationship. He accused her of being unable to commit to him because she came "from a broken family," insinuating that she didn't know how to be in a relationship with him due to her parents being divorced. He used similar language later when she recognized their relationship was not working and needed to end it.

These specific incidents occurred because individuals boldly judged a situation incorrectly. Unfortunately, the social stigma is prevalent within society and even within our faith. Children often see themselves as the cause or reason for their parents divorce and that they have become a "statistic" of a broken home, more likely to repeat their parents' behavior in their own relationships.

I wonder if this has lead to individuals delaying marriage? What if the need to separate can be viewed as a healthy alternative to a living in a toxic relationship? What if we taught ourselves and our children that a successful marriage is one in which you haven't lost yourself nor lost your relationship with God? Thriving in your relationship with God might mean leaving a toxic marriage you have no control over.

Myth Four — Divorce is an easy way out

Anyone who says divorce is "an easy way out" is profoundly ignorant and dismissive.

Individuals who tend to say divorce is an easy way out, fall into a pattern of the first two myths.

  1. They fear to use their own agency or "give up" on their spouse

  2. They view divorced couples as weak and unloving

After all, we promised to "endure all things" with our spouses, but that does not include abuse. 

One divorcee observed,

"People who make this claim about divorce have clearly never been through it or they would never say such a thing. I don't know a woman [or man] out there who has been through a divorce and didn't fight with everything she had to save her marriage. I guarantee you, leaving or being left was the scariest and bravest thing she had to go through.

Those on the outside may see this decision as being rash and quick because they didn't share the same four walls in which the couple changed, fought, and tried. It's not a "get out of jail free" card. You do not pass go, do not collect $200, nor do you ride off into the sunset. It affects you deeply and for the rest of your life.

The pain you feel during this time is like no other. So nobody gets to sit on the sidelines and say you took the easy way out.

Every time you look at your kids or see another family holding hands crossing the street as you sit alone in your car, you are constantly reminded of how hard you fought and how much you gave and how it still wasn't enough." —Katie Smith, I Really Wish People Would Stop Saying Divorce Is the Easy Way Out.

Here’s another:

"When I first started telling people about the divorce, a lot of responses I got were the "choosing love" idea. But it takes two people for a relationship to work. It takes trust, communication, openness, and honesty — things my ex and I had lost or never had.

Divorce is an incredibly personal, difficult decision. And what it comes down to is that no one, but the people in it, knows the dynamics of the relationship. When we first made the decision, I had my week of crying, of freaking out, of feeling lost. But then I gathered myself up and started working towards making the best life I can for myself and my kid. Many people took my pragmatic, positive attitude as either not caring or the divorce being solely my decision. I know there are a lot of people out there who are disappointed in me, but if I've learned anything from becoming a mother, and now going through a divorce, it's that I can't control how other people act or what they say. I can control how I react and how those things make me feel.

I'm learning that it's okay for me to do what I know is best for my family, despite what others think." —Rachael, On divorce and the "you just didn't try hard enough" myth

There was NOTHING easy about my divorce. Even with the knowledge I had from God to proceed with the divorce, and feeling his hand in my life through the process, the intensity of this refiner's fire was more than I had ever experienced. It tried me, it tested me, it strengthened me, and it crushed me. There were times I felt the Spirit stronger than I had ever felt before, but there were also times I felt a despair I'd never thought possible. There were times I felt more love for my ex-wife than I had ever felt for her.

I chose divorce out of love. I did not hate my ex-wife, nor did I think she was wicked or sinful or dangerous. I chose divorce because when looking at all the options, this was the most loving thing I could choose.

Too many turn their spouses into monsters to make it palatable to leave, to justify their "giving up." I don't take divorce lightly, but when we view divorce as an absolute no, we remove choice and foster resentment, we wander in darkness and wish for other acceptable ways out. Own your choices. Know your limits. Trust your relationship with your God. Recognize that sometimes the most loving thing to do is to leave. 

Additional Resources

Facebook Group "Improving Intimacy in Mormon Marriages"  

Blog, "Mormon Marriages"

Happiest Marriages

Anonymous Question Series:

Q: What kind of marriage partnerships have you seen are the the happiest? Give some examples of how they work through times of disagreement or misunderstanding.

See also:

How to Train Your Spouse

Marital Myth of Communication

Book: "Real Love"

After I complete my book on sexuality in the Latter-day Saint faith, I will complete the writing of my "marriage" book in which I address this and other questions more thoroughly. Much like our Latter-day Saint cultural approach to sexuality, our couples approach needs a revamping. 

A:

The quick answer: Couples who know how to adore versus accept. These couples learn how to be okay with the "messy" of each other. Those who value and encourage individuality and those who see each other as truly equal, regardless of perceived differences or shortcomings.

Marriage books don't work. Marriage communication skills don't work. No amount of techniques, skills or dating will improve a relationship if the fundamental understanding of love (Atonement) and agency is flawed. The problem is most don't recognize their understanding of love is flawed.

The concept that most of us have a flawed understanding of love is a complex one. However, it's rooted in how we view our relationship with God/Christ and our spouse. For example, you most likely have seen a diagram similar to the following:

Preparing for an Eternal Marriage Teacher Manual, (2003), 51–53 "True Love" 

You'll find a similar diagram in almost every lesson in the church-provided manuals regarding marriage. Its focus seems to be heavily on what marriage is NOT: "infatuation, selfish desire, transitory, domineering, and lust." Although those are important to know, those same lessons tend not to provide good examples of what love IS — that is, other than providing the marriage triangle and sharing some stories about "cleaving" to your spouse. 

Despite teaching the marriage triangle in its traditional context, what I've noticed is couples' emotional understanding of the triangle is actually as depicted below:

Logically, the couple knows that they are two separate people with their own agency. They know each person in the relationship is an individual, but they cannot reconcile the paradox of being "one" in the marriage. Emotionally, they believe "cleaving" means oneness in everything. In some marriages, individuals may even believe oneness is supporting and sustaining the "priesthood" in all things — no matter what. This idea creates a dangerous and toxic environment of dominance and unrighteous dominion, which leads to eliminating individuality in the marriage. This is a deeper concept few seriously weigh out and will need to be explored in depth at another time. But as a result, this is why many wait so long to address their pain, depression, anxiety and the eventual resentment in their marriage.

The concise answer to the question, "What kind of marriage partnerships have you seen are the the happiest?" is those who can truly value each other as equals in their individuality. Those who put aside every survey, research article and pop psychology piece that defines the "perfect couples." Those who understand whether their differences or similarities improve the relationship or how to "compromise," and use good communication. These are all required in a happy marriage, but these ALL pale in significance to one's own ability to adore their partner in ALL their strengths and perceived weaknesses. 

You should never compromise who you are.

That is putting your spouse before your relationship with God. Compromise is a ridiculous pop psychology/business approach that results in resentment and prevents couples from seeing any other option than sucky choice A and sucky choice B. Compromise puts couples at odds with each other; it assumes one is right and the other is wrong. It creates a "balance sheet" type marriage, void of revelation. It's the epitome of what the marriage triangle is not. It also assumes our spouse has perceived weaknesses that we should avoid and makes them inferior to us.

"As a way of honoring my marriage, I try to make sure I don’t ever compromise about anything I really care about. “Compromising” means doing something other than what I know is best, not saying or doing what I really think I should say or do — not, in essence, being who I am. How could doing that be helpful to either my wife or me? About anything before us — any subject we’re discussing, I mean — I’m either right, or I’m wrong. If I’m right, or at least really think I’m right, then it’s my job to (politely, carefully, kindly—which is everything) say why I think I’m right; it’s important that I not compromise my convictions about that matter. It’s then my wife’s job to listen and carefully consider what I’ve said. If, having done that, she concludes that in some relevant way the position I’ve taken is wrong or mistaken, it’s her job to (politely, carefully, kindly) tell me why she thinks that. Then it’s my job to truly listen to her (as opposed to, say, pouting and walking out of the room)."—John Shore, A Great Marriage is About NOT Compromising

Let's consider, for example, an individual who is skilled at budgeting and compare him/her to their spouse who has never taken budgeting seriously. Who is better? Who should take the lead? Does this perceived weakness or difference become a source of contention? Compromise would suggest that one of the two must be less skilled while the other is more skilled and the better one is to take over the budgeting completely and view the other as incapable. Compromise fosters resentment. Compromise is a version of acceptance in a relationship, and acceptance is a form of judgement.

Where judgement exists, love and the atonement cannot flourish.

Do not compromise, rather adore. Adore and value your spouse’s differences. See them truly as an equal. When you can learn to fully adore/love your spouse in their differences, you provide a safe and vulnerable love that is only known through the atonement. This type of love can be experienced in the proper marriage triangle. 

Unfortunately, because this concept is unfamiliar to many, some assume that this type of "love" is a justification for abuse to exist in a relationship. Some see that adoring a spouse is equivalent to being blind to harmful behaviors, but it is quite the opposite. When we allow compromise into our relationship, we lose who we are (relationship with self) and our connection with the Lord. In the absence of those two relationships, feelings of insecurity and anxiety develop, causing individuals to feel trapped. They feel they can never "give up" on their spouse or that they just can't abandon the family and leave them like this. This is dangerous thinking. When we don't compromise, we improve our relationship and confidence in our Father above. We allow Him to clearly communicate to us how to proceed in a relationship or to end it.

Here’s an example or something I see frequently. This example is of a wife discovering a husband's porn usage. There is no abuse or adultery in their marriage; the behavior is limited to the husband viewing porn. This couple has a loving relationship and is doing well until one finds out that the other is engaged in pornography.

There are usually two types of responses in these types of situations.

One response is a wife who no longer sees her spouse as an equal, but sees his behavior as a betrayal of adulteress level. She disengages and dictates to him how he is to behave, usually withdrawing sex and other intimate connections during this time. These are those wives who often become anti-porn advocates and use their spouse’s struggles as a soapbox for the dangers of porn. They express they have been traumatized by their spouse’s behavior and have to recover from this betrayal.

In no way am I minimizing or mocking wives (or husbands) who have truly been traumatized. Neither am I condoning pornography. What is important to see in this example is how we view the perceived weakness of our spouse.

A second response is a wife who, rightfully so, is overwhelmed and hurt that he could not divulge his struggles. She decides to continue to view him as an equal in the atonement and joins him emotionally where he is at, without compromising who she is.

Imagine the Savior kneeling down to bring himself eye level with the woman caught in adultery. His thoughts and words are of safety, peace and comfort. He adores her. As the Christ, he does request that she not sin anymore, but that is not our role as the spouse. Those who can join, love and adore in their spouse’s struggles will find profound fulfillment and comfort — even in these difficult issues. Wives (or husbands) who can embrace their spouse in these types of moments are the happiest. However, with the previous example, the couple usually spirals downward and resentment increases.

The natural question is, isn't the wife "compromising" her standards by adoring her spouse? NO. Think back to the example of Christ comforting the woman found in adultry. The Pharisees are more like the first wife, holding to an expectation that was anything but adoring. Meanwhile, Christ did not compromise his standards by adoring and joining the woman, but merely loved her. It is unloving to cast stones and punish our spouse. If the situation becomes abusive, or to a degree that is toxic, the wife's confidence in the Lord will guide her to the best choices. This may mean leaving the relationship before it becomes toxic and dangerous.

This example is a sensitive and difficult issue because of the intimate nature of the struggle. The first woman's response is usually how husbands and wives show "love" to each other. A husband who is skilled at budgeting now becoming annoyed at the wife. So he begins managing every penny and taking her to every Dave Ramsey course available to improve her. He continues by controlling her through apps that notify him of every penny spent and "holding her accountable" for her behavior. You see, this behavior seems acceptable in cases of pornography but outrageous for the case of finances. The truth is that they are the same in level of destructive consequences.

The most successful marriages are those that honor and thrive in individuality, agency and love (Atonement). Without the ability to truly adore your spouse, without losing yourself, no amount of "I statements," communication skills, or improved sex will ever heal and improve the relationship. When adoration exists, communication skills enhance an already loving relationship.

Keep a look out for my book that will include more on this topic and others:

Chapters in forthcoming book:

  1. Not Another Marriage Book

  2. Avoidance and Courage

  3. Embracing our Fears

  4. The Importance of You – Order of Importance

  5. Assuming the Best

  6. The Divorce Equation

  7. It’s Never About Communication

  8. 30 Minutes

  9. Don’t and Be

  10. The Most Important Thing

  11. Daily Adore

  12. Trust Partners Needs

  13. Foster Independence and Individuality

  14. Be Messy, Not Hurtful

  15. No Divorce Equation

  16. No More Parenting Books

  17. Sex is communicating not a reward or punishment

Marital Myth Of Communication

Marital Myth of Communication: It’s never about communication.

My hope in this piece is to address a mistaken idea that if an individual (or both) in a relationship will improve their “communication skills” they will save and improve their marriage. It's my belief that this idea has become popular among both therapists and couples because it's easier to focus on words instead of emotional health and core values systems — it’s more tangible. Unfortunately, improving one’s skills in communication doesn't foster connection, trust or empathy. At best, they just become really good at not saying the "wrong" thing or triggering their spouse. It's a form of spousal emotional management. At worst, with these improved communication skills couples become more skilled at hurting and dismissing each other. The hurt and dismissing can be both intentional and unintentional.

What enables this myth is a false-positive that the newfound skills are working. In the beginning phase, couples have reported that they have improved in their communication significantly and are doing "better." However, the false-positive appears to directly correspond with how precisely the one spouse complies with the the other. For example, the spouse who enforces (the "Enforcer") or strongly recommends a solution (usually the Enforcer’s solution is in the the form of a popular method or book they are reading) reports success based on their view of how well the other spouse (the "Mitigator") is complying with the rules of engagement established in that method or book they recommended. The Mitigator, although not completely sold on the method, but out of either a desire to prove their love or mitigate the Enforcer’s disappointment, they comply.

The couple then begins to engage in an interaction of what I call "book speak." One engages in "book speak" when one adopts the specific language and jargon of a book and repeats it with conviction, often claiming disproportionate results and incorporating these claims and jargon it into every conversation. But like the Crossfitveganpaleo, or popular MLM friend (or family member), their passion always seems to outweigh practicality, actual results and sincerity. Unfortunately for some, this passion is blinding, and when the placebo effect wears off, or when others don't report the same level of success, their solution is MORE of what's not working.

Sometimes that’s learning about “love languages,” grammar/word choice, "Emotional Intelligence," what "color" you are, the ridiculously oversold Myers-Briggs personality test (MBTI) designed by a non-scientist (Carl Jung, I am sure is turning in his grave), or any one of the many other methods out there. Although, there is value in understanding and discovering our own differences in communication and personalities, it is a distraction from the real issue(s).

Conversely, while the Enforcer measures success in precision, the Mitigator measures success based on the decrease in reactivity of the Enforcer (and usually increased sexual encounters). Are you seeing how this is spousal emotional management, not improvement?

But after the novelty wears off, the Enforcer often expresses they “feel” just as distant, if not more distant than before. Even though the Mitigator uses the “right” words and phrases are said, he/she still feels empty. The Enforcer (and sometimes the Mitigator) see their partner as “not really meaning” what they say. They are just saying what they learned. If they really loved them, it would be more natural and they would “feel” the difference. The Mitigator will often continue to "book speak" and engage in this new skill because the Enforcer's reactivity is still decreased. But the moment the Enforcers behavior returns, the Mitigator will also return to old habits, to, well, you know, mitigate their spouses reactivity, pain, hurt or disappointment.

Sometimes the Enforcer will acknowledge how well the Mitigator is doing in adapting to the improved communication skills, but only to reconcile the cognitive dissonance between the improved skills and continued emotional disconnect. The Enforcer will escalate the expectation of the skill and express disappointment because the Mitigator didn’t say the right things, correctly, at precisely the right time, or quick enough. Some Enforcers will become what I call, "serial communicators," rotating through every communication style and method. During this, the Mitigator becomes lost in which method to apply when and is seen by the Enforcer as not "caring enough" to make it a priority.

Before you think these are individuals who failed to understand the concept or are exceptions of these various communication skills, I should tell you that these are impressive individuals and well educated: doctors, lawyers, CEOs, engineers, professors, mothers, fathers and even other therapists. Interestingly, whether it was the engineer with multiple Ph.D.s or the high school dropout, these individuals and couples were all experiencing the same thing. These are well educated individuals with a firm grasp on language and communication. It wasn’t a matter of not doing it correctly or consistently or understanding the concepts and applying it in precisely the right moment. Something else was happening.

What I believe is happening at its core is an individual's loss of identity. What seems to be consistent in relationships that struggle with communication — and specifically see communication as the problem — is the individual’s ability to clearly identify with themselves. They have either lost themselves in their career, in parenting, in life or in how they believe God sees them — to the point that they no longer (or never have) known themselves. The fear of not knowing oneself is not only scary, but claustrophobic and reactive. It prevents one from giving and receiving real love. This fear clouds their ability to look past words and experience real connection.

This lack of confidence and insecurity, places an unpredictable burden on loved ones to manage expectations and feelings of the individual’s uncertainty — which is impossible, since they don't know how to manage their own expectations and feelings.  Assuming the best about their spouse is frightfully difficult when they can't assume the best of themselves. As a result, they begin to show signs of projection and assume that their spouse meant to hurt them because they would have if the roles were reversed.

From the pragmatic to the emotional, I have heard each say “words have meaning.” They do have meaning, but until we master that skill, we would do well to first assume the best in our spouses.

In the October 2003 Ensign, Elder Holland urges us to do exactly this:

“The second segment of this scriptural sermon on love in Moroni 7:45 [Moro. 7:45] says that true charity—real love—'is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity.' Think of how many arguments could be avoided, how many hurt feelings could be spared, and, in a worst-case scenario, how many breakups and divorces could be avoided if we were not so easily provoked, if we thought no evil of one another, and if we not only did not rejoice in iniquity but didn’t rejoice even in little mistakes.Think the best of each other, especially of those you say you love. Assume the good and doubt the bad.” ―Elder Jeffery R. Holland, How Do I Love Thee?

Interestingly, just a few years earlier, at a 2000 BYU address, he gave the same talk but used slightly different wording, which I believe emphasis this point:

"The second segment of this scriptural sermon on love in Moroni 7:45 says that true charity—real love—'is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity.' Think of how many arguments could be avoided, how many hurt feelings could be spared, how many cold shoulders and silent treatments could be ended, and, in a worst-case scenario, how many breakups and divorces could be avoided if we were not so easily provoked, if we thought no evil of one another, and if we not only did not rejoice in iniquity but didn’t rejoice even in little mistakes.

Temper tantrums are not cute even in children; they are despicable in adults, especially adults who are supposed to love each other. We are too easily provoked; we are too inclined to think that our partner meant to hurt us—meant to do us evil, so to speak; and in defensive or jealous response we too often rejoice when we see them make a mistake and find them in a fault. Let’s show some discipline on this one. Act a little more maturely. Bite your tongue if you have to. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Proverbs 16:32). At least one difference between a tolerable marriage and a great one may be that willingness in the latter to allow some things to pass without comment, without response." ―Elder Jeffery R. Holland, How Do I Love Thee?

Again, let me be very clear. Unfortunately, some will interpret the concept of "assuming the best" as justification for abuse — ironically because of the same fear, which stems from a fear of "giving up" on their loved ones. As such, some will dismiss their spouse’s verbal, emotional, spiritual and physical abuse because they assume the best in their spouse, or they believe they have to have "hope" in their eternal marriage. There is NO scripture, doctrine or prophetic council that says that our loving Heavenly Father believes we should tolerate, endure, allow or continue in any way with an abusive relationship.

For additional reading on abuse:

The Invisible Heartbreaker By Judy C. Olsen

Stop Using Words That Hurt By J. Thomas Cearley Director, LDS Family Services, Louisiana Agency

Building Trust Through Assuming The Best

For most of us, assuming the best is logical but counter-intuitive. How does one assume the best when there is a history of so much hurt and undesirable words exchanged? How does one move past that? How does one assume the best, especially if your spouse isn't assuming the best in you?

Remember, it’s not about your spouse; it’s about you.

1. Build yourself

There is another profound misconception I will address in another post — that is, the order of importance one places on their own worth and development. Ideally, our priority should be God, self, spouse, children. When you remove yourself from second on the list, you do so because of fear. To the degree we prioritize fear on the list, we lose ourself. Additionally, if we are not second on the list of priority, I can assure you God is not first. Assuming the best includes yourself too.

2. Adoring the dumb

Yes, I mean it. Adore the dumb in your spouse AND in yourself. My wife and I have a saying: “Everyone is stupid but us.” This isn't said in a tone of conceit, but, rather irony. My dumb isn't your dumb and your dumb isn't my dumb, but there is one thing that is common, we are both doing our loving best.

I say dumb things a lot. Sometimes intentionally, most of the time unintentionally. I say the wrong things. I am dyslexic with my words (thoughts) and am not always as sensitive with my words. Sometimes, I think I am being brilliantly funny and it comes out insulting unfortunately. I already know this; I don't have to have it pointed out every time. That creates resentment and hyper-awareness and usually causes individuals to fluctuate between diligent carefulness to a screw it mentality.

However, because of my spouse’s ability to assume the best in me, this burden is lifted. I never fear of hurting my wife or drawing distant from her because of something I said. I never feel like I have to prove, defend or convince her of my intentions. I can be the real me. I can be absolutely vulnerable with her. Thus, reducing the fear that "being me" hurts her.

3. Be vulnerable

Confidence and love can only grow if we are vulnerable.

“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection.

Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them. We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.

Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damages the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed, and rare.”1 ―Brené Brown

4. Encourage your spouse to be unfiltered in their communication. 

You want to end the 2-8 hour-long conversations that go until 4 a.m.? Encourage your spouse to say exactly what is on their mind, and don’t take any offense. Most conversations endure endlessly and painfully because you are constantly managing the other person's emotions, in addition to your own.

5. Stop trying to understand

No, you don't need to understand or ensure the other understands. It's a form of controlling behavior to demand understanding. You can't understand. There is no way I can ever understand everything my wife feels and experiences. One of the most comforting and loving things my wife has said to me is, "I don't understand but I love you." It caught me off guard. I stopped talking and felt a closeness I wasn't expecting to feel. It was a trusting and loving response. I also felt safe and adored.

Often, we try to get the other person to understand us so we don't have to explain anymore, so they will do what we want them to do. We should trust our spouse's needs, convictions and desires.

6. Improve communication

Communication IS important; it's just not the reason. We would do well to constantly strive to improve in our communication, finding more healthy and meaningful ways to express and receive love. Because I am confident in myself, I know who I am. My wife can have a bad day, yell, get upset, feel disappointment, need time alone, and I am not negatively affected. Having this self-worth and not being negatively affected allows me to speak her language, naturally and sincerely.