Difficulties and the Dream
“In this world you will have difficulties.” John 16:33
We all have dreams of a wonderful marriage. A marriage that is fun and happy, and our spouse talks to us in a way that makes us feel important and signicant. Yes, that is the dream.
But every marriage will move through a desert of unwanted realities and unmet expectations before it can move forward toward a more mature love and arrive somewhere near the dream. Some will make it to the beautiful, more mature kind of marriage, but not all. And, of course, it will be more difficult for some than others to make it out of the desert and reach the more lush and beautiful areas where we learn to find joy and happiness in this marriage relationship. Some will need to move a distance away from the person that they hoped would bring happiness, just to be safe. And the reality for some is that it just may not work. Some will need to work extra hard, putting up with much, as they give it their best shot, hoping and trying their best to make it work.
But all who marry, will have extra difficulties that come from marriage (1 Corinthians 7:28), at least for a time. But the benefits of marrige that can come from all the hard work that is put into a marriage done well are worth the difficulties and irritations. And there really are secrets and solutions that can unlock the way to get to the marriage dream that you had before you got married, or the dream that you currently have — if you’re not yet married. If you want to know the secrets and solutions, read this whole blog post, watch the video at the bottom of the page and read the other blog posts in this blog. After that, of course, to get the benefits, you will need to apply the stuff that you have learned. Of course, there are some marriages that don’t make it, and some that should not make it, but most can become beautiful. Keep reading and see what I mean.
For many who marry
there will be a time,
with many relational difficulties,
which feels like a desert . . . (but usually this intensity only lasts for a time)
and if they want to arrive at beauty, it will take a lot of work.
But just because there will be difficulties in marriage doesn’t mean that marriage is not a good thing. Marriage is a good thing. But some people do choose to marry someone that will bring them them much more difficulties and challenges than they would have had if they would have married a different person, since, as we all know, people are different.
Some people are not ready for marriage. Some people have had traumas that will bring a lot of difficulties into a marriage. And some people just should never marry, unless God does a miracle in their life and changes the mess that they are. For example, a narcissist should not marry. But many will because they are not interested in protecting the other person from the damage that they will cause. They are only interested in what they can get.
So, what to do . . .
if you find yourself in a relational desert?
. . . if you find out that you have married someone who is often very inconsiderate and selfish and it feels unpleasant, unfriendly, and unsustainable?
Selfishness And Narcissism
What can a person do when their partner is very selfish or even narcissistic?
Some spouses are occasionally selfish.
Some are often selfish.
But it will be even worse if your partner often doesn’t even care how you feel. Yes, there are people who just don’t care how others feel. Many of these actually cannot feel how others feel. They are called Narcissists, not even capable of empathy. If someone marries a narcissist, life will be difficult. But, in fairness, life will be difficult for all.
Narcissists believe that they will be happier if they get their way in every single thing. They believe that their opinion is always right, since they don’t have the ability to empathize, to feel what another person feels. This kind of person only feels and thinks about their own needs and interests. So, in disagreements, a narcissist will always put winning the “argument,” above showing value or honor to the other person. This often comes in the form of verbal personal attacks in what could have been a friendly disagreement or discussion.
what can be done if you are married to a person like this?
There are several things that are important to understand before deciding what might be best in your specific situation. But there are positive things that can be done to help a lot!
First, as it says in Proverbs, “it is wise to overlook an offense.” Giving grace is often a great first option. Giving grace can really help a relationship a lot. So, instead of responding to an offense in a way that your spouse will not appreciate, just consider it as a small thing that can be overlooked. Of course there are big things that should not be overlooked. I am not referring to those things.
But, grace will not likely be enough, over the long term, to deal effectively with a very selfish or narcissistic person.
So, secondly, boundaries are important to protect yourself.
Using boundaries correctly means choosing to be proactive in how you respond to offensive words or behavior by setting a limit on what you will tolerate, and then applying some corrective defensive action. The purpose of making, keeping and enforcing good boundaries is not to change or punish the other person, but to protect yourself. Just like a fence may be helpful to have between two properites, boundaries with people are important to understand and enforce when necessary.
If you are married to a toxic or abusive person, it may be necessary to occasionally or significantly remove yourself from the area near this person.
What might it look like to use this concept of boundaries in marriage?
You might say, for example, “I love you, but I will not allow you to continue talking to me in this way. I will be in the study, if you want to talk politely, you can find me there.”
For more on boundaries of this type, I suggest a listen to the audio book, “Boundaries In Marriage, by John Townsend and Henry Cloud. Of course, some people may prefer to read it. It is a very good book.
So, what hope is there for a difficult marriage like this?
The third thing you can do if you are in this difficult situation is to keep hope. There is always hope. In chapter 13 of Corinthians, the bible, Paul says that love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” God does still do miracles. He can change a narcissist. Does he always? No. But sometimes he does. But your hope is not just that God will change the person in your life, but that he will do a great work in your life in the midst of this great problem and difficulty. And God does promise to do great things for those who are his children.
So, even if the very selfish person or narcissist never changes for the better, God can help you to grow in maturity, in wisdom, understanding, kindness, gentleness, and patience. And to those who are the children of God, He says that, because you have suffered you are able to “comfort others with the comfort that you have received from the Lord” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). And the bible promises that God “works all things together for the good of those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Don’t miss the list of resources at the bottom of this page. The list includes three things to build your hope. It is at the bottom under the large banner that says, “All is not lost.”
Some More Good Ideas To Help Your Marriage . . .
And Give Hope,
from John Gottman.
This video below is SUPER GOOD. If you apply the principles that he explains in the video, it can really change your marriage relationship for the better. He explains the results of his research to a live audience. I have provided a summary of some of the stuff from this video and his book, “Making Marriage Work,” below. Enjoy.
Making Marriage Work – Hope From a Marriage Expert
Some of the good stuff in John Gottman’s book:
One very important point that John Makes is that the best way that he has found to make a marriage better is to increase the positive in the relationship. Simple things like showing appreciation by saying thank you and asking open ended questions to learn about the inner world of your spouse. Another important area is responding to the requests that your partner makes for your attention. I may sometimes turn away from my spouse by grunting, “huh,” or saying, “I’m not really feeling it,” when my spouse asks if I would rub her back or take a walk or look at a bird outside. But the choice that is better for the relationship is to show enthusiastic interest in what they are talking about. So, for example, saying, “Oh, yes, that is a beautiful bird,” or “sure, “I would be glad to rub your back. You know, massage is good for your circulation.” These kind of responses have a very positive impact on the relationship. These three areas of increasing the positivity in our relationship are the first three principles listed below in the seven principles for making marriage work.
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. . . and keep it working?
1) Learning to enhance one’s love maps – Know your partner’s inner world.
2) Nurturing fondness and admiration for each other, offering thanks and respect.
3) Turning toward each other by answering requests for attention
4) Letting One’s Partner Influence You
5) Solve the Solvable problems
6) Overcoming gridlock over unsolvable problems
7) Creating shared meaning
Some principles that John Gottman found in successful marriages?
- Soften your communication (present issues gently).
- Learn to make and receive repair attempts.
- Soothe yourself and each other.
- Sometimes compromise.
- Be tolerant of each other’s faults.
Of course the book won’t help much if the ideas are not put into practice. There are exercises available in the book to practice some of the ideas. Here is what one reviewer on Amazon said about John Gottman’s book:
Of course, that review was probably from a married couple who each care about the other and probably neither is a narcissist. But even with a narcissist, positive change can be made. The change would be best if it includes the appropriate use of boundaries.
All is not lost for the person that finds they are married to a very selfish person or a narcissist. It will, however, require some study about relationships and some hard work if you want to move ahead with the best chances for a beautiful marriage.
A few suggestions to give you hope and increase the likelihood of beauty in your marriage.
1. I suggest including prayer.
2. Listen to this podcast on the five love languages and go to The Five Love Languages webpage and take the test to see what your top love needs are. It is free! The principles behind the book are really helpful if applied to marriage relationships. I may be doing things that I think are loving, but my spouse may not be feeling very loved if I am not doing things that make her feel loved. Everyone wants to feel loved.
3. The resources page on this blog offers some great resources to get you started.
4. See some of my other blog posts, especially the one titled, Introduction, and the one titled, focus and attitude in marriage.