At the Last Supper, the Savior prophetically announced that one of the apostles would betray him (Matthew 26). In humility, they “began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?”
In my efforts to build and improve my relationship with my husband, I have come to believe that “Lord, is it I?” is the single most important question I can ask. The natural man tendency is to consider only the other persons contribution to the problems. However, a wise counselor once told me that I either contribute to or allow every situation in my marriage, and therefore can never justly place all the blame on the other person when things go wrong.
The Mote/Beam Disease
In Matthew 7:3-5 we read, “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brothers eye but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull the mote out of thine eye; and behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brothers eye.”
When I focus on what I perceive as weaknesses in my spouse I find myself suffering from the old “mote/beam” disease, an eye problem that blinds me to my own need to repent. I become so busy trying to “fix” him that I have no energy to recognize and repent of my own faults or see my own contribution to the problem. Whenever I am seeing myself as the “good guy” and my spouse as the “bad guy” I can be almost certain a great big beam is obscuring my vision.
Case in point: one time I started out on a trip with my husband with full intent to “let him have it!” He would be my captive audience in the car, so I thought the timing would be perfect to call him to repentance. However, as I pondered and prayed for the right words to say that would help him recognize the error of his ways and give him the desire to change, I was overwhelmed with the understanding of the error of my ways and the need I had to change.
When I am judging and not forgiving, I may be guilty of the greater sin. I am not honoring agency, trusting God, or being sufficiently humble. And in this particular case, I was not remembering my husbands strengths–which are considerable. So often, the root of my discontent is my own unrealistic or perfectionistic expectations. Since my own character is full of imperfections, how can I expect perfection in my mate? And how can my complaints accomplish any good?
The Danger of Expectations
Expecting my spouse to react a certain way then feeling angry or disappointed when he doesnt, is a common and unfair way I might put on “the white hat” and hand him the black one. The pressure of my lofty expectations can actually escalate behaviors Im complaining about because I create resistance and rebellion against my attempts to control. My expectations can be interference of a subtle and damaging kind. I can smother my spouse with my demands for him to be a certain way. Instead of feeling cherished for his uniqueness, he may feel that no matter what he does it is not good enough. Since he will never follow the pattern I have set for him in my mind, I set myself up for disappointment and at the same time I damage my own peace of mind and happiness.
If I can leave his behavior between him and God, and look for and appreciate his positive and desirable traits, my peace of mind is much more likely. His thoughts, feelings, and motivations are only known and understood by the Lord, after all. I cannot control them, and the law of agency says I should not try. Marriage is not a reform school, and who says I am the one who knows what he should think and feel and do anyway? Im delusional if I think I am always “right”?
Am I Really the One Who “Knows Best”?
Doug, my second husband, joined the church shortly before I met him. A few years into our marriage we were called as family history consultants and learned we would sometimes be called upon to teach various groups. Dougs first formal teaching experience happened when were assigned to give a lesson on family history to the Teachers quorum during Priesthood meeting.
When we sat down to prepare the lesson, Doug and I found that we had very different ideas of what those young men needed to hear. I wanted to go with the story approach to inspire and motivate; he wanted to teach the “nuts and bolts.” (typical engineer thinking!) In my mind I was saying, “What do you know about it? Youve never even taught a class. Ive taught hundreds, including a full-time mission and years of teaching classes to girls in this age group. You certainly ought to listen to me.”
Doug finally said, “Brother Josie [the Teachers quorum advisor] specifically told me that he wanted the boys to learn the basics–where to start and how to do family history, and not just be entertained.” So I backed off and told him to start the class and teach the essentials, then turn the time over to me when he was finished. I really thought all those boring specifics shouldnt take more than ten minutes; then we would get to the interesting part–me! Well, much to my chagrined surprise Doug kept the boys complete attention for more than a half hour.
He was thorough and dynamic and fielded questions along the way. I was left with ten minutes at the end of the class, and my stories and testimony made a fitting conclusion. The balance was perfect, and I was humbled as I have been so many times–impressed that the initial problem had been my inclination to think he was the problem and I was the one with all the answers.
Relinquishing the White Hat, but Not Grabbing the Black One
Finding a healthy balance in regard to responsibility for problems in the marriage can be tricky, and we need the Lords help to sort it out. The most important guideline seems to be to avoid the following two extreme positions:
1. The codependent spouse says, “Lord, it is all I–I am all to blame for everything.”
2. The wife in denial says, “Lord, it is all him–fix him and everything will be all right”
Instead, our goal is humility. The spouse in humility says, “Lord, is it I? Which part of this am I contributing to or allowing? How can I repent of my part? How can I change the things I need to change to be a better contributor in this marriage?”
Humility demands that I relinquish the “white hat” and recognize my own need to improve, while seeing clearly the neither of us need wear the “black hat.” Humility breeds compassion and forgiveness that lead to acceptance and wanting the best for our spouse. It requires that I experience and know the forgiveness and love of the Savior, which then gives me the capability to love and forgive and accept my husband.
Applying the Golden Rule in Marriage
In 3 Nephi 14:12 we read, “Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets.” Colleen Harrison said of this scripture, “There is a secret or mystery of human behavior in this injunction of the Saviors. It is that we always do unto others as we believe we deserve to have done unto us. What is revealed about a persons feelings of self-acceptance if that person cannot forgive and accept anothers imperfections and weaknesses?” (He Did Deliver Me from Bondage, p. 74, emphasis mine)
This idea is thought provoking and gives me the greatest motivation to relinquish the white hat and get on with my own repentance. When I am feeling the love of the Lord through the Atonement, I want to extend that same blessings to every living soul, especially to my spouse, whose well-being is so crucial to my own.
But what about the days Im not feeling that love? What about the days when everything goes wrong?
Totally Honest Praying Is a Key
A close friend told me about “one of those days” with her own husband. Every weakness and irritating tendency had come to the forefront. He had nitpicked her and the children from the time he woke up in the morning until they were ready to go to bed. He had been angry when his dinner wasnt ready at 5:00 on the dot, yet sat there and did nothing to help. He complained that the kids hadnt finished their chores, yet he had done none of the things she wanted him to do. And there were many more problems that seemed suddenly unbearable.
When the kids were all asleep and he was out of earshot downstairs watching TV she went into her room and vented her anger. She pounded a pillow, cried, and then started telling the Lord her frustrations, pouring out her list of all her husbands infractions, all the rotten things hed done or not done. She held nothing back and was totally honest with the Lord about how bad she felt. When she ran out of steam, her prayers became more rational, more thoughtful, and she asked the Lord to help her understand her husband, and to soften her heart so that she would feel like praying for him. She told the Lord how much she wanted to have a good relationship, a solid foundation for her family, a good feeling in the home.
Little by little the Spirit returned and she did begin to pray for him. She remembered the heavy load he carried at work, his demanding church jobs, all the things he had to do to maintain the house and help her with the children. He had so little time for R&R. As she prayed, the Lord gave her a glimpse of how He saw her husband, of the nobility of his spirit, of the goodness of his soul. She asked the Lord to forgive her for judging and being hard-hearted. In a penitent mood she eventually went downstairs and told her husband she was sorry they had had such a stressful day and asked if there was anything she could do to help the situation. He immediately apologized for his part, and the day ended on a far different note than it might have.
When Im feeling irritated or hurt by my spouses words or actions I try to remember to use such feelings as a prod to honest prayer.
The Lord is the one to tell all my grievances to because He already knows it all and His feelings wont be hurt by anything I may say. No matter how “wrong” I think husband is, what a different outcome I can create by spilling it all to the Lord and asking to change my heart so I can truly pray for my spouse. I receive very different outcomes when I remember to do this instead of grabbing my white hat and marching into “battle” trying to reform him and get him to think more like I do!
Setting Boundaries and Trusting the Lord with All I Cant Control
Another friend, who had an abusive husband, learned that turning to the Lord for strength to sort out her stewardship nearly always reminded her that taking good care of herself meant setting boundaries. Clearly saying what she would and would not do, what kind of treatment she would and would not allow is definitely part of her stewardship–the part she can control.
When we are concentrating on improving our own character and inner strength, we are more likely to set boundaries and make certain that we are not contributing to the problems by allowing unrighteous dominion (or by being the source of it). We look to the Lord, not our husbands, as our primary source of validation. Since pleasing the Lord is our focus, we are not easily manipulated, and less likely to be manipulative.
My best prayers always seem to include the all-important question, “Lord, Is It I?” And as the Lord helps me see my part, the heaviness lifts. My part I can control. My part I can do something about. I can trust the Lord to work with my husband on the rest. The formula works! I suggest you try it.
Author note: Do you know someone whose life has been impacted by the suicide of a loved one? The common pattern is to avoid the subject and avoid processing the grief, but there is a better way. Help them find “the peace that surpasses understanding” by pointing them to one of the following: If they are LDS, direct them to After My Sons Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Faith to Go On. If they are not LDS, direct them to: Finding Hope while Grieving Suicide: Opening Your Heart to the Healing Only God Can Give. For more information go to my website: <darlaisackson.com>.