I have been married for almost 15 years. Our story was the “cliche” Latter-day Saint love story. We met at a church dance New Year’s Eve. I went with two couples being the fifth wheel. I stated if no one asked me to dance by the third slow song, we could leave. Well, by the third song he asked me to dance. I didn’t know him, hadn’t seen him before. I was home from college, he was a convert and had been a member for a year. After the dance he hung out with us at my friend’s house. We played games and exchanged numbers. I saw him every day for two weeks straight spending hours together before he went to work. We got engaged at the end of those two weeks.
One night while in my car I felt the Spirit tell me to open my heart to him, this was before we got engaged. I took that as a sign that when he proposed it was right. He said the Spirit prompted him to ask me to dance that night, as he was ready to leave to hang out with his ex-nonmember girlfriend. But chose to follow the prompting and dance with me. Again, it seemed like the Lord was okay with our decision.
Fast forward eight months to our wedding day. We had a few arguments during our engagement, but none we didn’t work out. But I would question if he was right for me. But the day of our wedding, a voice said to me “this isn’t right, you can still break it off” as I was walking up to the temple doors. I pushed it aside and went on to be sealed.
The first three months of marriage were horrible. I cried our wedding night because of his insensitivity, I cried nearly every day for those three months. Not because he was abusive physically, or even verbally, but I constantly felt alone. He would go off with his friends and he just wasn’t emotionally or very spiritually present. I felt like I was giving 200% in the relationship with not feeling fulfilled or comfortable with him.
We now have had three children and every time I’ve had a child, he wasn’t very supportive, so I got a doula for myself for the last two. He wasn’t and hasn’t been there emotionally for me ever. Our “love” is mostly for him. Again, he isn’t mean. We even went to counseling twice with no help.
I just feel I’m trapped in a marriage where I’m trying my best to keep him happy. I take care of the kids, house, appointments, I also work, I make sure he gets time with his friends, and a break from work and the kids. I make sure family prayer and scripture study gets done. I wake everyone for church, I lead “Come Follow Me” during this pandemic. I read my scriptures and say my prayers. But if I ever talk to him about us doing this, it’s uncomfortable. He never wants to talk of spiritual matters, our relationship, our kids, or me. It’s always about him. And I keep giving. I’ve read book after book on marriage, scriptures, and talks. I’ve tried talking to him and telling him how I feel.
And after reading all the books and articles, I feel as if they say, “Don’t withhold sex, it will get better, just be available. Keep serving and giving yourself, don’t be selfish, don’t expect anything in return. He’s your spouse and you’re sealed and have four kids”. But my love tank isn’t ever getting filled, even after being blunt and telling him what I need. But because he provides for our family and isn’t abusive, I have no ground to think that divorce will solve this.
But can I go another 13 years being unhappy? Should I tolerate him being in charge of our relationship no matter the cost to me? But I do so because I made covenants to the Lord. I don’t want to break my promises and I don’t want to hurt my children. I come from divorced parents; I know how it can go.
But I know, that once the kids are gone, if life continues this way, we will end up divorced anyways and I will have lived another 15 years unhappy.
I’m not sure what to do at this point.
When is it okay to want to feel fulfilled and cared for by my spouse? How can we become intimate emotionally so that everything else can fall into place? How do I continue this marriage and keep my covenants?
I can see how confusing it must be to spend your life living faithful to your marriage, family, and covenants and, at the same time, have everything falling apart around you. It would seem that your efforts should produce more than just heartache and exhaustion. Even though marriage and family ask so much of us and often stretch us to our limits, it’s vitally important that you don’t become diminished as a person. Let’s talk about how you might find some relief in this challenging situation.
Instead of fixating on the past and evaluating whether or not you should have married your husband, focus on what you need to do right now. Problem solving past issues can distract us from confronting our present issues. Even though your history has some red flags, there is work to do right now that requires your complete focus and attention.
I don’t recommend you continue redoubling your efforts. You’re a hard worker and have tremendous capacity to give, even when it’s at your own expense. Like a lost hiker in the woods, this isn’t a time to increase your speed and intensity, but, instead, it’s a time to stop, conserve energy, gather resources, and figure out your plan. When we’re desperate for solutions, our prayers, scripture study, service, and sacrifice can become frantic and actually disconnect us more from ourselves and others. This isn’t about figuring out what else you can do. You’re allowed to have limits and expect others, especially your husband, to balance the load.
I don’t want to minimize how stuck you feel in your marriage. You take your commitments seriously and you don’t want to disrupt your children’s world. You only feel trapped in your marriage because you’ve not recognized that you still have options. These options may be painful and undesirable, but you are always free to take action to move out of patterns that are crushing your spirit.
Remember that the success of this marriage isn’t only your responsibility. While it’s important to take personal inventory to make sure we’re doing our part, there also comes a point where it’s important to be clear about our expectations of our partner’s contributions. It seems that you’ve taken all of the blame and made excuses for his poor behavior.
Just because he’s a nice person and brings home income doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have abusive attitudes that harm his family. The Apostle Paul taught clearly about the responsibilities of husbands and fathers when he said, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”[i] I believe it’s damaging to marriage and family life when we hold onto a narrow definition of the word “provide.” Yes, that word certainly includes providing income and the necessities of life. It also includes providing so much more than that. Think of all of the tangible and intangible things you provide him and the children to make marriage and family life function. A healthy marriage is made up of two people who are constantly looking for ways to provide emotional, physical, sexual, intellectual, and social care to each other. Your husband’s refusal to provide these things to you can’t be dismissed or overlooked.
You’ve spoken up, but have you taken action to do something different? This is a critical distinction that will set new patterns in motion. You’re carrying forward keeping things even and steady, which seems to be working for him, but it’s diminishing you. It may be disruptive and upsetting to him to begin changing patterns, but you’re not responsible for managing his emotions. In fact, it might be a good thing for him to feel something different and make some conscious decisions about his marriage and family goals.
I don’t know where you should start changing patterns. This is a personal choice for you, but if he’s not noticing or hearing you, then it only makes sense to move into action and create a different experience that preserves your sanity. If these changes don’t work for him, hopefully it will invite him to collaborate and work with you to design better ways of doing things in the marriage. Even if he doesn’t want to attending counseling with you, you can still get the support you need to strategically move forward in ways that align with your deepest values.
This doesn’t mean that you need to leave the marriage today or in the future. It does mean that it’s time to leave behind patterns that aren’t working any longer. It’s scary and uncertain when we’re confronted with the need to take more direct action. We don’t know what may be on the other side of those choices. However, you already know what’s on this side of the current situation. You have more influence over changing the conditions than you realize.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[i] 1 Timothy 5:8