Marriage Therapy: Take 2

Armed with our last month of Ricardo’s disability money, and fueled by the flames of anger and frustration from poor choices on both sides of our marital fence, we started marriage therapy again this year (we gave it a shot about 15 months ago and it just wasn’t time yet…for a lot of reasons). Great decision! The new psychotherapist has been what we needed. He’s fair, balanced, and really does know what to say a lot of the time.

I’ve been feeling really ready to move forward. I have been angry with Ricardo since he left the church suddenly in August of 2011 and then more angry about  some things that have happened since. Then I got angry enough I did some things that hurt him and made him angry. Anyway, it’s time to start healing and moving forward and Ricardo and I are both on the same page in feeling that way.

So here are my 💡👂🏻📢 lightbulb moments–the moments I am learning and changing–as we have talked about our religious differences. This is the third therapy we have talked about religion.

Me: “Okay, I’ll start. I’ve resented Ricardo for so long. I’m ready for us both to do what we need to do to move forward.”

Therapist: “You say you resent Ricardo. Now, every action we make has a reason. For every thing we choose to do, there is a consequence and a pay off. Why are you choosing to resent him?”

Me: (Feeling caught off guard and a little defensive) “I don’t WANT to resent him, but I have been really unhappy because of the choices he made, and I want him to make restitution. If he tried to give me back some of what he has taken, or tried to make me happy in other parts of our life, then I’d feel like he really was trying to make good on his promises to me, and I think I’d be able to stop resenting him.”

Therpaist: (ignoring the second part of what I said) “There’s a payoff for everything we do. What is the payoff in you resenting your husband? What are you getting out of that?”

Me: “Ummm, I don’t know. I get frustrated and angry.” (The thought occurs to me that maybe, deep down, I hope that in resenting him and being unhappy, he will eventually realize how miserable this has made me, and try to change things and make it up to me.) While I’m still formulating this thought, the therapist responds,

Therapsit: “And how is that working for you?”

Me: “… … … Yeah, it doesn’t really work. I need to stop resenting him…I don’t know how to just let it go though. It’s not fair for me to just give up everything he promised me and I just have to be fine with it.”

Therapist: “You’re not going to get 100 percent of what you want. People have this fairytale image of what marriage will be, but a marriage is two different people, with different needs, who are both going to change. You aren’t going to get 100 percent of what you want.”

Ricardo: “Yeah, I have been trying to say this for a long time.”

Me: (obviously I’m not going to get 100 percent of what I want. I think I would have failed at marriage a long time ago if I expected to get 100 percent of what I want.) “I know I won’t get 100 percent of what I wanted in regards to religion. I know I won’t even get 50 percent of what I expected. But can’t I get everything that Ricardo feels he could possibly give me, since he isn’t going to be able to give me even close to what he promised?”

Therapist: “But all you are thinking about is you.”

Ricardo: “Yeah, I mean he’s right. There are two of us, and you’re only thinking about what you want and not getting what you want.”

Me: “But there are two of us, and he never compromised. There was never this conversation where we decided what would change and what wouldn’t. He just came to me and said, ‘I’m leaving the church, I can’t do it anymore, and there’s nothing you can do to change my mind.’ Then he started doing whatever he wanted, even things he had promised me he would never do, like drink alcohol.”

Ricardo: “Yeah, but it’s not like I became an alcoholic. I drink like a drink here and there, I do it occasionally, not all the time, which is okay.”

Me: “I mean I get that now, but in Mormonism, it’s black and white, and alcohol is black. Maybe drinking in moderation was morally okay in your mind, but to the Mormon I was when you suddenly and completely turned your back on the church, there was no acceptable amount of alcohol you could drink.”

Therapist: “Well maybe Ricardo never apologized for the pain he caused you in leaving the Mormon church.”

Ricardo: Apoloizes very sincerely.

Me: “Thank you. I do know you feel bad about hurting me when you left the church. You have always felt bad, and you have apologized before. And thank you,” (Turning to look at the therapist), “but I feel like it’s one thing to say you’re sorry and…it’s like they say in ‘Daniel Tiger‘ that my son watches, ‘Say you’re sorry, then, how can I help?’ Ricardo hasn’t ever really changed anything to make it better. Sorry is nice, but I want him to actually make changes.”

Therapist: “What is it you wish he would do?”

Me: (looking at Ricardo) After you left the church, you just changed so many of the rules of our marriage and expected that I should be fine with it, and I wasn’t. I wish you would have tried to keep more parts of our religious life in tact. You were breaking these huge promises you had made me and I wish you would have recognized that and tried to make it up to me and tried to leave as much in tact as you could have.”

Therapist: “What do you wish he had done?”

Me: “I don’t know. Maybe he could have kept doing some things that he wasn’t SO against. Maybe he could have come to church with me sometimes, even if he didn’t like it. Maybe he could have still had prayer with me and with the family, read scriptures with us, and had FHE even if he didn’t believe in those things.”

Therapist: “That’s what YOU want, what about what Ricardo wants?” (Ricardo nods his head in agreement.)

Me: (feeling a bit irritated…) I know he wants nothing to do with religion and Mormonism, but he promised me this life in the church and then he broke that promise. HE is the one that took everything, that changed all the rules, that refused to compromise, and now I want to go back and make the compromises, but HE’s the one who needs to give in the this case because he’s the one who took everything and broke his promises. I gave up too much. I want him to try to make it up to me. Maybe it can’t be even close to the same but he maybe he can try… …I don’t know, maybe we can live by my family and they can give me more religious and emotional support, and that’s something I want, that’s a way he could try to make my life better, things like that.”

Therapist: “That’s selfish though. Marriage is about two people, and you’re thinking only about yourself. That’s what YOU want. What does HE want?”

Me: (trying to understand what he’s suggesting, but mostly feeling irked that he sees me as selfish. How can I possibly be selfish when I gave up EVERYTHING when Ricardo left the church? I stayed by him when he broke hundreds of promises he had made? I stayed when he decided he was going to live life however he felt best, even if that wasn’t good for me at all! Isn’t it kind of okay to say enough is enough? I gave up too much and I’m not okay with it? Give me back whatever you can possibly give back and try to make the rest up to me in other ways?) “… Uuhhhh…he wants me to accept his decision to leave the church and he wants to be free to live his life religiously however he feels best. I get that, but…” (I go on to repeat what I had just said about fourteen times–HE broke the marriage contract, isn’t HE the one who makes amends on this one? Etc, etc.)

Therapist: “There are two valid viewpoints in a marriage, yours is only one” (looking directly at me).

Me: “I get that, but maybe I’m not understanding because I’m not convinced.”

Therapist: “Would you want your husband to do something that made him uncomfortable, something he feels is wrong, just because you want it?”

Me: (I mean, you don’t force each other to do uncomfortable things, that doesn’t seem right, I guess, no. But then, you do do things for each other that are uncomfortable. I moved to Maryland for him even though it was uncomfortable for me…) “I don’t think he should do things he is really uncomfortable with, but being married does kind of seem like it requires both people to sacrifice and do things for each other that are a little bit uncomfortable. I want him to do the things he feels are LEAST uncomfortable” (and I launch into expressing my same opinion for the fifteenth time in just slightly a different way that he needs to make sacrifices to make things better since he was the one who left the church).

Therapist: “It’s true that someone has to take out the trash, and someone had to do dishes, and you both do a little and find a way to kind of share what’s uncomfortable. It’s give and take and compromise.

“Okay, let me tell you a story. My wife was Presbyterian, I was Jewish. When we decided to get married, my mom said to my wife, ‘I want Michael (name changed) to keep his faith,’ So my wife started attending my temple. When we moved here, far from family, my wife became really lonely. She loved me, but I wasn’t enough. She needed a community. My people weren’t her tribe. She had made a commitment to me and my family to attend my Jewish temple, and all of my sibling’s families were active in the Jewish faith, so I expected that’s how we’d be. Because I love her, I wanted her to be happy and I could see that she was miserable, so I said, ‘honey, why don’t you go find another church?’ The Methodist church close by didn’t work for her, but eventually she tried the Unitarian church and she found what she needed there. After a while, she asked if I would attend once with her. At first I went just for her. Each time I went I kept expecting something to be said that would really offend me, just like every other church I had been in, but that never happened. 30 years later, we still go to the Unitarian church.

“Was this what I expected when we got married? No. Was this what my wife agreed to when we got married? No. But people change, and needs people have change too. At some point my wife needed things that didn’t agree with what she had promised. The long term sustainability of a marriage is based on how much change a marriage can endure.

“So, Alicia, at some point being Mormon obviously stopped working for your husband and he decided he needed a change to be a happy person. Now it’s up to you to decide, is that problematic enough that you need to end this relationship? Maybe it is. Maybe this is just something you can never be okay with and you need to go look for the life you need elsewhere. Sometimes that’s what happens in a relationship. Is that the case for you?”

Me: Pausing, considering this very weighty question carefully, “…No, as far as I know, neither of us have ever truly wanted out of this relationship. I know I don’t. I just don’t want to keep doing what we’ve been doing. I don’t want to feel the way I have felt these last years. I want us to change, compromise, and move forward.”

Maybe the way I have been thinking about this all these years is wrong. I think the therapist is right, I mean, people do change, and for a marriage to last, you have to be able to endure those changes together.

Therapist: “That’s good. Why don’t you two try to come up with compromises and let’s talk about how you can do that next time we meet.”


After our therapy, I was lost in thought. I really have been thinking about this wrong all these years. I have seen it as, “you broke this promise, so it’s your job to fix it. And I broke that promise afterward, so I need to make that up to you.” Tit for tat. You break it, you make amends the best you can.

The therapist was right, retribution, resentment, it wasn’t working, it was only bringing pain, more anger, and not solving anything. We needed a new aproach. My battle to try to make things fair was digging us a bigger hole.

So what was he saying? What’s the right way to do things, since I had obviously been thinking about this wrong? There are TWO valid views, and mine was only one. You’re being selfish. Was I? People change, needs change. Then I thought about the story he told about his wife leaving Judaism. His response seemed right, but then why did it seem right? People have needs. People need certain things to be happy.

Needs. We both have needs and desires. We both have things that make us happy.

Ricardo needs certain things in life to be happy. He needs to live a life that is meaningful to him and not participate in religious practices that seem offensive. That’s something he needs. I have needs too. I need a spiritual life as a couple, as a family, and by myself. I need meaningful spiritual rituals. I need a spouse who is bringing morality into our home.

Then it sank in, it’s not about he took x amount, so he gives me x amount back, and if he won’t give x back, then I take x amount from him. That had been a disaster. It’s about both couples having equally valid needs and desires and trying to compromise in such a way that BOTH spouses are getting as much of what they need as is possible. And over time those needs might change. I drove away from therapy with this new realization.

We ended up going to Popeyes for lunch. For the first time I let myself start to think about real compromises. Thinking about what I needed, rather than how much I had lost helped me come up with some ideas of things that could actually work for both of us.

Me: As we sit down to eat, “Maybe we could spend time in nature. I know some people find nature to be very spiritual, and I definitely relate to that. I know you’re not big on outside activities though.”

Ricardo: “Yeah, we might could try that.” “What about you going two weeks with me to the Unitarian or Catholic Church and I got the other two weeks to your church?”

Me: “Would you actually do that for more than a week? Also, I think if I was only attending my ward half the time I would start to lose the consistency and the sense of community. Ever other Sunday might be too much for me. But maybe once a month we could go somewhere like the Unitarian church, and once a month we could all go to the Mormon church together, and then the other weeks we canto separate ways.”

Ricardo: “Yeah, maybe.”

Me: Suddenly having a burst of new ideas, “Or what about having Family Home Evening once a week, even having a lesson about some subject related to morality–like honesty, or service–whoever is teaching  could pull material from where they like, whether that’s scriptures or other inspiring words or TED take or whatever. We could still do the lesson, a treat, and then maybe a service activity or some family activity that is really wholesome. I think that would help me to feel like you are a spiritual leader in our home. I also think it would help to establish this sense of ‘this is what our family stands for and believes’ and I feel like we have lost that.”

Ricardo: “Yeah, I think that could work.”

Me: “We could do the same sort of thing with prayer. Maybe we don’t pray anymore, since you don’t necessarily believe in God, but maybe we can have some quiet, mediating, sort of time, followed by expressing our gratitude and desires.”

We went back and forth talking about different ideas we had. It was the first time in a very long time I felt hopeful that we could both actually be happy with relation to our religious life. I started to accept, just a little bit, that what I need religiously has also changed some.

I remembered the last thing the therapist said as we were walking out the door, “Find something that works for both of you. It will be different than what you originally wanted. It might not be what your family would have chosen, but they’ve never been you, and they’ve never lived your experiences. Find what works for your family.”

I kind of breathed that last thought in as Ricardo cleaned our table and we got up to leave. I hugged him tighter than I have in a long time, then I got in my car, and drove back to work.


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