In my previous article, “Little Things Mean a Lot”, I strongly suggested that the only way to ensure your marriage is okay is to look inside self in order to, first, discover who you really are and what you really feel, then accept that person and his feelings later share him or her with everyone whose love you desire. Avoiding those steps leaves you being loved for the individual you present yourself to be, rather than the person you really are. It leads to you living a lie, being loved for the person you believe your spouse, parents and friends want you to be and would accept, rather than the person inside you, who your loved ones might not accept. The end result is you have to constantly project a false image and never have the assurance that you are loved for you, as opposed to your act.
To my way of thinking, despite the fact that it’s difficult and potentially painful, you have no choice but to share the real you with anyone whose love you desire. But, to do so requires that you break old, habituated defense behaviors by adopting a five-step program that requires you to take full responsibility for your own behavior, refrain from blaming your partner for your actions and commit to looking inside at you. There will be times when you may find it easier, even more desirable, to resist taking those steps by hiding behind “facts”. But, if you commit to this process, you will learn that facts are often inconsequential. They only serve to justify negative behavior. They rarely explain or curtail them.
1. To start this process, you need to totally focus on self. Forget your partner and ask the following question: “What do I want?” Do not be surprised if you find that difficult to answer. Few people really know. They typically say “I want to be happy”, but are unable to define what it would take. If the shoe fits, modify the question by asking “What is it that will truly make me happy and content with me?” It will help you to see that a cooperative spouse, a new car, a larger home or sudden wealth isn’t necessarily the answer. After a period of time, the new car is obsolete, the house requires fresh paint and, although sudden wealth may solve a host of problems, the fact that many of my patients have no money problems, but are in need of therapy is testimony that money isn’t the answer. All of which suggests that your problems stem from inside, rather than outside of you and aren’t tangible. They’re emotional in nature.
2. Once you discover what will make you happy, take the second step. Make a commitment to achieve it. The commitment isn’t complex or difficult, it’s merely a decision that involves the resolve to adhere to whatever it takes to achieve happiness. That means that, given the decision between a free trip to Las Vegas and staying home with a spouse recuperating from surgery, you have no difficulty in deciding your behavior. This will, of course, depend on whether you have decided and committed to becoming a professional gambler, or to creating a loving relationship with your spouse. Obviously, most decisions involve far more nuances than that, but I’m sure you get the general idea.
3. Step three requires that you act in accordance with your commitment. If you determine that happiness will only come about as a result of being thin, you will have little trouble refusing a serving of mashed potatoes and brown gravy or a large slice of cheese cake. A decision between staying home with a recuperating wife or going on a free trip to Las Vegas should be equally easy. It really isn’t a question of right or wrong. You might argue that leaving a spouse with relatives and professional healthcare providers while you get a few needed days of rest would contribute to you being a far better caretaker. Further, that by not going, your covert resentment would interfere with your effectiveness in the future. Even if your spouse insists that you take advantage of the opportunity, others may view your decision as selfish and uncaring. It is, however, not for others to decide. The responsibility is yours and yours alone.
4. The fourth step involves setting limits or boundaries beyond which you will not be manipulated. It is an emotional insurance policy of sorts, which ensures that you do not prostitute yourself or your convictions. This step is not an easy one. It requires that you censor yourself and your actions. Whenever you are in doubt, ask yourself two additional questions. One: “Twenty four hours from now, will I be proud of my behavior?” Two: “Can I honestly tell others what I did?” If the answer to either question is no, you need to change your behavior, because your purpose in life should be to eliminate or mitigate feelings of stress, conflict and/or guilt. Hopefully, this censoring process will help to make your decisions in life extremely clear. The hard part will be forcing yourself to do what you then know to be right. In these instances, the conflict consists of a struggle between your intellect and your emotions. It is a struggle you will encounter throughout the remainder of your life. Only you can determine whether you will live your life controlled by the impulsive 5 or 6 year-old child inside you, or directed by your adult, who knows right from wrong, good from bad, moral from immoral and, most importantly, what will bring you angst or pleasure, long term.
5. The fifth and last step is simple. Never forget that it is the last straw that breaks the camel’s back and that most of your problems are the result of a long history of accumulated mistakes and poor decisions. In every instance, however, little things mean a great deal; i.e., the ice cream you don’t buy today can cause serious problems in the future. That being the case, you must face the emotional conflicts you feel today and engage in the power struggles you fear today in order to avert conflict or divorce you don’t want to occur tomorrow.