Life Lessons from Marriage

older-woman-looking-content“Margie” sat in the dark, wondering how she got here. Her nerves were shot, her stomach in knots. She never in a million years expected her marriage to turn out to be the way it was. There must be some life lesson here, she thought, eager to derive something meaningful out of the mess.

She knew her husband used to have a tendency to sarcasm, but she thought he had gotten past that. She remembered clearly when he would roll his eyes and do a little wiggle of his head accompanying his digs—and he hadn’t done those things in years. She also knew he had a tendency to inflate perceived grievances against him, but she thought he was being more reasonable lately.

Still Capable of Sarcasm, Anger, Digs, and Blame

On all but the head wiggle, Margie was wrong. Apparently, her husband was still capable of sarcasm, anger, digs, and blame. Her husband was unable to see his own wrongdoing or even reflect briefly on it. He gave himself a rubber stamp of approval very quickly and then pointed fingers.

Margie had been a pastor for 27 years. She had been preaching love, patience, tolerance, acceptance, and responsibility. She thought her husband was her biggest fan. It turned out that she was wrong on that, too. “I don’t agree with it,” he said the other day. “With what ‘it’?” Margie asked. “You don’t agree with my preaching?”

“No, what I don’t agree with are your descriptions of bad guys. Maybe these so-called victims are just too sensitive,” he retorted. “And I don’t appreciate your sermons being all about me.”

“No one knows they’re about you,” Margie replied. “But you need to change! Your behavior is hurtful. Do you really want to keep hurting me?”

The Verbal Abuser Feels Hurt

“Listen,” he said, angrily, “I’m the one that’s hurt.”

There was no talking to him. The discussions went round and round. He felt he was hurt because their son, a trader at a Fortune 500 company, would not handle his account; his son disagreed with his investment strategies. And because he was hurt, he thought it fair to hurl invectives at their son, make ridiculous accusations about what their son “really meant,” and blame Margie for somehow causing it all.

What astonished Margie the most was the total rejection her husband had for their son. She had always thought that when her husband got hot under the collar, he would cool off eventually. What she didn’t expect was that he could maintain his anger at the same pitch for weeks and months.

What Were the Life Lessons?

Margie took some deep breaths. She knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that everything God did was for the best; there were lessons she was supposed to learn from the whacks she got. But what were they? Her first puzzle was trying to figure out how she missed the signs that her husband was not a better person than he was. After three decades of marriage, how did she not see him for who he was all along?

The answer to that one wasn’t so hard. You live in denial to keep peace. You feel better when you don’t focus on the bad. And then, of course, you would rather forget being yelled at. It’s nicer to believe that the person who yelled was just “in a mood” rather than expressing his real feelings. Is that such a big mistake, she wondered?

This was a galling question. She always preached forgiveness and reaching for peace. Now, she suddenly wondered where you draw the line. For how long do you let bad behavior go by without examining it and calling it out?

Childhood Messages Affect You Later

An even bigger question that plagued her was how she could marry such a person in the first place. True, no one ever shows his or her true colors during the romance before marriage. But there are always warning signs. She remembered them, too. One time during their engagement, they were on the phone and he accused her of flirting with another guy. She was very offended, as she had grown up in a fine family with good values; she wouldn’t do something like that. She remembers being so upset during that conversation that she hung up on him. It was the only time she ever hung up on anyone.

That memory didn’t answer the question. If she knew he was treating her wrongly, why didn’t she end the relationship then? That was the question that was bothering Margie. What was inside of her that was willing to endure such treatment?

You see, it always comes back to us. No matter how evil the other person is, we are part of it when we take it. We can’t escape the question of why, nor should we. When we get to the bottom of that why, we understand ourselves better. As Socrates recommended, we truly know ourselves. And that knowledge frees us.

In a strange way, knowing the very worst about ourselves, our biggest mistakes, frees us because we know we will not make them again. Once we get to the core of who we are—or used to be—we can change. And the change isn’t even difficult. Oddly enough, the worst of the problem is facing ourselves in the first place. The rest is nearly a piece of cake.

Over a period of months, this question—what in her had allowed her to take the mistreatment—had been gnawing at Margie. She recalled a childhood moment: Her parents were looking at her report card with its A’s and B’s and asking her why she hadn’t done better. Her parents were always so serious about her accomplishments—or lack of them. She did not remember receiving praise, only questions about her shortcomings. She realized that she went into the dating scene not believing in herself. She wasn’t good enough.

Her parents were good parents; they loved her. Margie knew that. But they also managed to implant within her the belief that she was deeply flawed. And it was that core belief about herself that led her to accept her husband’s nastiness even before they were married.

These are not rational thoughts and they are not conscious. They lurk below the surface, dictating our reactions to life in destructive ways. But now, after months of torment, Margie came to face them.

Was She a ‘Deeply Flawed’ Person?

First and foremost, she needed to ditch those wrong-headed beliefs. She looked at her successful career with all the people who adored her and looked up to her for guidance and knew that, at her core, she was smart and capable. Her parents were plain wrong. They probably judged themselves even more harshly than they judged her. She could forgive them.

Most importantly, she could re-evaluate herself. Although we’re all human and do have shortcomings, she recognized that she had not been deeply flawed. And she didn’t deserve to be mistreated. She had been complicit in her husband’s bad behavior all the years of their marriage because she never stopped it.

Margie felt free. She was free of the nonsense that she had been “deeply flawed.” She was free of complicity in her husband’s bad behavior because she decided not to accept it anymore. Oddly enough, the biggest boon was that she understood her past; she knew who she was—and wasn’t.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Deb Hirschhorn, PhD, therapist in Far Rockaway, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Vanessa

    Vanessa

    August 6th, 2013 at 2:35 PM

    There are so many things that we can all take away from our marriages, the good ones and the bad ones, but the most important thing to take away is that all of no matter who we are and what we are, all of us deserved to be loved unconditionally. And on the flip side of that we also deserve to have the ability to give that same kind of love in return. Now some of us have been deprived of having the ability to give that kind of love, and that can come from having a screwed up childhood to becoming involved in messed up relationships. But whtever the reasons we owe it to ourselves to discover a way to get to that point. Some of us are lucky enough to get this on the first try and then there are others who take a few more times to learn those little and bif life lessons. But there is nothing better than to find that perfect person with whom you can share your life and learn from and grow with, and become more amd more fulfilled with as the years go by.

  • nona

    nona

    August 6th, 2013 at 4:21 PM

    It took me a very long time to realize that the person that I was with who was supposed to make me feel loved and like I was the most special person in the world, he was actually the person making me feel th very worst things about myself. Took me even longer then that to leave him.

  • Geralld

    Geralld

    August 6th, 2013 at 5:18 PM

    Fascinating story-but what happened? How did this change in Margie manifest itself?

  • mary

    mary

    August 6th, 2013 at 5:20 PM

    now this scared me half to death ya know???
    Cuz my 15 y.o. daughter i have to talk to her all the time about not doing her best
    What if I am making her like Margie?????
    Am i supposed to just except everthing and tell her its all good even when it ain’t???

  • Gary

    Gary

    August 6th, 2013 at 5:23 PM

    All I can say is that I pray that one day my two boys are as quick to forgive me as Margie was her mom and dad. I try so hard to do the right thing, but I know I make so many mistakes, especially with my general tone and demeanor. I feel like I am a grouch all the time. My boys are constantly asking what is wrong or if I’m just tired. I want so badly to be a good dad but it just is not natural for me. Praying that my boys turn out okay despite their old man.

  • Jessay

    Jessay

    August 6th, 2013 at 5:25 PM

    I am so glad margie is fighting for her marriage too many people don’t these days.

    Go, Margie!

    I am team Margie, as you can see.

  • pete

    pete

    August 7th, 2013 at 4:27 AM

    It must have been hard for the husband to hear all about himself from her pulpit. But sometimes the truth hurts, right?

  • Virginia

    Virginia

    August 7th, 2013 at 11:06 AM

    Don’t you think that a little piece of this is saying that we deserve what we choose? I just in many ways don’t believe that because there are many of us., amybe even Margie, who only see the good things in people, we look past the bad, and we really don’t know what we have gotten ourselves into until it is too late. She sounds like such a wonderful person and does not deserve to have to put up with this kind of treatment. And why did she have to take this from her parents too? I guess there are pieces here that aren’t shared and I am sure for a good reason and I only want for her to succeed and to be ahppy but there are just some people who it might be better just to cut your ties with and leave. It just becomes too much hurt to live with at some point., and it does too much lasting damage to your self esteem to keep having to try and getting nowhere.

  • Aishah

    Aishah

    August 7th, 2013 at 5:47 PM

    ForGodsake Parents! encourage your child..use positive language for them.. There is no bigger impact on a personality of individual than his childhood memories & experiences.

  • van

    van

    August 8th, 2013 at 4:30 AM

    I spent so many years trying to learn why my wife treated me the way that she did and it was hard to come to the conclusion that she did not and would not ever love me the way that I loved her.

    We finally called it and got a divorce and I and so happy to be free of having to always find a way to make her happy when that was never going to happen with me.

    I am all for keeping marriages together when there is still something there worth fighting for but in my case the stuff worth fighting for was long gone and I am happier now than I have been in years.

  • Sandra

    Sandra

    August 21st, 2013 at 6:33 AM

    I would like to hear the “rest of the story” and what she did about her husband. I am in the same boat.

  • Isa

    Isa

    August 23rd, 2013 at 12:01 AM

    Thank you Dr Debb, a very touching story… But really what is Margie going to do now?
    What is she going to say to her husband?

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