Making Marriage Work: When Is Too Much Enough Already?

woman combing through bible“We are married 36 years,” Edward said to Mary, “and now you’re deciding that you don’t want me?”

“I didn’t say that,” Mary shot back. “I said I don’t want the behaviors that you’re exhibiting! I can’t take them anymore.”

“What behaviors?” Edward challenged.

Mary had told him the answer to that question many, many times. She even wrote them down for him. At one point, she wrote them in magic marker on cardboard from the dry cleaner and presented the list to him with much fanfare.

“How can you ask me again?” Mary wanted to know. “Haven’t I not only told you but even written it down for you?”

“But I’m not doing those things!” Edward protested. “What, exactly, am I doing?”

Mary sighed deeply. She was always torn, at moments like this, between giving up and telling him just one more time. She knew, with great certainty, that by answering the question for him, it saved Edward from doing any thinking on his own. It saved him from doing mental work. She would hand it on a silver platter to him and then he would shoot it down. How convenient for Edward!

But a part of her, probably the part that had been teaching Sunday school for 35 of those 36 years, worried that maybe she hadn’t explained things well enough the first 300 times. So she tried again.

“Look,” Mary said, attempting to collect her patience. “I don’t want to be married to a person who yells at people, not only me. Is that so hard to understand?”

“But I didn’t yell,” Edward said with a slight grin. “I wanted to yell but I didn’t. You should be proud of me.”

“Let me clarify,” Mary replied. “I want to be married to a person who doesn’t even want to be nasty to others.”

“But that guy was giving me a hard time,” Edward complained. “This is the fourth phone I’ve had from these idiots. They’re just a bunch of thieves! They take your money and then the device is defective and they probably send you back the same one you started with without working on it. I’m fed up.”

“Of course you have every reason in the world to be angry with them. But it’s the company that makes poor-quality things, not the guys at customer service. And anyway, you don’t start talking to a representative about his mother. That’s just unacceptable. Now this is my last word. Do you get that?” Mary said, starting to march out of the room.

“Wait a minute, there,” Edward said, walking after her. “Haven’t I been much better? Why don’t you look for improvement instead of constantly harping on what’s wrong?”

Mary heaved a deep sigh. She was so very tired of this particular conversation. But she had decided to respond once and for all. “Because I’m not your mother and I’m not your teacher,” she said. “After decades of this, I’m tired. I can’t educate you. It’s not acceptable and I don’t want any of it in my life.”

And now, Edward comes up with his clincher: “I’m only human. I’m not perfect. This is who I am and you have to accept me this way.”

Does she?

Is Mary being unreasonable? Is she reaching for perfection? A little backstory: Mary and Edward never had a smooth and peaceful relationship, but she overlooked a lot. Sometimes they would argue but Mary would tell herself that Edward meant well and eventually let it go. Recently, however, Edward did the unthinkable: He called one of their children a name. His apology came months later with half a heart.

This was a red line for Mary. She told Edward that he needed to completely change his personality or she was done. Furthermore, she went to the shelf and took down the family Bible. She could hear Edward murmuring, “Oh, no,” but that didn’t stop her.

Opening to the story of Creation, Mary started reading:

“After a period of time, Cain brought an offering to God of the fruit of the ground. As for Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and from their choicest. God turned to Abel and to his offering but to Cain and to his offering He did not turn. This annoyed Cain exceedingly and his countenance fell.”

Mary looked up from her reading. “Wow, I never noticed this part before, myself. Do you see this, Edward? Cain is complaining. He’s filled with ‘poor me’! And why? Because he didn’t bring the best to God. Now, he makes it God’s fault! That’s a good one, isn’t it? Don’t bother answering, Edward; it’s a rhetorical question. I’m going to continue reading the Bible.

“And God said to Cain, ‘Why are you annoyed and why has your countenance fallen? Surely, if you improve yourself you will be forgiven. But if you do not improve yourself, sin rests at the door. Its desire is toward you, yet you can conquer it.”

Mary closed the Bible gently and put it back on the shelf. “See,” she said, “it goes like this: God knew that Cain could change. He said clearly, ‘If you improve yourself, you will be forgiven.’ It was so simple! God wasn’t angry at Cain; He just didn’t think it was fitting to get any old offering. All Cain had to do was pick some more fruit! And he couldn’t do it. Or he decided he couldn’t do it.

“Ed, you can do it. I believe in you. Don’t get annoyed because you’re being asked to do differently. Just do the right thing. Don’t make Cain’s choice.”

We can close the door at Ed and Mary’s house. Let’s leave them to figure out their next move. But I will tell you based on my experience that it takes two people to make a marriage, not one. One person can’t do it alone. If Ed doesn’t decide—and it is a decision, no matter how unhappy he feels—that he will try harder to make things right, then Mary will be stuck with all the hurtful behaviors that she can no longer stand. Stuck forever.

Do you agree?

© 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.

  • 9 comments
  • Leave a Comment
  • Lillian

    Lillian

    November 14th, 2013 at 12:21 PM

    She doesn’t have to be stuck with the behaviors forever, she could leave, but that is a choice that she then has to make.

  • Paulette

    Paulette

    November 15th, 2013 at 3:47 AM

    For me the title of this says it all. MAKING marriage work. You have to make it what it is and you make it what it isn’t, and I think that a lot of people forget about that all important aspect to a successful relationship with someone. They forget that it is supposed to be a whole lot of work nwith a lot of payoff when done right. They want it to always be easy. Life isn’t like that.

  • dara

    dara

    November 15th, 2013 at 5:21 PM

    As long as I don’t feel like I am the only one doing all the work in the relationship then I am fine with putting in the time and the work.

    But when it feels like I am the one doing all of the giving and someone else is doing all of the taking? That’s when enough is enough for me. Why should I be the only one putting any effort into it?

  • Sandra

    Sandra

    November 16th, 2013 at 4:31 AM

    If he has been like this for years and she’s overlooked it then that’s her choice but there is definitely no reason why she has to accept him this way, nor does she need to be stuck with him. If he won’t make an effort why should she stay and spend more of her life with him when she could do her own thing and potentially be happier.

  • Stacie

    Stacie

    November 16th, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    I have been there, and when I knew that it was over was when it felt like there was nothing more left for me to do, to give, or to get for that matter from our marriage. It was a hard thing to do, to give up on it, because I had gone into the marriage with the intent to stay married forever, but that wasn’t meant to be the case for us I guess. So it was hard to move on, but luckily it was just the two of us, no kids so I guess in some ways that made it a little easier to have a nice clean break. I wouldn’t say that it was a pleasant experience, but for th two of us it was the best decision to part ways.

  • Rick

    Rick

    November 18th, 2013 at 4:42 AM

    In marriage I think that we are all a little guilty of thinking that we wnat one thing and actually marrying or giving quite another. That’s pretty normal. But you can’t change someone into something that they aren’t. That’s the reality of life and any relationship. You may want someone to do or be one thing but they can only be who they are. It’s not a great idea to go into a marriage thinking that you can change him or her because most of the time this is not going to work out well at all.

  • Rosanna F

    Rosanna F

    March 8th, 2015 at 12:59 PM

    I have a friend who has a saying that marriage is alright for married people. She was married for over 40years since the age of 25 years old. She recently got divorced and has now moved to another part of the country. And the difference in her health and happiness is so good to see. She has joined lots of organizations and made new friends. When she lived near me she never hardly went out her husband didn’t like her going out without him. He never wanted to go anywhere anyway. All she did was wait on him and do chores in the house etc. She said to me recently when I rang her she should have left years ago. But she is 67 years old now and can start again. I would not put up with an unhappy marriage life is to short.

  • Carole H

    Carole H

    March 8th, 2015 at 1:02 PM

    I quite agree with Roseanna there are lots of opportunities to live a more fulfilled life without marriage and all the work that comes with it I think. I hope your friend finds happiness it sounds like she deserves it.

  • mikey

    mikey

    May 2nd, 2015 at 11:12 AM

    I think people give up too easy. If its too hard they want to move on. Well if you do that then you will never succeed at anything. What if doctors gave up when it got hard, or parents just got rid of their kids when it got hard.
    A world full of quitters is why the world is in the shape its in

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.