How to Swallow Your Pride

And other questions folks have been asking lately

More and more people are emailing me after they’ve finished reading Project: Happily Ever After. Nearly all of these emails offer words of thanks, saying that the book finally helped them to feel less alone. That’s heart-warming and gratifying and just plain awesome.

Several people, however, have asked the same set of questions, questions that inspired me to write the post.

Question: How do you get past the anger and resentment that you are doing most of the marital improvement work? Shouldn’t your partner read the books and participate in marital improvement just as much as you do?

In a fair world, yes, you would be equally committed to marital improvement. You bought Project: Happily Ever After, however, because life isn’t fair and neither is marriage.

Consider:

  • Forcing your spouse to read marital improvement books is just going to make you angry, your spouse resentful, and possibly your marriage even worse than it already is.
  • You have chosen to work on your marriage. You choose to do this because you feel your marriage has potential. This is your choice. You could just as easily choose not to work on your marriage. Would that get you the results that you seek?
  • A year from now, when your marriage is happy and you and your spouse have blossomed into good communicators with a rocking sex life, will you care that you did most of the work to get to that place? Or will you just be relieved and happy that you got there?

Getting past this resentment requires a combination of patience and faith. You’ll need patience because your marriage isn’t going to improve overnight. It will take time and it will take effort. You’ll need faith because there’s no way to prove that your efforts will actually work. You must choose to believe that they are worth it. Stay focused on you—and the knowledge that you always have a choice. You can choice to stay and do nothing. You can choose to give up and leave. Or you can choose to work on your marriage.

Question: How do you swallow your pride? I understand I should warm up my marriage by complimenting him, being affectionate, and by being kind, but I just keep thinking, “Why should I do these things? He’s not doing the same for me!”

Pride is a self-focused emotion. It’s also an emotion that is based on the concept of scarcity. When you suffer from pride, you try to hoard what you want in life. You might hoard success (why did she get the promotion instead of me?”). You might hoard money and possessions (I am not treating her to dinner. She’s always mooching off people).

And you might hoard love. When you hoard love, you feel the need to take before you feel comfortable giving. You do this because you falsely believe that there is only so much love to go around. If you don’t hoard your fair share, you worry that you might give away too much and end up empty.

Here’s the thing. Unlike fossil fuels and forests, love is not a scarce commodity. To the contrary: it’s abundant. In fact, it’s infinite. When you give love freely, you don’t run out of it. Rather, you create more of it. When you give love freely, you feel better about yourself. It lifts your mood and creates meaning in your life. It also makes it more likely that others will return the favor. When you hoard love, on the other hand, you feel crummy. You also make it more likely that others will hoard their love, too. When everyone hoards love, nobody wins. When you and others give love freely, everybody wins.

This all makes sense in theory to most people, but it often requires a leap of faith and a pound of courage to put into practice. It’s scary to give love freely. It makes us feel vulnerable.

This is what I usually ask myself when I find myself hoarding love: What kind of a person do I want to be? Do I want to be a big person? Or do I want to be a small one who is too cowardly to love others (including my husband)? Do I want to be the kind of person who is known for keeping score? Or do I want to be the kind of person who is known for having a big heart?

Question: How do I know my marriage is worth saving?

You don’t. Unless your marriage is abusive, you can’t know with any certainty if your marriage is worth saving until you try to save it. Think about the following:

1.     Did you marry your spouse for a good reason? I’m guessing that the answer to that question is, “yes.” You might not remember what that good reason was anymore, but you had a very good reason at the time. If you didn’t, you would not have invited all of your closest friends and family members to the wedding. You wouldn’t have asked people to buy you gifts. You wouldn’t have taken the risk of signing a legally binding document. What caused you to fall in love with your spouse the first time will probably be the same thing that causes you to fall back in love with your spouse the second time.

2.     Has your spouse made any improvement—even the most minor—since you started working on your marriage? If the answer is, “yes,” there’s hope.

3.     Is your spouse willing to work on your marriage with you? If the answer is, “yes,” there’s hope.

I wish I could give you something more definitive than that, but I just can’t. Rank your happiness now. Rank it again month after month. If it improves, there’s hope.

Note: I will resume the Group Therapy series tomorrow.

UPDATES

  • I never in a million years thought I’d end up featured on a website about saving money. Fabulous Savings, however, recently interviewed me about everything from my thoughts about Valentine’s Day to my #1 piece of advice for married couples.
  • A Mom’s Take reviewed PHEA saying, “This book is not just for those who are unhappy in their marriage or who may be looking towards divorce as an option, but can even be for those happily married to avoid the pitfalls that might lead to an unhappy marriage.”
  • I was a guest on the Writers on Writing show earlier this week. Eventually the podcast will be posted, but you can download the show now from iTunes if you’d like to listen to me do a reading as well as answer questions about the process of writing PHEA.
  • The Long Haul Project posted another outtake from their interview with me and my husband. This one is about balancing career and marriage. In it Mark confronts me about my Twittering.

9 comments… add one

  • Kathy February 3, 2011, 3:44 pm

    This is a quote I got today on FaceBook about hoarding love.
    …that joy will come when you pass on the love you have received. If you hoard love, it melts away. If you lock love, it breaks free. If you grab on to love, you end up holding an illusion. When you let love flower in its own way, it stays to support you. When you pass on love, it multiplies beyond measure.

    My comment about being the one improving the marriage. There is a bit of child in me: no one can say I didn’t do anything to make it better.

    My husband doesn’t read to improve our marriage. I truly consider that my job. I don’t know why I consider it my job, but I do. And it saves me a lot of upset not expecting him to do it. I talk to him about what I read and then we implement it or not.

    I’m a firm believer that unless your husband is a complete jerk – addicted to something (drugs, alcohol, porn, etc.), beats you or the kids or both, or isn’t even ever thinking of having another job (even tho he swears that a man should be the bread winner) – you’re marriage is worth saving (I’m not sure about cheating, I haven’t had to deal with that one). In my experience with my current husband, there are many times when I’m in a mood and I think he’s the biggest jerk in the world. Then I remember that I wouldn’t have married a jerk – the first two husbands were jerks, I learned my lesson. And it usually only takes me improving my own outlook on life. And maybe a few suggestions to him about how I expect to be treated.

    Reply
  • Henway February 3, 2011, 8:10 pm

    I also believe most marriages are worth saving. Most of the time we view the grass as greener on the other side, but unless your partner is just a complete ass, life is better with a partner – even if they’re no longer as attractive as they once were, companionship becomes a big deal the older and older we get. It’s worth the effort to save marriages, but to each his own.
    Henway´s last blog post ..GoDaddy Stories

    Reply
  • Rollercoasterider February 3, 2011, 9:14 pm

    Alisa,

    First…I loved this response!
    “A year from now, when your marriage is happy and you and your spouse have blossomed into good communicators with a rocking sex life, will you care that you did most of the work to get to that place? Or will you just be relieved and happy that you got there?”

    “Question:…Shouldn’t your partner read the books and participate in marital improvement just as much as you do”
    Wouldn’t that be great. But shoulds and shouldn’ts aren’t part of reality. What do you consider participation in marital improvement? Is it the same thing your spouse considers marital improvement?
    The week of Bomb Drop in 2005 I went to the library and pulled EVERY marriage help book off the shelf I could find. I then scanned them at a table there, and chose several to take home. Then I looked up more from other branches in the electronic card catalogue and had them put on hold and sent to the closest branch. I found out my library has a 60 book limit—okay I actually found that out the year before.
    Wouldn’t it be great if Sweetheart would take some of those books and read them too? But books are my method to solving problems, not his.
    Woman’s magazines have relationship quizzes and questionnaires. Do Men’s magazines? Men and women—and people in general—have different ways of solving problems and different things that work for them.
    For Sweetheart it is important that we spend quality time together doing things like skiing or biking. For me it’s about cuddling—my love language is touch. But I would just love it if he came to me and wanted to discuss a book—though I might go into shock first. I would love to try a marriage weekend retreat and even more I’d love to do some sort of couples vision quest. I’m dreaming.
    We saw one counselor who gave us assignments. I did them with excitement—they involved reading. He just didn’t. He was still having an affair at that time, but I know him well enough to know that he still wouldn’t do that homework without a lot of pressure and guilting and that would not be beneficial.

    So think about how your spouse solves problems and what sort of resolutions are uncomfortable for him or her. How can you negotiate your methods? You may not recognize your spouse’s methods as anything since they are not yours. And often the methods are pressure, beg-n-pleading, whining, complaining… until there is an ultimatum and one person is ready to leave. Those are not solutions. Telling your spouse you are unhappy is not enough; working to improve your marriage requires action. In 2005 Sweetheart told me he’d been working on our relationship for years…he just forgot to let me know or to include me.
    Sometimes the best solution is to do as Alisa has advised and be the change you want.
    Rollercoasterider´s last blog post ..Be On Dr Phil

    Reply
  • Maureen February 4, 2011, 9:21 am

    1. The worst thing that will happen is your marriage will end but you’ll most certainly know how you want another relationship to look and feel like.
    2. Even if your marriage fails the best thing that would happen is you’ll have improved yourself.
    3. Be and act how you want to be treated because the only person you can change is you. In most cases changing how you behave often results in the partner changing in response to YOUR change.

    There are only up sides to working on your marriage.

    Reply
  • Drummer Guy February 4, 2011, 1:44 pm

    Another Rockin post Alisa :-)
    Rollercoaster made some excellent points in that each person “works on things” in different ways. One may be the book reader while the other may be one who tries to work through things themselves. Also as pointed out men’s magazines don’t have quizes or compatability test for a reason. Most men wont use them…..lol It is probably comon for a person to think “he/she isn’t working on it because they aren’t doing it the way I do”. Or even more common “My way is the best way”….lol

    As for is a marriage worth saving. As others have said unless there is abuse (physical or emotional), alcoholism, serial cheating etc then it is worth saving. First off divorce, no matter how amicable, is painful. As Alisa said there would have been something in the beggining that made us want to marry them in the first place. Do people change? Sure, everybody does. If they don’t they aren’t maturing & growing. If there are young children involved it is far easier to work on the marriage than it is to try to ease the pain that divorce can cause them. Lastly & I think somebody else commented on this, if it still ends you will at least know that you did your best to salvage it.

    Keep on Rockin Alisa
    Ron :-)

    Reply
  • Linda C February 4, 2011, 5:46 pm

    Before we got married, my spouse & I agreed that neither of us would ever speak the “D-word” between us. We recognized early on that the “D-word” was worse than Iran or North Korea going nuclear in our relationship; it was akin to actually using one of those dreaded nuclear weapons on one another.

    Some of the early nuclear tests produced explosions that were much larger than anticipated, and the region of overwhelming destruction was consequently much larger than planned. Nuclear weapons obliterate everything.

    The doorway entrance of every marriage should have a sign something to the effect, “No Nukes Allowed,” or “Check All Nukes Here.” Arguments between husband and wife are bound to occur once in a while, but both parties must know beyond a shadow of doubt that the argument will remain conventional and not go nuclear. Banning the “D-word” from our vocabulary has unquestionably protected our marriage over our 25+ years.

    I would advise you to adopt this same strong stance against that dreaded word, divorce.
    Linda C´s last blog post ..Why Play Like Tom Brady

    Reply
  • Angela P. February 7, 2011, 12:02 pm

    Henway, I loved your comment because it is so true. I have seen some of my friends do some really stupid things because they think that the grass is greener with someone else. I married a really great guy because his ex thought the grass would be greener with someone else. By the time she realized she had messed up I had a great guy!

    Reply
  • kcl February 7, 2011, 6:42 pm

    It seems to me that in a marriage where one person has become unhappy and the other person does not even realize there may be a problem, it makes sense for the one who is dissatisfied to initiate the changes. After all, the divorce daydreamer is the one who wants change—the other person may be content with the status quo. Though maybe a nicer way to say it is the maxim “Be the change you want to see in the world”—or in your marriage.

    Reply
  • jkl March 6, 2014, 2:11 pm

    I don’t think that the D word came to people’s mind because they think the grass is greener on the other side. I think the D word to some is a healing process and it is to me. They just tired of trying to fix their marriage and nothing helped. It is hard to change a person‘s pattern so that how I Swallow My Pride and live by myself peacefully.

    Reply

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