Update (Sort of); Marriage Fitness Musings (for Sure)

It’s been over a week since my last post, so I figured I should offer an update of sorts.

There really is not much new, aside from my wife’s version of Custer’s last stand. She continues to be obstinate, and continues to want to barrel into that brick wall at 1,000,000 mph. The realization I had a few weeks ago is that there is actually nothing I can do to stop that trajectory, and that my efforts to put some cushions there to lessen the blow of the impact when it occurs only seems to exacerbate matters at this point.

Actually, what I’ve just said above is rather hard to explain, because it has little to do with anything I have been doing, yet it has everything to do with the manner with which I’ve been doing things.

I’m almost embarrassed to say that, having worked Marriage Fitness for such a long time (and that’s what it takes sometimes; I’ll say more about this below) I should have long ago taken Mort Fertel’s message to heart that “you cannot work [his] program with the intention of reconciling your marriage, because that would be manipulative.” This is truly a counterintuitive message. I mean, doesn’t he market his program as a means to save your marriage?

He does, but he does not tell you how that’s going to happen. Honestly, nobody can tell you that. If you sign up for his free emails, you’ll bet a sense of where he is coming from, and I think the sense of ethics that I got from those emails is one of the things that inspired me to give his program a shot. Once you work through the materials, though, you find that message hits you again and again: you cannot do this with the intention of reconciling your marriage.

Well, okay, Mort, then what the heck are you supposed to do? I mean, what should my intention be?

That’s simple: your intention is to become the man or woman of your spouse’s dreams. Your goal is to transform yourself into the kind of person that a million people (pardon the hyperbole) would want to be married to, that is: a person of integrity, of moral values, of trustworthiness, of openness, of candor, and of unconditional love. Those things are worth far more than the mundane concerns of the kind of car you might drive or the size of your bank account; material possessions can be bought, but character cannot. That’s chiefly what Mort teaches: how to be a person of moral principle, and I think that is why his program and its ideas resonated and continue to resonate so strongly with me.

Now, of course, becoming the ideal spouse also means cultivating the relationship skills that an ideal spouse would have. This is where the “techniques” — things like “talk charges” and “giving presence” — come in, but honestly, those are not part of some problem. They are just things that you should be doing if you’re married and, if your marriage is distressed, they are things that you should have been doing all along. Since you weren’t your marriage started to go downhill. This is normal.

So, essentially, Marriage Fitness uses the marital crisis as a platform upon which to build these skills. It might seem a bit odd to put it this way, but really all one does is to recognize that one is still married, and, that being the case, one has the obligation to better oneself as a spouse — even if the other spouse is not willing. One cannot control the other spouse and should not try; one can only control one’s own behaviors. That’s what this program does. It’s hard, at times, because the wayward and/or obstinate spouse wants nothing of it. That is his or her prerogative. The spouse has the right to free choice that the faithful spouse could neither bestow on that spouse nor take away. However, the faithful spouse has a similar right fo free choice, and we (speaking for myself, of course) choose to better ourselves and improve our relationship skills. This may temporarily irritate the wayward/obstinate spouse, but it was his/her choice to attempt to leave the marriage/have an affair/file for divorce/etc., so there are potential prices to be paid for any and all of those actions.

Or, put more simply, the obstinate spouse’s agenda in no way commits the faithful spouse’s participation, especially if that spouse finds that agenda odious.

So, this then brings us back to where I’m at. I finally came to the realization that, even if only on a fairly subtle level, much of what I was doing vis à vis my marriage was basically done with the intention of reconciling my marriage. Thus, the metaphor of “cushions,” above: I could see my wife heading for that brick wall at a million miles per hour, and the compassionate side of me (or so I thought) wanted to lessen the blow of that inevitable impact.

What I’m now realizing is that I have no control over that impact. She wants to hit that brick wall, and so I have to let her do it. It means, at this point, attitudinally taking a step back so that this can happen. This attitudinal shift is actually quite ineffable, and I don’t think it’s really possible to understand unless you’ve gone through it. Here’s what it does not mean: It does not mean cutting off contact. It does not mean curtailing efforts to reach out to my wife. It does not mean halting efforts to improve myself or my relationship skills. I am a husband, after all, and even though my wife might not want that for a time, I have to recognize that commitment that I made to her, and realize that it is, in large part, a commitment to myself.

This is partly what is so ineffable, and also what makes “conventional” wisdom so, well, dumb. Conventional “wisdom” (quotes are deliberately shifted) tells us to kick the spouse to the curb, to give up, to recognize that the spouse has “changed,” and so on. My reponse to such “wisdom” is simple: “so what?” What the spouse does is essentially immaterial; it’s what I do that counts. I am a husband, and I owe it to myself and to the world to learn how to be the best husband possible; even if my wife does not want that, I still have to do it. This is essentially just doing the right thing. Why? Because, even if things don’t work out for some reason (and in a small minority of cases, they don’t), then you will know at least two things: 1) you have done all that you can to give your marriage a second chance, and 2) you have taken massive strides toward becoming that ideal spouse. This is how one moves from being manipulative, even if only sublty, to having pure intentions.

So what about the length of the timelines I spoke toward the start of this post? Well, honestly, marital crises just take time. Things do not turn around in a matter of weeks if one spouse is not willing. It takes months, and a lot of them. The reason for this is simple: there is a journey, both for the faithful and the obstinate spouse. The latter has succumbed to the prison of ego, and as a result has to justify everything. This is a truly stultifying means of existence that never brings true happiness. The response of the faithful spouse needs in part to be to shed his or her own ego as much as possible, such that unconditional love can shine through. (Yes, this makes it a spiritual path.) If the obstinate spouse is embroiled in an affair, then that journey includes the feeding of two egos in a superficial orgy of narcissism. That too is deeply unsatisfying, and will eventually run its course; in such cases the faithful spouse has to find the stamina to outlast the affair. (Again, this is where on so many levels conventional “wisdom” just is not helpful.)

That brings me back to the beginning. My wife is making her last stand. I don’t know how long it will take, but this is very likely her last-ditch effort to save her crumbling path. That path does have a brick wall at its end, and she is currently going 987,462 mph and accelerating. At this point, I can rest in the knowledge that I’ve done all that I can to show her that I am a main of good faith, honor, and integrity, so the rest is up to her.

That rest is simple: she needs just to hit that wall, because that’s what she wants. I won’t take that away from her. Oddly enough, that would not be compassionate. She’ll hit that wall, and then things can change. Until then, I can afford to be patient.