Revisiting a New Year’s Resolution- Improving Marriage

As part of a  New Year’s Resolution to work on our marriage, Mark and I have been reading books about relationships, seeing a therapist, and working on other ways to tune-up our interactions.  For the most part, this post will be an overview of our efforts, with vignette about a particularly important therapy session that helped me re-frame my relationship with Mark.

I’m happy to report that while the year has been full of ups and downs, it’s been more up than down.  And beyond just having good times, it seems like Mark and I are drawing closer in a way that gives me confidence for the future.

A little background- Mark is a faithful yet nuanced latter-day saint. He is the best kind of Mormon, devout but kind, generous and humble.  I’m always impressed by how seriously he takes his covenants and obligations in the church, although sometimes I resent the time it takes from our family. On the other hand, I find the LDS church incredibly painful and have a difficult time attending. I’m still not settled on how (or if) I believe in God and the Mormon God is most certainly not for me.

This has obviously caused us some pain over the last 5 years of my spiritual journey, as we were married in the temple and very much in the same boat on our way to the celestial kingdom.

But 12 years and 3 sons later, the marriage landscape looks much different than it did when we set off.  Most of this time our marriage has been average.  Nothing spectacular, but nothing terrible, either.  When I decided to work on our marriage as a New Year’s resolution, I don’t think I identified our crisis over religion as part of my decision, but throughout the year it became clear that becoming closer was going to require us dealing with this looming issue.

Sundays are always the worst days in our home. I go to church with Mark and the boys out of duty and because I love some of the people there.  When I come home, I rant, then Mark defends the church, and it’s just a mess. In addition to this, our parenting is not coordinated and sometimes we feel conflicted about what the other person is teaching the kids.

To be fair to Mark, however, he has been very supportive of my spiritual journey and really tries to accept me where I am in all of my pain, confusion, and disillusionment.

So, when we went back to our marriage therapist, whom we see every few years for a check up, the issue of Mormonism was at the top of our list.  Fortunately, she didn’t really choose sides. She asked both of us to figure out what we really need in a partner and what qualities are “must haves” or “deal-breakers.” It was a fair approach, but I worried that if we didn’t meet these criteria for each other, divorce would be the next step.  And that wasn’t what either of us wanted. It frightened me a little and so the next session I had a different perspective. What if we can’t be the partner that the other person needs? I knew that Mark was a good fit for me, but what if I can’t be the wife that Mark wants and needs?

It was in this session that we had a breakthrough, although I didn’t call it that until much later.  When our therapist asked Mark if he had made his list of things he needed in a partner and his “deal-breakers” and I allowed myself to imagine what that would mean for us if I didn’t fit his list.  Would that be the end?  This question scared me and I realized how vulnerable I am, and how not vulnerable Mark is in this hypothetical scenario.  Surprisingly, I didn’t resent him as I imagined him on the singles scene, a good dad, handsome, employed, smart, and a righteous priesthood holder.  That was where I came apart completely. Through my tears I told Mark that I could see what an eligible bachelor he’d be in the LDS single’s scene.  Of course I was being so unnecessarily dramatic that Mark was seriously puzzled.  He hadn’t actually made the list he was supposed to.  This was all snowballing in my head (yes, I do this sometimes, don’t you?).  Ironically, I didn’t get any new information that day, for some reason I felt like I had been hit by a truck.

Of course Mark reassured me that he didn’t want to leave, that he didn’t even think about it, but for some reason, that didn’t help me much. I was really shaken.  To his everlasting credit, Mark knew that I needed reassurance and support and offered both  freely.  He is still baffled by my experience and until this post, didn’t realize exactly what it meant to me.  Thus, I shouldn’t be surprised but am still grateful that he has never held up my epiphany in that session as a bargaining tool, he’s never even hinted at the idea that our marriage is anything than rock-solid.  In fact, when I wrote him a cheesy anniversary card, which usually makes him cringe, he kept it at his night stand and still reads it occasionally.

In the meantime, I’m not sure that I’ve been able to cognitively reconcile my vulnerable situation with my feminist sensibilities. Although I’m currently in school, working towards a career in the medical field, I’m still far from being able to provide for myself and my family. The vulnerability is very much still there.  It almost sounds like this realization scared me back into a marriage that isn’t right for us.  But that’s not it.  Honestly, it was a wake up call.  I’ve been taking for granted that Mark would travel with me, or at least support my travel on a road away from the church, away from God.  In this session, I realized that he didn’t have to do those things and I can’t take that kind of support for granted.  It was as if we had been reminded that we chose each other and still choose each other every day. In fact, squarely confronting the inequalities in our relationship has helped me to look past them, while working towards fixing them.  We’ve compromised in many ways that have brought us closer together.  Despite our different views on faith and religion, we have a lot in common and spend our free time reading  and talking about what we’ve read.   Honestly, I’d rather talk to Mark than almost any other person in the world. In some ways, it feels like we’re a better fit now than we were for the first 5 years of our marriage.

The month or two after that breakthrough therapy session were amazing. We really connected, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

With that renewed interest in investing in our relationship, we’ve been reading “The Relationship Cure”  which I highly recommend, and doing some of the quizzes and discussions. It’s nice to have some time to discuss relationship details when we’re not in the middle of an argument, and that’s what the book provides. The main idea is that people “bid” for attention by trying to connect with others in positive or negative ways.  For example, when a husband makes a bid to his wife, “Can you make me a sandwich?” or “How was your day?”, the wife can either  turn towards, turn away, or turn against him. The authors have 10 years of data on this theory of bidding and it is a good predictor of the quality of relationships, with family members, friends, and coworkers.  Calling attention to how, when, and why we are bidding and responding to each other’s bids has helped me see my relationship with Mark in a new way and gives us a tool to use to better connect with each other.

Last month we attended a Codependency Workshop sponsored by some friends we know through an Open Mormon group. I really had no idea what codependency meant, but one of the books subtitle was about no longer trying to control others.  “Sign me up!” I said.  It was really useful for me to learn about what boundaries mean, both internal and external. How we establish our boundaries has a lot to do with our families of origin, which was another reason that I was glad to have Mark with me, since he’s been living near or with my family for the last 9 years.  I’m working on making healthy relationship choices with my family which I hope will make me a better partner in the future.

In conclusion, I’ve just read through my New Year’s resolution post and I’m surprised at how well we did compared to how little I remembered is specifically as a resolution.

Here’s a list of some things we’ve done:

Marriage Therapy 3-4 times

Individual therapy

Reading Relationship Cure

Listened to Marriage and Sex Therapy podcasts from Mormon Stories

Date nights weekly

Vacation with family, and alone

I read 50 Shades of Grey

Open discussions on church and religion

Developing other couple friendships that support our own

Codependency Workshop

Mixed-Faith couples support group (via Mormon Stories)


Some of the things we did this year weren’t even on our plan, so that’s a bonus.  Additionally, my mother has been living with us, so we’ve had in-home childcare and have gone on dates nearly every weekend, sometimes twice a weekend. We’ve done pretty well with budgets, planning, vacations, and even the squishy things like affection, support, and acceptance. As an important side note, our youngest child is a mature 5 year old and the intense demands of parenting babies and very young children have been lifted.  I’m not sure that I fully understand the effects this has had on our marriage improving, but I don’t think they can be understated.  For those of you with very young children, hang on.  It gets better (probably until they become teenagers).

As this year draws to a close, I feel satisfied that I have made my marriage a priority this year as part of my New Year’s resolution.  For those that may be looking for a tune-up I highly recommend making your relationship a deliberate focus for 2013.  It doesn’t have to be a marriage either, just any important relationship to you.

I’m considering keeping this as a resolution for 2013, because it was definitely worth the work this year.





Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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24 Responses

  1. Davis says:

    “He is the best kind of Mormon, devout but kind, generous and humble. ”

    I find this statement highly offensive. Perhaps you didn’t mean it, but you are implying that most ‘devout’ Mormons are not kind, generous or humble.

    It seems to be by reading this that you don’t as a couple really ‘talk’. It sounds like you never actually discuss your deepest fears or desires in life. If you did, I think a great deal of counseling could be eliminated. I only say this because of this statement:

    ” He is still baffled by my experience and until this post, didn’t realize exactly what it meant to me. ”

    It is sad to me that he has to read a post on a blog someplace in order to really understand how you feel.

    It seems to me that you are not really being fully open with him. And perhaps it works both ways. Your comment about not yet being able to support yourself and your family sounds like you are subconsciously developing an exit strategy.

    Just my impressions of your post.

    • Jessawhy says:

      While I appreciate your reading and commenting, I don’t think that you’re being very generous in your response. It seems you just infer the worst and didn’t actually see the good that I described. Mark and I talk a great deal. In fact, we had a mixed-belief couples support group (which I forgot to mention) and we were the only couple there who regularly talked about our differences in belief.

      Also, Mark helped me write this post, editing several drafts. When he read the first draft he said, “This just made my day, week, year.” It was a great experience for us, so it doesn’t really matter to me that you see deficiencies where there aren’t any.

      And when it comes to marriage counseling, I think you are way off base. Even for happy couples, having a third person to discuss things with can be a very helpful thing.

      As for the quote that offends you, it wasn’t intended that way. There are a lot of “the best kind of Mormons” and I hope it didn’t sound like I think Mark is the only one. On the other hand, there are a lot of devout and intolerant Mormons and I wanted to make it clear that Mark isn’t one of those.

    • Caroline says:

      Davis, I’m stunned by how ungenerous your comment was. Jessawhy was honest and vulnerable in this post, and you are leaping to the worst of conclusions about her and her marriage. Wow. I hope you do better interacting with people in real life.

      Thank you for this post. This is really helpful for me since I deal with some of the same dynamics in my marriage that you do. Though I adore Mike and feel that we have a strong marriage, I’ve felt for a couple years now that Mike and I should seriously look at our relationship and develop tools and strategies to improve our interactions. Reading your list of things you have done gives me ideas of where to go now. Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. I’m sure this post will be helpful to many people.

    • DefyGravity says:

      Davis, people communicate in different ways. Some can sit and talk everything out immediately, but some people can’t. Some people need to write things to make themselves understood. Some need time to process feelings before they can explain them (it sounds like that is what happened to Jessawhy, since she said she didn’t call her experience a break-through until later.) So the fact that her husband did not completely understand the experience until now does not mean a lack of communication, it means a certain kind of communication. I often have to process before I can explain things to my husband, and if I try before I’ve gotten my head around something, it just frustrates both of us.

      Your communication style is not the best or only one; please consider that before attacking someone else’s marriage.

      As for being able to support yourself, that can be as much about self-confidence, self-definition and personal need as it can be about an exit strategy. It makes me feel better to bring money into my household, to have the skills to take care of myself if necessary. It makes it easier to stay married in hard times, because I am staying by my own choice, not because I can’t take of myself and have no option but to stay or live in poverty. It makes me feel like a better human being, it makes me happier. I don’t plan to leave my husband; it is about me, not him. I agree with Caroline; you picked the most negative interpretation possible.

    • Nate Curtis says:

      Jess is being nicer than I am. People change throughout their lives. After 3 kids and 10+ years, no one is the same person they were when they got married. If someone has the same deepest fears after a decade of marriage as they did when they got married, there is something seriously wrong.

      As to your, “highly offensive” comment. I am a devout Mormon, but I am no kind in any sense of the word (but you probably figured that out by now), and my generosity outside of church is probably less than average by any measure, and not nearly as humble as I should be.

      When I go to church I am surrounded by people just like me.

      How many Mormons volunteer in their communities outside of church?
      How many Mormons give significantly to charities outside of church?

      If you can’t answer those questions (which I am fairly certain you can’t since we don’t talk about those things at church) then that is all the answer you need. Mormons consistently ignore the prophet’s counsel to get out in their communities and volunteer, to give to other charities besides the church. As a religion, our bar for kindness and generosity is set very low, and any acts that can be defined as kind or generous are typically done out of a sense of religious obligation rather than a sincere desire to improve the world.

      So yes, Jess is obligated to clearly define what kind of a Mormon her husband is beyond being devout. Instead of being offended, you should be asking yourself why a life-long Mormon like Jessica feels obligated to define her husband beyond being devout, because people both inside and outside of the church don’t see devout Mormons as automatically being either kind or generous. This is a church culture problem, not a problem with how Jess sees things.

      And for the record, her husband does participate in several community organizations, charity organizations, and he does give significantly to charities outside of church.

  2. Naismith says:

    Thanks for sharing, and willing to be honest with the world.

  3. Diane says:

    I’m impressed with the honesty in which you wrote about your marriage. I’m curious though and I completely understand why you wouldn’t want to answer my next question, which is this with the issues that you have with regard to church why would you listen to a pod cast on Marriage and sex therapy which would be from a heavily Mormon perspective, wouldn’t you want that advice from someone who is not affiliated with the church?

    I want you to understand, I’m in no way trying to be critical, nor am I making a judgment, I’m just trying to understand something better

    • Jessawhy says:

      That’s a good question. I happened to be driving solo from AZ to UT so beforehand I downloaded many Mormon Stories podcasts and some of them were about sex and marriage. One was by a LDS therapist and her insights were informed by Mormonism and her education. I don’t remember much about the podcast other than that she was clearly trying to help Mormons see how a Mormon framework can sometimes be damaging to marriage and sex and to work towards make them healthier.
      Honestly, most of her insights were things I had read in other books. Some concepts I remember was pretty radical to the LDS interviewer was not radical to me. (ex: masturbation having a healthy place in marriage).

      I’d be willing to listen to podcasts on marriage that were not from LDS sources, but I haven’t done any research to find them. Do you have any to recommend?

      • Diane says:

        Thanks, for answering my question, unfortunately, since I’m not married, I don’t have any resources, other than looking on Dr Phil’ s web site, I was merely curious as to what your thought processes were in using a LDS therapist vrs a secular one. It just helps me as a reader to understand better, I hope you didn’t take my question as being critical of choice of exit, it was not meant to be.

  4. DefyGravity says:

    Thanks for your post Jessawhy. I’m still thinking about how to respond, but you’ve given me a lot to consider. Good luck with next year!

  5. makakona says:

    the third to last paragraph meant the most to me, as a mom to many who are still in the single digits. for the first time in our parenting, my husband and i had a weekend without the kids to celebrate our tenth anniversary a couple of months ago. we didn’t even do anything fancy, but it was ah-MAZE-ing. we didn’t argue once and had such an incredible time. once we got the kids back, we were back to normal and i think it’s the first time we realized how much stress the kids can create. it felt good, though, to know that our marriage seems solid and that it’s the kids who throw a wrench into things… lack of sleep, busy schedule, trying to teach and coach and referee them. wouldn’t trade them, but we’re better off being more aware of it now.

    • Jessawhy says:

      What a great revelation, to know that your marriage is good but your kids are difficult. I wish you the best as your children grow!

  6. Deborah says:

    Hopeful and practical. You are both lucky that the other is willing to work jointly to grow your marriage.

  7. EmilyCC says:

    This post makes me so happy and hopeful (um, for my marriage, not your’s 🙂 ).

    People often talk about “working hard” in their marriage and making it better but don’t often describe how. I think that takes courage and confidence to share the specifics. Thanks, Jessawhy and Mark for doing this. This is just spectacular.

  8. Markawhy says:

    I don’t want to distract from Jessawhy’s post but perhaps I could share a short comment since I’m directly mentioned.

    Regarding the behavior of other Mormons. I tried not to infer too much. I thought Jessawhy’s comments implied “some” (but not “most” or “all other”) Mormons are not humble, devout, etc. Which I don’t think is too wacky. And though I’ve been told to never look a gift-horse in the mouth, I have to say Jessawhy’s comments are flattering. Very flattering.

    On communication. We talk a lot, but as someone already noted, sometimes an issue is better articulated in writing. Even if that wasn’t the case, its still hard to cover all the bases in the few hours a week adults (with small children) have together quietly. I don’t feel clueless in regards to where Jessawhy stands.

    A couple commented on Jessawhy’s “exit strategy”. I’m not unaware that others have such strategies, and I don’t condemn them, but I’m going to do all I can to ensure Jessawhy accomplishes her educational and personal goals because I want her to be married to me because she loves me, not just because she’s temporarily dependent on me. And I like my chances. Partners should be equally yoked, otherwise, the one with the most leverage can manipulate the relationship in a way that is terribly destructive to both. That’s not fair. I wouldn’t sign up for that, so why should she?

  9. Western girl says:

    I thought this was a lovely post, and loved seeing your husband’s thoughtful response here as well. How nice it is to see that you both care about each other and simply want the best for each other. That’s what marriage should be about. It’s simply not possible for spouses to feel the same way about every single thing, but if you can try to understand why the other person feels the way he/she does, that goes a long way toward deepening the relationship you already have. Also, going back to school is never a bad idea and it’s great your husband is so supportive- he sounds like a smart guy- that’s a win-win situation all around. I love the photo and wish you both all the best in the new year!

  10. Nate Curtis says:

    We all regularly visit doctors to maintain our physical health even when nothing is wrong.
    We all regularly visit dentist to maintain or oral hygiene.
    Why then wouldn’t we regularly visit therapists to maintain our mental health?

    EmillyCC and my current therapist is fairly new. And she has challenged both of us in ways that are uncomfortable and difficult. However, her sessions have helped Emily and I reach a new level in our relationship as well as break through some of those stubborn barriers that have plagued us for years. She also lives in Chicago, and we do therapy over Skype. I actually love this system. She gets to stay in her home, and we stay in ours which makes everything much more comfortable. I can’t give her a high enough recommendation.

    As a result of this therapy, for the first time in a long time I feel like I am being the kind of partner EmilyCC deserves instead of just doing the minimum necessary to credibly claim that I am a “good” husband. In an early session our therapist argued that I was not only failing to be the person I claimed to be, but that this lie was eroding my integrity and self-esteem. As a result, Emily was less able to trust and respect me, but I was being so manipulative in our relationship that neither of us could clearly see what I was doing.

    My first mistake was twisting my words around to half-truths and false commitments. This did not involve any of the big marriage red flags. I was not lying about women, pornography or money. I was lying by telling Emily I would mop the floor or do the dishes, and then not doing it for days or ever. Each of those little commitment failures were dings against my integrity and made Emily less and less able to trust and rely on me. For week or two that is not a big deal, but thousands of failed commitments over 5 or 10 years, and had done some serious damage to our relationship.

    The problem is that when I look around at other Mormon husbands, I see almost all of them doing the same thing I was doing.

    In one of our early sessions our therapist confronted me with this truth and I had this moment of realization that if anyone treated me the way I was treating Emily, I would not stand for it. Hell, if anyone treated Emily the way I was treating Emily, I would go ape shit on them. That moment was very difficult for me to accept, but impossible for me to ignore. I apologized profusely to Emily and recommitted to being the partner she deserved. There are obviously still ups and downs, but I will never go back to how I was before. This is just a better way.

    None of this would have been possible without therapy, and we were never a couple that would self-define as being in an unhappy or unsatisfying marriage (or at least I wouldn’t, EmilyCC surprises me sometimes).

    Therapy is expensive. Therapy usually isn’t covered by insurance. Therapy is probably one of the most important things Emily and I do together. To steal a paraphrase from Mark, regular therapy is just good relationship hygiene.

    Kudos to M&J for tackling the hard stuff and not being afraid to talk about it.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Thanks for the comment and for sharing your experiences as well.

      I LOVE that you point to not mopping the floor as a serious personal failing. That is not the kind of thing most husbands would see. Good for you.
      I’ve always told Mark, either do it when you say you will, or tell me you can’t do it. But don’t say you will do it and then not follow up. It drives me crazy. I’m not sure we’ve dealt with that in therapy yet, but I’ll have Mark read this and we’ll consider that free therapy.

      Your point about the small disappointments adding up over years is very astute. I’m glad that you guys are working these things out just like the rest of us.

      Wishing you the best.

  11. April says:

    Thank you for posting this! I remembered your post when you resolved to work on marriage and I was very curious how it went because I would like to work on my marriage, too. You have given me lots of good ideas.

  12. Suzette Smith says:

    Jess, Thank you for posting this. It is honest and vulnerable – and probably took a lot of courage. I appreciate reading posts like this because I learn so much from the experiences of others.
    All the best moving forward – Suzette

  13. Ziff says:

    Great post, Jess. I’m so impressed with you and Mark, both in that you did all this work to try to improve your marriage even when it was already going pretty well, and in your openness in sharing your experiences. Good on you both!

  14. Loved the honesty and openness of this post. Letting a counselor into our lives is a struggle for many, let alone the world through blogging our sincere thoughts and feelings. Thank you for being willing to share.

    Ps: Loved Mark’s comments as well.

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