How Can I Tell If I Am in an Abusive Relationship?

It’s heartbreaking to me to hear tales of abuse. In the last five years, I have heard stories past and present of verbal, emotional and sexual abuse. I am not a trained psychologist, but as a bishop, I have been a little too keenly aware of some of the hallmarks of abuse. I think it might be helpful to some of my readers to share the tell-tale signs of abuse, and how you can seek help.

One of the reasons why I want to share them is because often the abuser and the abused have a hard time seeing what is going on.

The abused (usually female) fears more abuse or retaliation, so she doesn’t want to rock the boat. She is quiet about her suffering. She is afraid of severing her marriage or other relationship. There is fear that someone she loves—but can’t trust—will go to jail. There is also denial, another form of fear, which is the feeling that what is going on isn’t that bad and she can make it through another day.

The abuser (often male) doesn’t see how his behavior is affecting others. He usually was a victim of abuse himself, but doesn’t realize that consciously. He doesn’t know how normal families operate, because he has never been in one. He is hurting deeply from the scars of past abuse, so he lashes out to hurts others. He models what he experienced as a child. He covers his shame with rage and schemes of control. But he does a great job (most of the time) of covering up and looking good to his neighbors, co-workers, and fellow church goers.

It is an awful cycle of shame and denial, of fear and hiding. It is daily torture.

If you are in an abusive relationship, you may not realize it until you have shared what’s going on in your private life with someone you trust, such as a bishop or other religious leader or a counselor or a kind voice on an abuse hotline.

Here are some signs to look for:

Is there yelling and anger going on in your house every day or nearly every day?

Is there constant name calling or put downs or vulgarity?

Does someone you love fly off the handle at the slightest provocation on a regular basis?

Do you feel threatened or unsafe in your own home? Do you fear for your health or even life? Are you afraid for your children?

Do you feel like you can never express yourself or your point of view?

Do you feel like you are not respected or valued?

Do you feel that you have no say or control over your life?

Does the advice in my past blog posts on marriage relationships seem “out there” and like it absolutely would not work or apply in your marriage?

Do you feel like you could comment on this post or any other post on abuse, but are afraid to do so for fear that someone might find out?

Are you told not to tell of events you have witnessed in your home, and threatened if you do tell?

Do you feel trapped, like you can’t talk about your personal life with anyone?

Do you feel worthless and depressed most of the time, like you can’t do anything right? Are you told that you are worthless?

Do you feel guilty for enabling bad behavior because you are too afraid to speak up about it?

Do you feel like you actually deserve the abusive behavior that is coming your way?

Do you loath night time?

Do you emotionally cover your eyes and ears, unable to deal with what you are seeing and hearing?

Does someone in your life appear to be hiding things, sneaking around, overreacting when you surprise him by walking into a room or coming home, won’t let you go in a certain room of the house, staying up late, or otherwise acting mysteriously?

Have you ever been struck or punched or drug? Have you seen someone in your family physically harmed in any way?

Do you feel or have you ever felt forced to do things that you know are wrong?

Do you have fantasies of brutally retaliating against another person, in defense of yourself or your child?

Are you looking for ways to run away or hide or even ending your own life as a way to escape all the pain?

If you have answered yes to any of these questions, you need to talk to someone soon. You need help.

Pick up the phone, send an email, write a note, make an appointment as soon as you can. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your bishop or stake president or minister, tell a trusted friend or parent first. Look up the LDS Family Services office near you and call them or stop by. Go to Google and type in “abuse hotline” and find a number to call and then call it. Or you can send me a personal message on Facebook and click “Send Mike Fitzgerald a Message.” I will gladly do what I can to help you find the help you need. (I cannot counsel you if you are not a member of our ward, but I can point you to some ways to get immediate help.)

No one and I mean NO ONE deserves to feel this way or to be treated this way.

You are loved by your Heavenly Father as much as anyone. He doesn’t love anyone more than He loves you, even though you might not feel that way right now. He wants to help you. He has not betrayed you. He would never do that. He has to send angels to do much of his work, some of them mortal. Let them help you. God bless you.

How to Overcome Frustration with Your Husband, Part 2

If you read my last post, you might be saying, “Well, yeah, but you don’t know my husband.”

You’re right. And I don’t blame you for saying that. Can I know all what’s going on in your marriage, and all the frustration you are experiencing? No.

But I can say with the perfect assurance that comes from many years of trial and error: The change you want to see in others starts and ends with you.

I’m not saying your husband doesn’t need to change. He absolutely does. We all do.

But you will actually slow that change if you try to use negative emotions to bring it about. Those emotions can only come from pride and impatience which is just another way Satan tempts us to give up on our marriage.

Heavenly Father is always telling us, “Keep trying. Hang in there! Don’t give up. I believe in you. I know you can do it.” On the contrary, Satan is always trying to get us to throw in the towel. He is always tempting to check out of our marriages, our faith, our devotion to high principle.

My main point here is that you will be far less frustrated with your man—and yourself—if you use power, not force, to change your situation.

What is the difference between power and force?

Power is your positive influence on others for good, which motivates them by virtue of your innate beauty and goodness. It is one of your greatest gifts. By it you create a desire in others to change and to be and do better because of how you honor their agency, and offer them your respect, your complete acceptance and your unvarnished, unconditional love.

Force, on the other hand, compels others to change through negativity and fear, which may bring about temporary change, but not without resentment and a desire to run or strike back.

Force gets temporary results, but it never lasts. True power comes from God. It is eternal. It lasts forever.

Your power source comes from being true to God and to yourself, from being your truest, best self; force comes roaring in when you choose to betray yourself with fear and rage. Whenever those two feelings are present, so is the devil.

Your power is founded on self-control and comes “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile…” (D&C 121:41,42).

Your force, which is the same as giving away your power, which is just Satan’s counterfeit for power, is manifest by his sneaky polar opposites, “by contention, by impatience, by harshness and pride, and by the absence of love; by unkindness, and deception, which shall greatly shrink the soul with hypocrisy, and with guile…”

When you are true to the Lord and to your highest self, you will come into your true power, and your frustrations will diminish until they utterly disappear.

This is how Jesus Christ overcame the world (see John 16:33). This is how you can overcome the world. This is how you can overcome your frustration with your husband. This is where you can find complete peace.

How to Overcome Frustration with Your Husband

I suspect you are frustrated with your husband. He just doesn’t see things the way you do. He doesn’t communicate, at least not as well as you would like. He won’t talk about the things that you feel are important.

He doesn’t share his feelings with you openly like he did before you were married. He doesn’t follow through on all the things you wish he would. Sometimes you argue with him.

You don’t know what to do or where to turn. You need to talk about it, but when you and your friends get together for a “down on your husbands” session, you don’t feel any better. In fact, you feel a little guilty.

Not every wife feels like this, but most do. Especially early in marriage.

You are not alone. Even Jesus felt this way. As his patience was tried by the choices of others around him, several times He said (Matthew 17:17):

…Oh faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?

Do you ever feel like that towards your husband or children?

I believe that we can find the solution to this problem in the scriptures and in the personal revelation we can receive when we study them.

Here are a few verses that I believe will help you. They are the “five scriptures that will change your marriage” from Brent Barlow’s book Just for Newlyweds (1992).

I promise if you study these verses, ponder them, apply them, and answer honestly the questions that follow them, you will feel better about your marriage and have the insight you need to start moving forward today, not only in your marriage but in your personal life.

Scripture #1: Matthew 7:12 The Law of the Boomerang

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

This single principle boils down all of holy writ in one concept: Treat others just the way you would like to be treated.

Let me ask you then: Are you treating your husband with the gentleness, kindness, respect and love that you want yourself? Are you loving him the way he wants to be loved, just as you wish he would love you the way you want to be loved?

Do you treat yourself with kindness? Are you treating yourself the way you want to be treated? This is important, even if it sounds silly, because if you are being severe on yourself, you will likely be severe on others, especially your husband.

Dr. Barlow calls this the law of the boomerang. How you treat others will hit you on the back of the head like a boomerang. You decide if that boomerang will be made of hardwood or gold or maybe padded with foam rubber.

Scripture #2: Matthew 7:3–5 The Change-First Principle

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

Are you worried about the changes you wish your husband would make but haven’t gotten around to changing yourself? If you want to change others, you have to change yourself first. You have to be an example of what you want your spouse and children to be like.

If you don’t put in the effort to change yourself—and I mean honest effort—how can you expect to see clearly enough to help others change?

A woman in our ward once said, “You teach what you are.” What you are teaches other people that it’s okay to be like you. It gives other people, especially your husband, the quiet permission to be just like you. What are you acting like?

Scripture #3: Galatians 6:7 The Law of the Harvest

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

Most of us sow wild oats of some sort or another for six days and then on the seventh day we pray for crop failure.

Whatever kind of seeds we are planting in our relationships, even the tiny ones, they will take root and sprout. If you are sowing resentment, what will grow? If you just hold the thought and feeling of blame and accusation, even though you are not saying it out loud, you are sowing blame and accusation and they will grow up and, like weeds, will choke out the good plants if you do not kill them down to the roots.

If you are planting patience, kindness, gentleness and love, what will you get back?

Whatever feeling you hold in your heart towards your husband, you will get back, even if you are trying to hold it secretly.

Your thoughts and feelings are your forecast for the good or bad weather that shows up in your relationships, but unlike the TV weatherman, you will be remarkably accurate in forecasting what weather you enjoy (or don’t enjoy), based on what you believe about the man you are married to.

Scripture #4: James 1:3–4 The Patience Principle

…The trying of your faith worketh patience…let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf spoke on patience in the April 2010 priesthood session of general conference. Here is something he said that really penetrated my heart:

Patience [is] far more than simply waiting for something to happen—patience require[s] actively working toward worthwhile goals and not getting discouraged when results didn’t appear instantly or without effort. There is an important concept here: patience is not passive resignation, nor is it failing to act because of our fears. Patience means active waiting and enduring. It means staying with something and doing all that we can—working, hoping, and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of our hearts are delayed. Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well! Impatience, on the other hand, is a symptom of selfishness. It is a trait of the self-absorbed. It arises from the all-too-prevalent condition called “center of the universe” syndrome, which leads people to believe that the world revolves around them and that all others are just supporting cast in the grand theater of mortality in which only they have the starring role.

What I take from Pres. Uchtdorf is that if we expect others to change, we must work and hope and exercise faith and endure well. We can’t have a “throw my hands in the air” attitude. We have to stick with it. And if we are impatient with our spouses, perhaps it is a symptom of our selfishness.

Scripture #5: D&C 1:10 The Divine Principle

…The Lord shall come to recompense unto every man according to his work, and measure to every man according to the measure which he has measured to his fellow man.

Once again, the Lord will measure back to you what you deal out. You will reap what you sow, and the boomerang that you throw towards others will make a wide arc and hit you on the backside. If you don’t let go of your resentment, it will search for you and haunt you. If you want your spouse to change, you have to do the changing first. If you are not patient, you may be being selfish and perhaps childish.

I have put these thoughts into my own words, but what I have said is what I sincerely believe the scriptures say and mean. I know because I have lived it. I have personally experienced both sides of these verses. This is not just a hollow lecture.

We are still working on it, of course, but for the most part, we as a couple have moved beyond blaming each other for our unhappiness. We communicate. We talk about everything openly but in a safe way. We do not belittle each other or call each other names. We treat each other with respect. We are patient with each other. But we are also honest and unafraid to talk about the things that really count. We don’t have “the perfect marriage,” but we are on to something better.

The changes I wanted to see in my marriage started to happen when I started changing myself, and with faith and confidence in what God has said on the subject, I know you will experience the change you want in your marriage when you really start changing yourself from the heart. When I took my frustration and converted it into efforts to change myself, that is when my marriage and my life started to get a lot happier.

Moroni said it this way (Alma 60:23):

Now I would that ye should remember that God has said that the inward vessel shall be cleansed first, and then shall the outer vessel be cleansed also.

It starts with me and it starts with you. Isn’t that great to know? It means that you have the power to change your life, no matter what anyone else says or does.

Please read Part 2, a continuation of this topic.

The Two Biggest Complaints I Hear from Wives and Husbands

After nearly five years of counseling couples and individuals as a bishop, two consistent complaints have emerged, one from wives and one from husbands, that represent the single most common problems I see in marriage. I think these two complaints touch every couple. I want to share them with you and make a few observations.

The chief complaint among wives is that their husbands won’t communicate well with them and won’t express their feelings to them. The biggest complaint I hear from husbands is that their wives communicate too sharply and that they are constantly negative and critical.

So the more pitched her delivery becomes, the more he clams up. And around, around they go.

Can you see a pattern? I think it goes like this: wives are frustrated because they can’t get the time, attention and emotional connection they need from their husbands, and husbands are discouraged and don’t want to communicate because they feel beaten down by their wives’ constant fault finding and negativity.

What happens then is both husbands and wives don’t get what they want and need. She wants love, attention and connection. He wants honor and respect.

We push away what we want most because we are so frustrated in not getting it.

Here’s an example that illustrates what I think is going on. Your little girl is sitting in a grocery basket at the store. She sees a box of Mike and Ikes and she really wants them, so she starts to fuss and clamor and pout. She throws her head back and yells and cries. But the more she whines and pleads, the less inclined mom is to satisfy her whim and the angrier mom gets.

Or think about your lonely, depressed friend in high school who is dying for attention. He acts out. He is sullen and hurt and distant and dripping with self-pity, but the more he acts like this, the less inclined you feel to show him the attention he desperately wants. You want to run the other direction when you see him coming your way down the hall.

These naughty little behaviors follow us right into adulthood and into our marriages. They might show up in different ways, but the emotions are very similar, and yield us the same result: complete frustration.

So what can you do about it? How can you get what you want without all the aggravation and heartache?

One thing that really helps is something I’ll call thoughtful anticipation. Here is how it works.

Back to our Mike and Ike analogy. Mom just found a parking spot at the grocery store and she anticipates what her daughter might do in the store, so before the crisis appears, even before getting out of the car, she says, “Sarah, I would love for you to get a special treat today. We can’t do this every time we go to the store, but today we can. But you need to be a special helper to mommy today. Do you know what I want you to do?” And then Mom lays down the expectations of what needs to happen in order for Sarah to get the thing that she wants. Mom is loving but firm: if Sarah won’t “be a helper,” she’ll miss out. Both mom and Sarah are much happier because they know what to expect out of each other, and they know how to get what they want.

So here is my suggestion for married couples. If you want good communication that isn’t weighed down by contention and frustration, try thoughtful anticipation. Figure out what you want and need, then ask for it long before the volcano erupts. Anticipate and avoid your frustration by talking about the issue well before it brings your water to boil.

Here is an example of thoughtful anticipation from a wife: “Sweetheart, I want to talk about my birthday. It’s over a month away. I know it sounds a little self-centered, but sometimes I don’t feel very special on my birthday. I have three things you could do that would really help. Can I tell you what they are when its a good time to talk?”

If your husband is a reasonable person, of course he is going to offer a resounding “Yes!” He wants to be a success at helping you to be happy. And he’ll want to hear you because you are teaching him how to be successful at meeting your needs, and it will be much easier to express your feelings without turning various stages of red. And he’ll want to hear you more if he doesn’t feel put down, criticized or cajoled.

But like I said in my last blog post, these efforts don’t always work. They usually work if your spouse is emotionally stable and has his or her baggage balanced and under control. If that baggage is not under control, you and your spouse need intervention and support. It is the old, unaddressed baggage that almost always discourages communication and, unfortunately, has the potential to ruin relationships.

This is why regular date nights are so important, because they can often provide a calm, safe atmosphere for productive communication. Every couple needs that. In fact, I hardly know of anything a couple needs more. You don’t have to spend a lot of money while you’re out. It’s just being together, alone, and being able to express yourself without putting your spouse on the defensive that lays the groundwork for solid, respectful communication. (If you go to a movie, be sure to include a stop after that will allow talk time.)

I have found that I can talk about almost anything with my wife if I do it with love, leaving blame and accusation at the door. And if I talk about it early enough, long before the storm arrives, I am a much happier guy and my wife is a much happier gal.

Communicate early, with courage and without blame, and you’ll find you are much, much more satisfied in your relationships. God bless you with the strength to speak out about your needs without letting your baggage weigh you down and get in the way of clear communication.

Two and a Half Months: The "Kisses for Amy" Blog

Two weeks ago, on July 3, Amy Reed Jackson, age 36, died after a 2 1/2 month battle with a rare form of cancer, adenoid cystic carcinoma. She left behind six children and an adoring husband. Her husband’s blog, Kisses for Amy, came to my attention yesterday and hit me broadside.

This is what Amy’s husband Gary wrote a week before she died:

“I know that there are not nearly as many men who will read this as there are women, but to those who do, I would like to share a little advice with you that might help you to strengthen your marriage.

“Always take your wife into your arms each and every morning and each and every night and tell her how much she means to you. Don’t assume that she knows you love her—tell her. Show her by doing little things to surprise her. Bring home her favorite candy bar when you come home from work just so she knows you were thinking about her. Call her out of the blue during the day and tell her you love her. Tell her something about her that you appreciate each day. Think of all the little things you love about her and share them with her. Share a new reason each day.

“Don’t ever think of things that you wish she would improve on, or how you wish she were different in some ways. Always find ways to make her feel like she is your queen. Think of all the things you would miss about her if she were taken from you suddenly, and be grateful for them and show her your gratitude.

“Don’t try to change her: treat her like she is your everything and either change will come because she will want to show you her appreciation in return, or, more likely, you will learn to look past her faults and understand that she is only human and almost as imperfect as you.

“I know that I directed this to the husbands because I am one, and I suppose I speak from experience as a husband, but I guess that this advice could be just as good for all of you women as well.”

I know how easy it is to get caught in the inconvenient, gut wrenching trials of everyday living, but what if you only had three months left with your wife? What if your wife came home from a doctor’s appointment diagnosed with an aggressive, terminal disease?

I guarantee it would change your outlook.

This happened to me (my wife had a serious, life-threatening illness, though not cancer) but the difference was, I got my wife back. And that changed me forever.

To tell you the truth, I am so glad it happened because it opened my eyes, wide. We nearly lost everything because of it, but what we have left are the riches you can take with you into the next life. Isn’t that what we came here to find anyway?

I just wish all the husbands I knew could understand one thing: If you would love your wife the way she wants and deserves to be loved, 98 percent of the little annoying problems in your relationship with her would simply go away. (This is not guaranteed to work in every relationship. I’ll address this in my next blog post.)

Period. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

What’s the best thing I came away with from my own experience?

I no longer take my wife for granted. Not for a minute.

And I believe it is my number one job in life to love her the way she wants and deserves to be loved.

Love is an act of faith. It will pay you back. I promise you it will.

The Temple

“In addition to temples, surely another holy place on earth ought to be our homes. The feelings of holiness in my home prepared me for feelings of holiness in the temple.” —James E. Faust

“When you come to the temple, you will love your family with a deeper love than you have ever felt before. The temple is about families.” —Richard H. Winkel

“As a result of the sacred ordinances performed in the holy house of God, no light need be permanently extinguished, no voice permanently stilled, no place in our heart permanently left vacant.” —Thomas S. Monson

“At the temple, the dust of distraction seems to settle out, the fog and the haze seem to lift, and we can ‘see’ things that we were not able to see before and find a way through our troubles that we had not previously known.” —Boyd K. Packer

“Temples are places of personal revelation. When I have been weighed down by a problem or a difficulty, I have gone to the House of the Lord with a prayer in my heart for answers. The answers have come in clear and unmistakable ways.” —Ezra Taft Benson

“I have a suggestion: When a temple is conveniently nearby, small things may interrupt your plans to go to the temple. Set specific goals, considering your circumstances, of when you can and will participate in temple ordinances. Then do not allow anything to interfere with that plan.” —Richard G. Scott

“Just as our Redeemer gave His life as a vicarious sacrifice for all men, and in so doing became our Savior, even so we, in a small measure, when we engage in proxy work in the temple, become as saviors to those on the other side.” —Gordon B. Hinckley

“What I am trying to teach is that when we keep the temple covenants we have made and when we live righteously in order to maintain the blessings promised by those ordinances, then come what may, we have no reason to worry or to feel despondent.” —Richard G. Scott

All quotes from

Not a Sightseeing or Shopping Trip

I heard this quote yesterday and really liked it. It comes from a talk called “We Are Women of God” by Sheri Dew.

“As I prepared for an assignment out of the country, I felt such a foreboding about the trip that prior to leaving I sought a priesthood blessing. I was warned that the adversary would attempt to thwart my mission and that physical and spiritual danger lay ahead. I was also counseled that this was not to be a sight-seeing or a shopping trip and that if I would focus on my assignments and seek the direction of the Spirit, I would return safely home.

“Well, the warning was sobering. But as I proceeded, pleading for direction and protection each step of the way, I realized that my experience wasn’t all that unique. Might not our Father have said to you and to me as we left His presence: ‘The adversary will attempt to thwart your mission, and you will face spiritual and physical danger. But if you will focus on your assignments, if you will heed my voice, and if you will refuse to reduce mortality to a sight-seeing or a shopping trip, you will return safely home’?

“The adversary is delighted when we act like sightseers, meaning those who are hearers rather than doers of the word (see James 1:22), or shoppers, meaning those preoccupied with the vain things of this world that suffocate our spirits. Satan baits us with perishable pleasures and preoccupations—our bank accounts, our wardrobes, even our waistlines—for he knows that where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also (see Matt. 6:21). Unfortunately, it is easy to let the blinding glare of the adversary’s enticements distract us from the light of Christ. ‘For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Matt. 16:26).”