The Number One Complaint I Heard from Husbands (Part 1)

I have to say that, with little exception, husbands who came to see me as bishop were respectful of their wives. They honored them in spite of their difficulties with them, or weaknesses in their marriages. I was always very impressed by this.

Though they were respectful, one complaint emerged as the most common one offered across the bishop’s desk.

This is what it was. Sometimes wives could get almost entirely focused on the negative aspects of a situation or a person, especially those of her husband or children, and close friends or relatives. This negative focus could turn into long, painful bouts of bitter criticism and stinging complaint.

Men, to be sure, do this, too. But I have seen or heard of it coming from women more often than from men.

This is pretty discouraging to men. Little, I think, is more discouraging to them. Some men put up a wall of resistance and engage in defensive arguments with their wives. Others turn off their ear drums and drift into silence.  In both situations, most men build up walls of confused resentment. I say confused because few men understand where this bitterness comes from or what to do about it. Most men just write off the behavior and say, “She’s just that way.”

The fact is that nearly all women can be “that way” at one time or another, some more than others. And it’s not just because of a monthly hormonal imbalance, either. It goes deeper than that. Much deeper.

I don’t know or understand every women’s situation—of course not—but I have seen this behavior in enough marriages that I can offer a little insight. These bouts with negativity and bitterness occur in women when their deepest needs are not being met, when they are not getting the attention or respect they deserve, or when they do not feel completely loved for who they are. Some feel judged, others ignored. Whatever the case, they are unhappy and unfulfilled.

Sometimes I think the clamor is an attempt (usually unconscious) to get attention. Observe children and you’ll know that they’ll sometimes do just about anything to get attention, be it positive or negative. If we don’t get enough positive attention in our lives, especially from spouse and family, we can wilt and shrivel. And we’ll take negative attention over no attention. I think this is what is at the core of the negativity I have seen in a lot of marriages.

Let’s start with the opposite end of the spectrum, with a wife who feels loved, honored, respected and cherished, and who, most importantly, loves herself. When this is the case, you will see little of bitterness and complaining. The poison well just dries up. A wife who has these needs fulfilled consistently is less likely to be overcome with negativity. If her spouse is showing her love and honor and respect consistently, and she is still angry and negative most of the time, well, there often is something else going on.

Although there may be a logical reason behind these negative emotions, there is a higher standard for expressing them. For example, in the epistle to the Ephesians we read:

    Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
    And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.
    Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
    And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:29–32.)

I think we should all be free to express ourselves, openly and honestly, but without the adornment of anger and bitterness. If anything is coming out of your mouth that is not edifying, that is not building others up, then the devil has power in your life. If you are blaming others for your unhappiness, you are laying your power at the feet of an idol.

And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. (D&C 50:23)

I trust the Word of the Lord to guide me. I don’t let darkness have power in my life. (I have dark moments, but I don’t let them last long.) I can say what I need to say without holding back, but I say it with respect and kindness. If I imagine that Christ is part of every conversation I have (and He is whether I recognize it or not), I have learned that I can say anything I have to say to anyone with grace and honor.

One of the reasons we feel a need to “vent” is because we hold in our feelings so long that they start to rot and fester. If you are a stuffer, you are going to suffer. Don’t stuff your feelings. Let them out, but not on the tip of a dagger.

What about a husband who does his level best to show his wife his love, honor and respect, on a regular basis, and she is still bitter and unhappy. Often when this is the case, there is something troubling going on. Something more profound and personal that may not involve the husband that much. It might have something to do with a past relationship or experience where feelings are unresolved and the wife takes it out on her husband. Or it might be something worse, like an addiction, a serious transgression, a grave temptation, or past abuse. I have the greatest respect for those husbands who patiently endure marriages where the relationship is dominated by their wives’ negative or unresolved emotions. Happy is the man who learns how to help his wife untangle her feelings, get them out in the open, and start finding ways to communicate positively.

My wife sometimes says to me,”You can’t make me happy” meaning that she realizes that it is her choice to be happy, no matter what anyone else does or says. When she says that, I usually quip, “But I can do more for your happiness than any other person on the planet.” I think we are both right.

My advice to husbands and wives was always to keep their covenants at all cost. The covenants you make in holy places are primarily between you and God. You can keep those covenants, no matter what someone else says or does, or doesn’t say or do. But I also know that there are times when a marriage becomes unendurable if your spouse is involved in repeated infidelity, or evil, abusive, or even criminal behavior.

Whatever the case, I would err on the side of kindness and mercy and patience. I would give my spouse as many chances to get it right as I would want for myself. (But there is a limit in extreme cases.)

Finally, here is a little test for husbands. If you find that your wife is more negative than positive, ask yourself these questions and what you might do differently:

  1. How often do you plan and take your wife on a date?
  2. Do you read the scriptures together as a family or as a couple regularly?
  3. Can you admit that you are wrong and sincerely apologize?
  4. Do you pray together as a family or couple on a daily basis?
  5. When was the last time you went to the temple together?
  6. Do you ever offer to give your wife a break and send her away for an evening while you clean up after dinner and get the kids to bed?
  7. Do you sincerely compliment your wife or tell her honestly that you love her every day?

If you have answered no to any of these questions, you will probably have more negativity in your home than you’d like. But I promise you that, if you follow the seven items listed above, you can do more to help your wife resolve her feelings than anyone else. You may disagree with me, but I consider it my number one job, outside of my devotion to God, to love, honor, respect and cherish my wife, no matter her disposition for the moment.

I work pretty hard at this and I can tell you that I am among the happiest married men I know. I really am. Yes, we have our moments, but they pass quickly. Since I believe I am in charge of my own happiness, I throw a lot of forward passes and play very little defense. I hope your wife responds as tenderly and lovingly as my wife does to me. If she does, you will be a very happy man as well.

P.S. I know there are exceptions (read my disclaimer). If you cannot find peace and happiness in your relationship with your wife, I would seek for counseling and other help. If you are at a total impasse, and both of you are in a degree of misery, then I pray that you will find a way to break free and move forward again.

Next, Part 2.

Update on Health

It has been several months since I gave you an update on my health. I am at home with a virus today, so it’s a good time to send a post, though a little ironic.

I have been on the steroid Prednisone for several months which has been keeping the lid on my hyperactive immune system. I am trying to get off it now. I got down to one tablet a day (5 mg) for a time and stopped entirely four days ago. Some of the symptoms are flaring, like the perioral inflammation (around my mouth), but other than that, I am feeling quite good, virus notwithstanding.

I am taking an herbal supplement called Immucalm that is helping keep my immune system calm. I can tell a difference shortly after I take a few capsules. Sometimes I have taken herbs or a supplement for something and it seems nothing happens. But other times I can tell when something really works. This, gratefully, is one of those times.

I know, you can clog your brain with so many choices and options, but you have to listen carefully to your own body, your own spirit. I am grateful for modern medicine and ancient medicine. Both take patience and wisdom to apply safely and correctly. But if there is anything I can do to treat an illness through pure nutrition, I’ll do that first.

Speaking of nutrition, I’ve stayed on a largely vegetable-based diet for over four months and I’ve been off of meat for about five months. What a difference it has made. I have been able to maintain a much healthier weight (over 30 pounds off my peak), reduce body fat, and feel much more energetic and clear minded. I have a few gooshy spots, but for the most part I am lean and have more strength and endurance. Those things feel better than any food tastes.

One interesting side effect is that I have not gotten a sunburn this summer. Not even a little one. This has been a yearly ordeal since childhood. I am fair skinned and always used to get burns. But this year, nothing. Sometimes I have put a little sunscreen on the back of my neck as a precaution, but that’s it. I was out in the sun for several hours a few Saturdays ago, but no burn. I have heard how people who eat raw food don’t burn and now I am a believer. 

My diet is, however, not perfect. My wife and I went out to dinner for our anniversary about a week ago—Tucanos which has a HUGE salad bar. I secretly asked the hostess to bring us a big slice of chocolate cake. (I love to totally shock my wife. The longer we are married, the better I get at it.) I actually ate about 1/4 of the slice. It tasted wonderful, but since I don’t eat much sugar, something that sweet almost burns my taste buds. I am not kidding. And my stomach was a bit rumbley afterwards, too.  I won’t do that very often, but I preforgive myself if I do.

I read a book recently where the author claimed to eat really healthy food 90 percent of the time. I need my ratio to be 95 percent or higher. I think this is a good approach. It’s got balance. I eat A LOT of raw food, but I am not 100 percent raw and don’t plan to be. I don’t eat meat right now, but I do plan to eat some turkey on Thanksgiving. I avoid sweets generally, but will have a little on a special occasion.

Snack foods and sweets aren’t that appealing to me anymore. They are not a temptation. I crave vegetables like never before. For breakfast, lunch or dinner. I know that sounds a little odd, but it’s true. It’s a good place to be. I am not fighting with myself over food. And rather than paying the price for my culinary indulgences, I am getting tons of benefits from eating the way I am, like staying away from the hospital, for one.

I am a convert to healthy eating. I am not saying I’ll never fall prey to my Cheez-it and cookie appetite. I could. But I don’t plan on it.

P.S. I miss orange juice. 

Seven Triggers for Transgression: The Yellow Zone

I am writing this because I feel like someone out there could use a little help.

A few years ago while I was a bishop, a wise young man shared this list of triggers with me. He had been seeing a counselor who told him there were seven basic triggers that can lead us to repeat bad habits or fall back into addiction or transgression.

I’ve listed them here.

  1. Lonely
  2. Tired
  3. Bored
  4. Stressed
  5. Depressed
  6. Anxious
  7. Angry

Each one is surrounded by a negative—and usually hidden—emotion. If you are wrestling with overcoming habits or an addiction, these triggers can be a “yellow zone.” What a I mean by “yellow zone” is that you know you need to slow down or stop but you are having a hard time doing so. If you have difficulty with a bad habit, you’ll find that one of these triggers may precede slipping back and losing ground.

I am adding seven counter measures that can help you avoid situations or thought patterns that lead to doing something you will later regret. Each numbered item is an antidote to one in the previous list. Each one is associated with creating a positive emotion.

  1. If you are lonely, spend time with someone else who is lonely and could use your attention.
  2. If you are tired, you are likely not going to bed early (see D&C 88:124). Try not to stay up so late; in fact, go to bed earlier than usual.
  3. If you find yourself getting bored, plan activities with friends well in advance and go and have some fun.
  4. If you are stressed, eat better, exercise more regularly and breathe deeply.
  5. If you are depressed, it usually helps to talk about your feelings. Talk to someone you trust about your feelings regularly.
  6. If you are anxious, write down what you are anxious about, then take it to the Lord with precise faith. Pray in faith as well as at length and then listen patiently for the comfort that will come.
  7. If you are angry, you are likely blaming a person for hurting you or someone you love. Seek to forgive, not correct, that person. Leave that to the Lord. Also, forgive yourself. People who forgive themselves find it easier to forgive others.  

If you diligently apply the solutions in the second list—which all involve reaching beyond yourself—you have an excellent chance of overcoming the yellow zone of old habits.

Reach out to other people. If you feel you have no friends, reach out to the friendless and become a friend. Get yourself plenty of rest and good nutrition. Seek the advice of a leader or a trusted friend or counselor to discuss any feelings of depression you may have and seek further help if needed. Be patient and persistent in your prayers, and seek and freely offer your forgiveness—nothing is more freeing.

Apply the brakes just when the light turns yellow, not when the light has already turned red.

The Death of Masculinity (Part 4)

Let me address a few things that have come up in the comments on this series.

First of all, in love, nothing can be done by coercion or force, neither by a man nor a woman. Well, you might save a person’s life by force, without that person’s consent, but that would be a rare case. You can only really “take charge” in a way that wins the respect of others if you do it in righteousness, that is, “only 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). These qualities apply to both sexes though the context for the verses cited is that of men holding the priesthood.

Though I believe that men and women are complete equals, I also believe they have distinct ways of expressing themselves that are wonderfully different. I think that this is what keeps men and women fascinated by each other—all those differences keep relationships vibrant and fun. We are similar but different enough to keep our interest up while we try to figure the other out. I am always sad when I see a marriage lose that wonder between the sexes that can be so much fun. We lose the wonder when we stop carefully listening. When we stop listening, we lose respect, and when we lose respect, we lose sight of who we really are.

Some think I am blaming men for all the trouble in male-female relationships. That is not the case. I am focusing on men in this series, but I am not blaming them as the sole source of trouble. When relationships disintegrate, there are always issues on both sides, things that could be done better. While I do not believe men are solely to blame, I do believe they should lead in love, in purity and righteousness, and when they do not, it causes troubled hearts and sadness in a home, especially in a home based in the gospel.     

I’ll conclude by confessing what I really believe about men. I may be wrong about some of the aspects that I have explored with you in this series, but this is what I really believe. First, a foundational scripture:

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it (Ephesians 5:25).

We men have a holy charge to love our wives as Christ loved the church. Nothing short of a total sacrifice by a man is sufficient to hold and keep his wife in trust and joy. You cannot “purchase” your wife at a discount and expect to flourish in happiness, love, trust and respect. A man must lay down everything if he wants a truly joyous and fulfilling relationship with his wife. I don’t mean giving up who he is or what he likes to do, but giving up the natural man. The men I’ve seen who do this have great marriages, and the men who don’t often struggle in their relationships with women. Every man needs to figure this one out on his own—he must personally discover how he can become a man of God.

This is what I really believe. Many men disagree with me, but those men often don’t have very happy marriages either. At least those whose relationships I am aware of, and I am aware of a lot of them. What I see a lot of men doing is holding back their love and effort, waiting for their spouses to change before they offer themselves. But that is not what Christ did. He offered Himself up completely and out of great love, without holding back, before we had repented, “for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” (Romans 11:29.)

Now I have not talked about the main issues I see happening in women’s lives that contribute to failed relationships. Perhaps I’ll do that in another post or series. While I don’t blame men for all the troubles and trials in male-female relationships, I wholeheartedly believe that men who take the lead in a truly Christ-like way win the love and respect and even adoration of their wives and children in ways that others cannot. It is a rare thing to behold, but it is awe-inspiring.

The apostle John taught us this: “We love him, because he loved us first.” (1 John 4:19.) Love first and then you will see changes in others. Don’t wait for the change in others before you make the sacrifices and changes you need to make in your own life. Love first and love will surely follow.

(See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)

The Death of Masculinity (Part 3)

I don’t mean to draw stereotypes. Every person is unique and will have a unique combination of qualities and weaknesses. I do not want to judge nor condemn anyone, “for God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:17.) But I do see trends. After working closely with hundreds of men, women and their families, I could not help but see trends. I don’t really understand where these trends come from, but I would like to understand, and I would appreciate your insights. They help me—and other readers of this blog—a lot.

In response to comments on my last post, I would like to add that, yes, of course, all Christ-like qualities apply to both men and women. I see both men and women have the ability to be excellent leaders. I see men and women as absolute equals. I am sorry if I implied something different than this by not coming out and saying it directly.

Men and women can and should be heirs of confidence. This is an area I have needed to grow in. My lack of confidence in the past has led to many sorrows. I have also learned that there is a big difference between confidence and arrogance. Men and women need confidence and the strength that comes from it. But the confidence I need is in different areas than the confidence my wife has. 

I have seen women be just as assertive as men, but I have also seen men be more aggressive and violent than women. Women are capable of aggression and violence, but they are not as inclined to it as men. To illustrate, the incarceration rate of men in prisons in the United States is 15 times that of women (1,316,495 to 92,785 in 2003).  That has to tell us something.

Just the other night I was reading with my grandson about women pirates such as Anne Bonny and Mary Read. I am sure that women like danger and adventure just like men, but these were the only two women convicted of piracy during the 18th century.

So there are distinct differences in the way men and women are wired. We share needs and desires and tendencies, but we express them differently. The balance of testosterone and estrogen that God put into our bodies has an effect on us. I think I am right in saying that while the challenges and temptations that men and women face are not 100 percent unique, they are unique in some ways.

Because of this, I am calling more attention to men because that is where I see the greatest need for improvement. And I am starting with myself.

Women likewise have need for improvement, but after spending five years talking to hundreds of men, women and couples, privately and publicly, I see very distinct patterns and trends. This also comes after counseling with other bishops, especially after conferring with bishops of singles wards.

Here is where I see some other fundamental differences.   

Yes, both men and women can be selfish, but in my experience, women, especially those who have children under their care, are much less inclined to be selfish than men.

Another example is that in my years as bishop, I spoke to many men, young and old, about viewing pornographic images, but I never had occasion to speak to a single woman about this issue, except in relation to a husband or a child. Men tend to get caught up in visual pornography and women can get ensnared by reading pornography in the form of romantic fiction, but still, that was never an issue that came up in a single interview with a woman—I am talking about hundreds of interviews with women. I am not saying that visual or written pornography is not or can’t be an issue with women, but I have never personally seen it.

I know women who like video games, but I see a tendency among men, especially young men and boys, to get absorbed in them, and, unfortunately, in violent ones. I think this relates to the citation above about the incarceration rates of men over women. Testosterone, unchecked, can lead us men into sorrow and trouble.

Likewise, both men and women can exercise unrighteous dominion, but I see more of a tendency of this error in men than in women. Both men and women need to lead out in righteousness, but I must acknowledge the prophetic counsel in the Proclamation on the Family that men are called by God to preside over, provide for and protect their wives and children. This is a huge responsibility which we men too often don’t take seriously enough, and the trends I see are undermining this.

Men also can be very narrowly focused, where women often have a broader focus. Do you know one of the reasons why? Women have 40 percent or more connections between the hemispheres of their brains than men! Their left and right hemispheres can talk back and forth more glibly than men. I believe this is one of the reasons why women can be so much more perceptive of others’ feelings and motives, especially in dealing with children.

Also in my experience, I feel that women are more readily inclined to remain faithful, though in recent years I have seen more and more women being led astray into illicit affairs, I am very sad to say.

There are always exceptions and unique cases, but, generally speaking, there are some fundamental physical and emotional differences in men and women. Also, I focus on men because that is where I see a great need.

Are women better than men? No. Are women more important than men? No. Are men more capable of righteousness or leadership than women? No. Are there differences in men and women? Yes. Are their needs and challenges different? Yes, not completely, but yes.

One of the greatest issues I see is the loss of footing men are experiencing in modern culture. And I think because of that, we have a tendency to back into a cave of confused self-gratification rather than using our God-given gift of masculinity to stand up boldly, be counted among the sons of God, lead our families in righteousness, and follow Christ with all our hearts.

That is the challenge I am taking up: to become, over time, the father, husband, breadwinner and leader God put me on the earth to be. No wrong exits. No excuses. I want to be the man God wants me to be.

(See Part 1, Part 2, Part 4.)

The Death of Masculinity (Part 2)

I’m finally continuing my post from a month ago about the missing masculinity in the modern male. (Wow, that was a lot of ms.)

What I am about to describe is not the rule, but it is common, and it seems to be getting more common. This is of great concern for a lot of women I have talked to.

When I was a bishop, a number of women would come in for interviews and were quite frank about their feelings (hurray for honesty). Almost all of them were respectful of their husbands and of men, but they could not hide their disappointment.

The second most common thing I heard from wives or young women of dating age was that the men in their lives were not taking charge. They were not taking a leadership role. They were sitting back and not stepping forward. They were not demonstrating true masculinity. These women felt forced to take on a broader leadership role in addition to their other roles. And they didn’t like it.

(Pssssst. Women really, really, really are attracted to genuine masculinity.)

Many of their husbands or boyfriends were absorbed in computer games or television or their laptops or worse. These men weren’t leading the family in prayer or in scripture study and other sacred duties. They seemed to their wives to be in a constant state of escape, letting family life pass them by as they huddled close to their electronica. They also didn’t feel like their husbands or boyfriends were pursuing them. They got along most of the time but they were living parallel lives. Emotional interaction was missing, except when arguments broke out.

Unmarried women of marriageable age had similar complaints. Young men, it seemed to them, were happy with just hanging out. They were not being chased by them, though they wanted to be. Girls and women like to be pursued by men who are attractive to them, but these men seemed self-satisfied, preoccupied with personal pleasures and pursuits, and not striving for a higher plane. (Thing of the term self-centertainment and that sort of encapsulates it.) Even though they may attend church or may have served as missionaries, they wore worldly attire and hair and had worldly, selfish or arrogant attitudes.

I can’t tell you how disappointed and disheartened young women are because of this trend of a chosen generation of young men unchoosing themselves. I am somewhat disheartened too, but I emphasize that this is not the rule, blessedly.

Men would complain about their wives negativity and complaining and I would tell these me that much of that would be reduced if they would become true, Christ-like leaders, if they would express their innate masculinity. (Nevertheless, I always encouraged women to not try to change your men through bitter and harsh words. This might relieve some frustration for a moment or two but too often brings about the opposite effect than what they want. Women have much more powerful tools at their disposal, namely their true femininity, the subtle force that is at the core of nearly all positive male motivation. But I digress.)

So what do we do about this? I’ll tell you what I am doing: I am repenting.

I am easy going. But a little too easy going. I have let a lot of opportunities pass me by due to my easy-goingness. I have learned my lessons the hard way. I have disappointed myself, my wife and my children too often because I was not stepping up to my masculine role.

As parents we can do a better job of showing (not just telling) young men what it means to be truly masculine, in the purest, best sense. You don’t have to be perfect at it. You just have to be making a very honest and open effort and be willing to correct your actions when you discover you have gotten off the path.

True masculinity in my view is to be genuinely Christ-like. It is to be bold yet humble. Full of adventure yet loyal to home and family. Having self-control but willing to let go of and express emotions at the appropriate time. Being reliable and true. Willing to sacrifice anything and everything for loved ones, yet wise enough to be kind to yourself.

I’ll close with this observation. A man who does not acknowledge and express his masculinity will go a little crazy. He needs an outlet and a challenge and an adventure to pursue. Daily. Without this, he will seek to satisfy his cravings through video games and pornography and other stultifying pleasures. Wise is the woman who understands this need and supports it.

Here is a personal experience. My last year at BYU, I took 42 credits (fall and winter semesters). I was on task and I got good grades. I was on a mission to finish school and to move on to providing a good income for my family. It was hard work. It took a lot of effort. And my wife was fully behind me. When I finished my last final that April, I felt like I could fly. But a few weeks later, I was depressed. Why? Because I didn’t have a huge goal to pursue. I learned a lesson from that: I always need to have a huge goal. It has taken me years to grasp this, but now I get it. (That’s huge goal things was part of masculinity.)

Woman who control their fears and support and encourage their men to build their “field of dreams” often find the men they love much better able to express their true masculinity.

(See Part 1, Part 3, Part 4.)