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When I see very connected couples, I feel profoundly sad, even jealous. I’m not jealous of the individuals, but I wish I had that type of marriage and that my kids had a more involved dad. I don’t want to be around these people because it hurts too much. It’s preventing me from doing good things, like forming a friendship with new neighbor, or reaching out to an old friend, both of whom have amazing marriages. My go-to behavior is to just avoid them, but I know that’s not healthy. How can I redirect my thoughts and reach out?
Please know that your feelings are completely normal and are evidence of how much you value closeness and connection in your life. Living in a disconnected relationship heightens our sensitivity to other people’s relationships, especially if those relationships look like the one we desire. Your willingness to own your reactions and seek ways to have connection in your life will give you the footing you need to keep your emotional balance.
This may sound a bit strange, but you don’t want to be indifferent to the longing for connection in your life. If other people’s happy relationships didn’t affect you in the ways you described, then I would be worried about your ability to feel. If you reached the point of numbing indifference to your own pain, it would be difficult for you to find connection anywhere in your life. As much as I wouldn’t want you to feel this pain, it’s a signal to you that connection matters.
I recognize that your deepest desire is to have a secure relationship with your husband, so I won’t pretend that feeling close to others will be an adequate substitute. However, it will provide emotional rescue breathing that can help you survive and hold on until things improve. And, if they never improve in your marriage, you will have built a support network of others who can help carry and support you.
We are wired to trust what we see with our eyes, so when you are around people who are happy and appear to have no personal turbulence in their lives, you might believe you’re the only one who is feeling hurt and lonely. Please don’t let other people’s public presentations keep you from getting close to them. There are times we are required to publicly pretend that things are really better than they are. We do this to protect our children and to prevent unwanted scrutiny from strangers.
However, we all have to know there are places where we can drop the mask and be our true authentic selves. It’s worth taking the risk to open up your world little by little to a few individuals who are mature, safe, good listeners, and are able to maintain good boundaries with your information. You’ll likely discover that these other women can relate to your pain, even if it’s not currently part of their marriage experience.
There is no technique or trick to make it easier to reach out to others when you’re in great pain. It takes tremendous courage to lean into this discomfort and reach out to others when you’re feeling so alone. Our deepest fear is that we’ll be alone and invisible to others. So, when your own husband can’t even see you, it’s hard to believe that others can see you.
Your strength to do this will come from a sure knowledge that your Heavenly Father and Savior see you and know your pain. Early in the Book of Mormon, Nephi was perplexed about some unanswered challenges, but he declared with certainty that, “[God] loveth his children”[i] That certainty can give you strength to know that you’re not alone and won’t be forgotten. Yes, we need others to help us through our days, but our connection to our Heavenly Parents’ awareness and involvement in our lives can be a tremendous source of power and strength. President Harold B. Lee stated, “We forget that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who are even more concerned, probably, than our earthly father and mother, and that influences from beyond are constantly working to try to help us when we do all we can.”[ii]
Please don’t avoid the very people who can help reassure you that there is connection in the world. These happy people are benefitting from connection and there is enough for you. I hope you will draw on spiritual and relationship resources around you to get the support and connection you need.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[i] 1 Nephi 11:17
[ii] Harold B. Lee, “The Influence and Responsibility of Women,” Relief Society Magazine 51, no. 2 (Feb. 1964): 85.