Family life is about sacrifice.
Leadership is guided sacrifice.
Having a Good family life requires deep emotional connection.
Ok, can I be honest with ya’ll (i.e. My future self) – Leading a family is the hardest thing I think I’ve ever had to do.
What makes marriage and raising a family so difficult?
One of the biggest things is the level of emotional investment it takes. Especially in the context of the secular western society that we are raised.
Society at large values very different things then the things you will need to successfully remain married and raise a family. Society values or glorifies individualism, self-prioritization, machismo, image over substance, microwave level relationships, and external accomplishments. In contrast, at least in my estimation, getting and staying married will require huge levels of self-sacrifice, humility, the ability to wholeheartedly apologize, a jesus-level ability to forgive, and the prioritization of emotionally taxing internal work.
Needless to say when you spend the first quarter of your life practicing short-term relationships, and learning how to guard your heart from true intimacy – it can be very difficult for people to cross the threshold over into true emotional intimacy. Lump in things like emotional abuse from bad childhoods, or even unintended emotional trauma from good childhoods and people have a lot of headwinds that they must come to terms with in order to allow room for a marriage to bloom.
Let’s talk for a moment about pain.
Pain is powerful. Pain is not something we often reference in a positive way but some of my most transformational changes and biggest accomplishments rode the tidal wave created by significantly painful events in my life. I think of pain like fire – there are situations where pain can be useful. The pain of overexertion gives us signals that we should rest, the pain of heartbreak can signal to us that our mate- choosing abilities could use some work, and the pain of muscle fatigue can signal to us our current exertional limit.
Emotional pain can also tear down the walls of ego or pride and help us to connect with the humanity of other in new ways. Significantly painful times can often remind us just how human we are. The loss of a loved one doesn’t stop to ask about socioeconomic status, race, or zip codes. These uniquely painful human experiences bind us together with a shared human experience.
Now, even though pain can be useful and transformational, no one is going out of their way to experience a fresh hot batch of pain.
This is the crossroads where new marriages find themselves.
Marriage can be and feel a lot like pain. Not the useless pain of a random ailment or an sports injury. Marriage can expose its participants to a level of emotional pain that they previously could use evasive maneuvers to avoid.
Let’s take a hypothetical couple of Fran and Bobby. Fran and Bobby met each other at work. They share similar values and after a whirlwind romance they find themselves married and settling into their first months of the oldest institution on earth.
Reality sets in and Bobby finds that Fran isn’t quite as enthusiastic about certain things as she was in the past and finds that after a couple of conversations that strayed into shouting matches finds himself sitting in his car outside their shared abode shocked by how upset, afraid, and angry he is. In the past, when Bobby found himself in uncomfortable situations like this he would invariably find a way to make his slow exit from the relationship. However, this is Marriage. Bobby feels like there is too much to lose by leaving and thus adds feeling trapped to his emotional milieu.
What are bobby’s options at this crossroads? What has he trained himself over the last 20-30 years to do? What is popular media telling him? What are the inputs from his friends and family? What is Bobby’s emotional/spiritual mentors telling him is the right thing to do?
If your like the typical western adult male:
- You’ve trained yourself over the last couple of decades to leave when things get difficult
- Popular media trumpets that feelings of pain are NOT NORMAL and that when a relationship gets too hard you should consider yourself first and LEAVE
- Friends and Family may have a biased view and hate to see family members in pain, constructive or not, and will start to form a viewpoint that paints the partner as a source of friction or frustration. This can eventually lead to situations where advice starts to lean toward negativity
- Depending on the relationships that Bobby has cultivated the response from mentors could range the gamut – if he has single older friends or bitter divorced friends/mentors or men who view women as tools to be used and then thrown away the advice can vary from “leave immediately if she wont get her act together” to “find something on the side to ease your pain”.
None of this necessarily will lead Bobby back to himself to examine his assumptions, his behaviors, or his patterns of relating to his partner. Not a lot of the “default” things that surround Bobby will support him in using the pain of this partnership as a pushing off point towards greater self-realization.
I’m going to stop here because it seems good enough for today to just realize the state of affairs when it comes to some of the challenges of pursuing a good family life.
Hopefully the next post will dive into the solution I’ve found for these challenges.
Fly or Fall