Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Seth Smith Viral Marriage Post

An email to Matt Walsh, after his response to Seth Smith's viral post:

I have occasionally read your blog posts, and mostly agreed with you. But I wanted to share a different perspective on that viral blog post by Seth Smith. I don't exactly disagree with him, but I don't exactly agree, either. I hope you consider what I'm trying to say.

See, I used to believe exactly what Seth Smith wrote about marriage, which is how I lost myself to an abusive marriage. I'm LDS, too. I take the scriptures very seriously. When I made a covenant with my God in His temple, my future-ex-spouse across the altar, I meant every word. I was prepared to give all I had to him. And I did. Piece by piece until there was nothing left. I'm not going to tell you my whole story, but I'm going to try to share part of it in an attempt to illustrate what I mean.

We always have a hard time truly understanding that not everyone else sees the world the way we do. When my future ex-spouse said he loved me, I thought he meant valued, respected, cherished. Later, I found out he meant "wanted." He wanted me because I was strong, and somewhere in the back of his mind he thought that owning something strong made him strong, too. When we married, the consideration and hesitation he had shown became subtle demands to change.

I remember when we first moved into our new home and we met our neighbors. It sounds so trivial now, to recount it, but I see it now for the beginning of what my marriage would become. I mentioned a problem with morning glory in our garden, and she said it was bindweed. I agreed, and said that it was the same thing. Later, my husband took me aside and told me that such interactions were why no one wanted to be my friend, that I made people uncomfortable. That kind of comment seems so harmless, but it made me cautious around other people because I didn't want to offend anyone. It made me believe I was a bad person, reluctant to reach out so that I wouldn't cause harm. It left me with no one to turn to later on, when I needed them.

There were other things. From sex, to money, to decorating the house or making cakes for coworkers, I could never do the right thing. If I had an opinion, it was wrong. And even when he agreed with me, I would pay for it ever after. I wanted to paint the walls of our kitchen a color he thought was too dark. For four years, the darkness of our kitchen walls would come up in comments when I least expected it. I started to believe I had bullied him into accepting that color, that I was unable to listen to his opinions or desires. It was the only color in the house I chose.

I wanted so badly to be a good wife and good mother. It broke my heart when I wasn't able to stay home with my kids because our money fell like rain through a sieve. It broke my heart when I was never as attractive as the women at work, when he spent his evenings or weekends helping young female friends fix their cars or their houses. When one woman called the house looking to talk to my husband, she didn't even know he was married. He often mentioned how wonderful other women thought he was. I thought I must not have given enough, sacrificed enough, that my approval wasn't enough for him. It never occurred to me, when I was married, to think of what I needed, or of what I was going through.

Imagine thousands of these little drops of "advice" over time. Everything was subject to scrutiny. I never realized it until weeks after the final night, when he left me in a rage because I was 3 months pregnant with our second daughter and too nauseated to leave the house to him so he could watch the shows he wanted to see without me around. I remember the moment, weeks later, when I realized I had been living in an abusive marriage. I was in denial. I can't really describe the agony, the hours of time wrestling with my inner voice, discovering that I no longer knew who I was or what I wanted. Not here. I just don't have the words for it. I had been feeding splinters of myself to my marriage for so long, I was nothing but ash.

It has taken years to rediscover who I am, but I can thankfully say I'm healed. But those experiences are what lead me to understand that, while self-sacrifice is a part of marriage, it is not the whole of it. I would argue, much like this article, that marriage isn't just about the other person, either. Marriage isn't about the other person's needs, OR your own. Neither extreme is really the purpose. Marriage isn't about needs at all, it's about teamwork. Maybe that's what Seth Smith is trying to say. But it's not what millions of people like me hear when we are told that the secret formula for a happy marriage is self-sacrifice.

When you truly become one with someone, your needs and their needs are simply the needs of the marriage, of the family. It is a false dichotomy to think that either person has to be subsumed in the other.

It wouldn't matter to me what you, or what Seth Smith thinks about marriage, except I have reason to know that there are many, many men and women whose hearts have been ground to the dust, who believe more than anyone that if only they sacrifice a little more, give a little more, change a little more, their spouse will be happy. It's not the selfish, egocentric people who take your words and Seth's words to heart. It's the ones whose "hearts have died, pierced with deep wounds." (Jacob 2:35) The ones who beat themselves with their own hands, whose spouses take advantage of their doubt to feed on their strength.

Most of those who are selfish will never change. They'll never see themselves in Seth Smith's words, or recognize their need to change by yours. But the opportunity for the wounded in heart to be further wounded is not insignificant.

Please read the article I linked to above. I believe that such an approach to marriage is superior to simply couching it in terms of self-sacrifice OR in having one's own needs met. I believe that coming to the marriage table empty handed, as the author suggests, can both protect from abuse and shift views from selfishness to charity, as you and Seth Smith seem to urge.

If you have time and space, please consider addressing the dynamics of spousal abuse. If you can't, invite input from your readers. I'm sure there are many who can speak to it, and some who even now after reading your post are ripping their soul to shreds in vain to find the magic sacrificial gift of self that will fix their marriage.

I doubt that my perspective is very clearly explained. My emotions are probably clouding the message. But please try to understand what I'm saying anyways. I have no desire to destroy the element of good that is in that viral post. But I do wish with all my heart to teach people how to find the real balance, that teamwork and unity is a higher ideal in marriage than simply meeting either spouse's needs.

Thank you,



  1. Thank you for writing this. Your's is a very good perspective that needs to be said.

  2. Balencing these two messages can be hard. You push against one of the great threats to marrige. I think Seth and Matt are pusshing against another . Sadly its very hard to effectivly face two ways at once. As one who has bee call in my marrage to bind up thes kinds of wounds, I thank you for being a voice for the wounded.

  3. I have a different perspective. I think of it as loving the other person like Christ does. Making the other person happy is up there, but since I don't believe an unbalanced relationship could make the other person happy then I don't ignore my needs. When my husband wants something that I don't think is good for the relationship it doesn't occur to me to just do it his way....because I know he wants a healthy marriage as much as I do. I know he wants to be a good dad so if he is doing something that I think is going to hurt his relationship with his children I speak up.
    So it is definitely good advice IF you are married to someone who is committed to having a healthy good marriage. And it is good advice IF you are wise enough to know that ignoring your needs will not make the other person happy.
    The thing about a controlling spouse is that no matter what you do, it is never enough and you never make them "happy."
    I have a best friend in this situation, and she works hard at keeping perspective and realizing that it doesn't matter what she does, it is never enough. So she draws her own lines and works at making her own decisions. Of course trying to make this person happy is pointless. She instead tries to believe that he does want their marriage to work and so she makes decisions that keep the marriage as healthy as possible.
    I think for this guy it was great advice. He probably isn't married to someone who is manipulative and controlling. He is probably married to someone who is nice and trying to make him happy too.

  4. Abuse seems to manifest its self in different ways, yet the outcome is always the same. That, I think, is because it comes from the same place and follows the same path. When I was approaching marriage someone told me that most important thing to do in a marriage was to put the relationship first. It is the marriage relationship that needs to be nurtured and cared for.

    A psychologist wrote that the greatest work anyone can do in a marriage is to improve themselves. Make themselves good enough and fit enough to take care of the marital relationship. I wish everyone knew and understand what that means.

    Thank you for your words.


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