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Social Psychologist & Personal Advisor

Below is Dr Matt's Answer
to a Burning Question


Mistaken Marriage Vows: Afraid to Hurt His Feelings

Hi Dr Matt:

I found your website during a yahoo search and you seem very educated and friendly. So I need some advice on my marriage. I am not in love with my husband and I want a divorce however, I am a Christian and I want to follow God in every way possible. I am so unhappy with him and I am very scared to tell him because I am afraid to hurt him. There's a lot more to it but I want to keep this email short. Any advice would be helpful. Thank you and God bless you and yours.

age 25

Hello Deanna:

You are correct, I am educated and friendly.  :o) I am also a Christian.

Please tell me why you are "so unhappy with him," then I can better apply Christian principles to the situation.

As for NOT being "in love" with your husband, please read about Lasting Love and consider the potential applications.

In order to have a great marriage that is satisfying and stable (no desire for divorce), you need mutual commitment--this is the foundation. But the best relationships also have a high degree of compatibility and chemistry.  Typically, the "in love" phenomenon has to do with physical chemistry and attraction, and this is an important ingredient to having a total relationship.

Again, tell me what it is about "him" that you are so "unhappy" with, and tell me why you are not "in love."  Also, tell me if you were ever "in love" from the start?

Dr. Matt

Dr Matt:

Thank you for replying so quickly.

The reason why I am so unhappy with him is because I do not feel the connection and affection for him anymore. We have been together 7 years, married for 3 of those years. The 4 years we were not married were rough. Two of those years we lived together (we were not yet following Christ).

I wasn't sure if I was in love with him back then, but I told myself I was . . . because I thought it was true. However, our planned wedding was a mess, we ended up getting married in a courthouse instead of a church. He joined the Navy a week after we got married, and shipped out to sea.

I know it sounds strange, but I was happier in those 1st two months he was gone, than I ever was with him. So, to answer your question: No, I don't think I ever was in love with him. Just comfortable and he loved me.

Throughout our marriage we both were unfaithful and confessed that to each other. I could care less that he cheated on me, but I know I hurt him. I saw that the fact I didn't care was a sign of trouble.

I am confused because I do not know what to do. I know I have to be honest with him. We recently in the past few months gave our lives to Christ and became Christians, and I am trying to be the wife the bible teaches us to be. But it is so hard because I do not want or feel I am meant to be his wife.

Thank you for taking your time to email me I really don't have many people to share this with.

Dear Deanna:

I realize that the typical Christian approach is to "save the marriage" at all cost. And I am a strong advocate of this approach when two people begin their relationship for the right reasons, and have in place the character, compatibility, chemistry, and commitment, necessary to create great relations.

For these couples I say: Stay together and work it out! For these couples, there was a great relationship in the beginning, and now the challenge is to recover and renew what they had--this is realistic.

When one door closes, another opens! If you choose to end this relationship, you will open up certain possibilities—the potential for beginning a relationship in the right way, with the right person.

The lyrics to a popular song suggest: "You've lost that loving feeling" . . . but in your case, you can't lose what you never really had. Like you say, you became "comfortable" with the relationship, and you enjoyed being loved by him—but you did not have the same love to give in return.

A few years ago, I counseled a woman who was in a similar situation as you. She didn't want to hurt her husband, yet she knew that the relationship was not right. She told me her feelings, and I wrote the following letter that was sent to her husband.

Dear David:

When you first proposed marriage to me, my answer was no. You then proposed a second time, and still my answer was no. You persisted in a third proposal, and I finally gave you a "yes." That "yes" was given with my lips, but there was still confusion in my heart.

Healthy and whole marriage relationships begin as each partner happily and willingly chooses the other. A relationship where the desire to be together freely flows--no persistent persuasions required, just comfortable compatibility, mutually felt.

That free-flowing feeling to marry you was never there from the beginning, and my desire to remain married to you is not freely flowing today. As our relationship began with persistent proposals, a similar pattern continues today as you are trying to persuade me into staying married to you; but the truth is that I can't give my whole heart to this marriage. Further, if our relationship were healthy, happy, and whole, you wouldn't have to persistently coax me to stay.

In the years we have known each other, many choices have been made and much water has passed under the bridge. Judging past choices as "good or bad" will serve no worthy purpose today. We got married, and I chose it. Yet, through it all, I realize I was never completely truthful to my feelings from the start. I entered into our relationship, and stayed in our relationship, for the wrong reason: for fear of hurting you.

Though it may be hard to go through now, in the long run, it will be better for you to eventually be married to a woman who loves you completely, and who will give her whole heart to you willingly.

I can't continue living a lie, and pretending feelings that I don't feel. For this reason, I am choosing to dissolve this marriage. I accept total responsibility for this choice, and I am willing to accept whatever consequences that this choice entails.

It is best that we both look to the future, and remember that in every adversity there lies opportunity--the chance to become what God will make of us, as we faithfully follow His ways. Recalling the words of the Bible concerning a man of God who was mistreated, even abused, by his brothers:

"Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee forgive the trespass. . . . And Joseph wept when they spake unto him. And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; . . . And Joseph said unto them Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good." (Genesis 50: 17-20).

I have filed the appropriate papers to dissolve our marriage. If this brings heartache and sorrow to you, then I invite you to embrace a broader perspective of this hardship: If you will be "in the place of God," this challenging moment in time will ultimately be turned to "good," just as Joseph's trails were made "good" by God because of his faithfulness to God.

David, I want you to know that doing this is very hard for me. It tears at my heartstrings as I know it does yours, for I have grown to love you very much.

We can separate with compassion or contention. The desire of my heart is to pursue this painful path with compassion. Let's be kind to one another as we go through these difficult days. Let's humble ourselves before our great God, and grow in strength of character through this adversity.

The eventual "good" that can occur for you is this: That you will meet a woman who will love you fully, and give herself to you completely. You deserve this kind of woman.

I am truly sorrow that I am not this woman for you, and was not this woman from the start.

With Love,

Amazingly, David let go without much of a struggle, and a divorce occurred with very little anger or contention.

Because you desire to "follow God in every way possible," please know that our Father in Heaven wants us to be happy, and that vows of holy matrimony should not feel like a prison sentence, but should be a sacred vow of mutual rejoicing and celebration.

As I wrote in the previous letter, the best relationships occur where two people freely and happily give themselves to one another. Your mistake from the start was in NOT following your true feelings from the beginning—you stayed in the relationship and eventually married because you were afraid of hurting him.

Possibly you believed what many Americans are taught: If you "think" and "visualize" what you want to happen . . . it will happen. I wholeheartedly disagree with this Head-heavy premise, and by the way, so does Jesus. The Son of God wants us to be Heart-centered:

Read two poems contrasting mental determinations of Self-Mastery versus an approach of True Mastery.

What most psychologists and therapists advocate in our culture is "Fake-It-Till-You-Make-It" Self-Affirmations and Visualizations. They say YOU can create the reality of your desire by "thinking it" into existence via Mind Power. I refute this premise at this website in an article entitled As a Man Thinketh in his Heart, instead of His Head.

No matter how hard to try to "think" that your husband could be right for you and "wish" your husband might be right for you, from the start, he simply was not right and you knew it. You were not honest to him or yourself as you proceeded to make a marriage vows based upon a mistake.

Again, happy and healthy relationships should be built upon the firm foundation of mutual compatibility, chemistry, and commitment, . . . and NOT entered into because one is afraid of "hurting" another's feelings. The latter was your false from the beginning and your mistake. No marriage should be based upon a mistake. No wedding should be remembered as "a mess."

You should apologize to your husband for this mistake made years ago, and then — if you feel that it is right to do so and choose to do so — proceed to UN-DO this mistake for the benefit of all involved.

You are no man's property, but you can be a certain man's prize as you freely give your heart and soul to that man — something that you never felt to give to your current husband. Beautiful marriage vows are entered into with no reservations, happily, and joyfully.

Your husband may eventually learn that "loving" you with Christlike compassion means that your personal choices should be accepted and respected — even the choice to end a marriage relationship. You see, God does possess perfect compassion; thus, He will respect and allow your personal choice upon this matter.


Matt Moody, Ph.D.
Social Psychologist

* * * * * * *

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Social Psychologist & Personal Advisor

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