Mormon Therapist on Stress Affecting Marriage

John Dehlin Mormon 20 Comments

My husband and I have been married for 15 years and we have 7 children. We obviously have had a healthy sexual relationship and we are best friends. We do everything together.
I need to be a stay at home mom, with no options for childcare ($ + 7 kids). About a year ago, my husband lost his job. I know that many others are going through the ups and downs of this economy like we are.
I have done my best to support him. Desperate times call for desperate measures. He has applied for over 180 jobs while working with his hands to make any amount of money to pay bills and feed our family. (Yard work, handyman, etc.) We have not used the church or had any government help. Things are now increasingly getting really harder.
I do not need advice on getting financial help, we are working on new solutions.
Now to my problem. For the first time EVER I am finding myself resentful of him in bed. Thoughts of those unpaid bills creep into my head during love making, and I find myself having feelings of resentment towards him. I start thinking of all of the “things” that would make our life easier and the resentment comes in again. This makes me so sad because my husband is an extremely hard worker and I love him so much. I logically talk myself through it but I cannot seem to change the way I feel. I have noticed that my libido is rapidly diminishing and my ability to orgasm is disappearing. On top of that, with all of the failures that my husband has had to face this past year, he does not need to feel failure in this area. This makes me feel guilty and perpetuates the problem.
Yes, we have a good relationship and I have communicated these issues with him. (Of course I did not want to make him feel even worse so I made light of how much is affects me).
Please Please help me find a solution to giving back to him. This is one area in our marriage that deserves a standing ovation!

I am sorry that you and your husband are finding yourselves in such a stressful situation. And that is exactly what I want to focus on: stress. You need to know that it is a perfectly normal byproduct of stress to experience a lower libido and orgasm potential (this is true for both men and women). You are describing a situation where the stress level must feel abnormally high. You and your husband have 7 children to care for emotionally and physically – this would be inherently stressful even under the best of circumstances. The employment situation has become a chronic one – you’ve been dealing with this for an entire year! Efforts have not bore the productive fruit I’m sure you were both hoping for. Goodness grief! I would cut yourself some slack. Of course you’re starting to feel implications in the bedroom!
Along with sexual symptoms, it is also normal under high levels of stress to have symptoms of anxiety, depression, racing thoughts, sleep disturbance and resentment. And, of course, none of these help you get “in the mood.” You describe many strengths that you and your husband have: an open and honest level of communication, a strong love, endurance, respect, friendship and up until now a healthy sex life. It is a positive sign that you were able to share some of what you’ve been feeling with him and it is also healthy that you are concerned for his well-being. I would encourage the following:
  • Continued loving communication with your spouse. You can discuss the symptoms you are experiencing with him without personalizing, blaming or attacking (it sounds like you are already doing this). Blame the problem, not each other. Talk about how your current situation is affecting you both, not just sexually but in all aspects of your life. This is not to create a “woe is me” atmosphere, but instead allow these feelings to have a voice so you can acknowledge them as normal, understand where the other one is coming from, and better be able to move forward to healthier ways of functioning. Many times when we keep negative feelings hidden, the opposite effect of what we’re actually wanting occurs: they gain more power.
  • Seeing your symptoms as “normal” under the circumstance and exercising patience with yourself. Maybe you won’t orgasm as often until some of the stressors in your life diminish. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the closeness and bonding that sexual activity brings you and your husband. It also doesn’t mean that your libido won’t go back to normal once things get less hectic. Lower your expectations and relish whatever still feels good.
  • Think of sex as a natural stress reliever. It gives you an outlet for physical release as well as endorphin release. Endorphins help you have a more positive mood. Tell yourself you are going to use sex as a self-helping tool.
  • Your brain is immensely powerful and you have more control over your thoughts than you’re currently giving yourself credit for. Practice visualizing the life you want, both financially and sexually. Close your eyes and take the time to “feel” what you want your life to look like.
  • Go back and revisit all the strengths you see in your husband. Think to the times when he courted you, and the times you were completely and utterly turned on by him – the butterflies in your stomach that he caused. Spend time thinking about these feelings – ideally in a place where you can lay back, relax and close your eyes. Visualize the feelings and savor them. Become aware of how your body responds as you do this exercise. Take the time to enjoy these sensations if they are positive. The more you do this type of exercise, the more you will be able to bring these feelings to your consciousness when you need them.
  • Be sure to include your wants and desires specifically in your prayers. Get in the habit of asking for what it is that you need from your Father in Heaven in specific terms. Rather than the general request of “I want to have a better sex life,” ask for the ability to control negative thoughts during sex and an increased ability to orgasm – in fact, “I want to have an orgasm tonight” is a great, assertive and righteous request. Ask and ye shall receive.
  • Find ways to take a break from the stressors you face. Taking a walk in the park, taking a quiet bath, listening to your favorite music, appreciating the beauty of a scenic landscape – whatever it is that relaxes you and makes you feel whole even if just for a few minutes. Self-care is SO important!
  • Take all the love that you have for your husband and find small ways of serving him (write him a love letter, help him in whatever way with the job hunting process if he’s open to that, prepare his favorite meal, take him out on a date you’ve secretly planned, offer a sexual favor focusing on only his needs, give him a massage, give him a list of all the strengths you feel he has, thank him for little things, etc.). Serving him will more than likely help with the feelings of resentment.
  • My next suggestion is not meant to put any pressure on you because it is not your current responsibility to financially provide, but many women in your circumstance find it empowering to try to make some money on the side. There are many things that you can do from home (i.e. childcare, cooking meals for others, computer work, filing, sewing, consulting, etc.) that may generate some income. Again, I only offer this as a suggestion if it would help you feel more in control. I would not want it to act as another stressor point. You are already fulfilling your responsibilities in your role as mother and home manager.
  • Not that you are asking about this, but I believe it is appropriate to ask or receive help from church and/or government sources if it gets to that point.  I’m wondering if your husband has filed for unemployment for instance?  These are benefits that do not come for free.  I’m assuming your husband has paid into the system for many years and if he needs to tap into that system for your family’s benefit, then this is an appropriate and necessary step.  Depending on your situation you may also qualify for help with food, health care, etc.  These sources of help are meant to offer temporary relief that encourage future success.
You can also find some great tips for ways to reduce stress at the following website: stress.about.com
How to enjoy sex when stressed and Economy affecting your sex life? are other articles that may be useful.
I wish you both the best and hope that you are able to find yourselves in a different financial position as soon as possible. I know there are many out there who are sharing a similar situation and I commend you for bringing up a topic I know you are not alone in experiencing.
MM Readers:
– With the recession officially over, what stories do you have as far as how people have been affected financially within your circle?
– Within Mormon culture – where many times people marry and have children early (even before finishing their undergraduate educations) – how are we more susceptible to financial and emotional stressors? Should finances and “ability to provide” be taken into consideration when deciding how many children to have or should this decision be based more on “faith”?  Do we judge each other regarding these types of decisions? Stories?
– Is there a stigma within Mormon culture to accept financial help from either church or government sources?  What are your opinions on this?  Stories?

Comments

comments

Comments 20

  1. I have to say that the OP is doing very very well considering the circumstances. DH has been unemployed for more than 1 year, we have no children, and I’m stressed out. I had a childhood of constant financial stress and I have a low tolerance for it. We are very lucky that we have no debt besides the mortgage and that our plan has always been “live off one income, save the other.” I can support both of us indefinitely, but I’m sad, angry, and anxious quite a bit. DH is depressed and starting to wonder if he will ever work again if we stay in this area of the country.

    Several of our friends (most of us have PhDs in science/engineering) are also unemployed, and they have started to scatter to chase jobs. I’ve had a good stable job for almost eight years and we have not taken that step yet.

    I think that Mormon culture of having children early creates an unbelievable amount of financial stress. DH and I were in graduate school until we were 27 and 29 and could not have had children during school. I would have been kicked out of my research group because I work with carcinogens and mutagens on a regular basis. “Ability to provide” both financially and emotionally absolutely has to be taken into account. Given the amount of stress we are feeling right now, there is no way we would bring children into the mix. I’m sure judgment happens on both sides, but I don’t have any recent anecdotes. When we first moved into our current ward, I got a few questions about when we were having kids. Answering “we’re probably not having kids” without going into detail has stopped the questions.

    If I recall correctly, the “proper” order for financial/food assistance is 1) family 2) church Welfare 3) government. My experience has been that there is little stigma attached to financial/food assistance from the church, but there probably would be stigma in taking assistance from the government since conservatives have been promoting the “lazy welfare queen” stereotype for so long. My sister and her family (husband and 3 kids) have taken food assistance from the church in the past and she has not mentioned any stigma within her home ward.

  2. I congratulate OP on what sounds like an incredibly strong marriage and an enviable sex life. I think the advice you gave her was excellent, and based on the attitude she presented in the letter, I have no doubt that she’ll employ it successfully.

    I’ve long felt that Mormons are particularly susceptible to financial strain because of the combination of things we’re “supposed” to do: pay ten-percent of our gross income, pay a generous fast offering, avoid all consumer debt, not delay or restrict marriage or children due to financial limitations, and do all this on one income so that the mother can stay at home. Add to this the still-prevailing idea that righteousness and particularly tithe-paying is an insulator against financial difficulties, and you’ve got a perfect storm for financial stress and attendant self or spouse condemnation. I think many of these problems could be solved if couples delayed child-bearing for just a few vital years, during which time they could be aggressively working and saving to “set themselves up” before starting a family.

    I’ve also begun to notice what seems to be a polarity within the church regarding financial assistance. In talking with members of various bishoprics I hear stories of (unnamed, of course) people who feel that there’s no stigma associated with asking for help and do so even when they’ve not exhausted all their financial or personal resources. In talking with a few of my friends, however, I see many who perceive a great stigma, or perhaps simply have a reluctance, to ask for help to such an extent that they don’t even when their circumstances are such that most of those who’ve contributed to “the system,” either religious or governmental, would be glad to see them have it. It sounds as though OP’s family falls into this camp.

  3. Great OP and great advice, Natasha, though this is the first time I’ve read a recommendation to pray for an orgasm.

    I agree the correspondent is doing remarkable things already. And it’s no wonder she feels stress! I don’t understand why she or her husband would hesitate to take available government assistance; they have contributed positively for years and should enjoy the benefits of that participation. It is wonderful that they have been self sufficient, and must have done a fair amount of planning and preparation to achieve what they have.

    I also get a sense that she is trying a little too hard to carry all of this herself. I wonder if in her desire not to damage the relationship (which is laudable), she is not being honest with herself about a whole range of issues associated with the financial stress. She might be surprised to find that her husband shares the concerns and that together they could build intimacy while working together on the emotional bruises they feel because of their circumstance. Your first dot-point of advice points in this direction.

    I think your recommendation to empower herself with some earning within her capabilities is a great idea, and one that you have couched well — not purely as a solution to the financial issues, but to give herself the sense of her capacity to contribute in that way.

    And yes, Will, the recession is officially over, since June 2009:

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/johncassidy/2010/09/is-the-recession-really-over.html

  4. The recession has been declared “over” by financial analysts. However, this by no means is meant to imply that there do not still exist numerous families nationwide continuing to deal with the recession’s negative ramifications.

  5. The recession, as such things are now officially defined, is officially over in the sense that the economy is no longer contracting. (Maybe or maybe not — an annualized GDP growth rate in the 1% range is within the margin of error, so we could well still be contracting; economic statistics have gotten increasingly divorced from measuring anything real.)

    On the other hand, we speak of the Great Depression lasting until 1940, despite that the economy had pretty much hit bottom and stopped contracting by FDR’s inauguration in March 1933. By that definition, until we get back up out of the weeds and have some respectable growth rates for a couple of years, we’re still in recession.

    Another way of putting it is that we may be done recessing, but we’re still well and truly recessed, and look to stay that way for a good time to come.

  6. #3: “I’ve long felt that Mormons are particularly susceptible to financial strain because of the combination of things we’re “supposed” to do: pay ten-percent of our gross income, pay a generous fast offering, avoid all consumer debt, not delay or restrict marriage or children due to financial limitations, and do all this on one income so that the mother can stay at home. Add to this the still-prevailing idea that righteousness and particularly tithe-paying is an insulator against financial difficulties, and you’ve got a perfect storm for financial stress and attendant self or spouse condemnation.”

    Amen and amen.

  7. 5, Natasha — sorry: I didn’t mean to derail things. What you’ve written is the substance of the article I linked. Yes, the recession is “officially” over, but — as your OP makes quite clear — its effects will be long felt. I certainly didn’t mean to trivialize anyone’s experience.

  8. Things have been worked out – in the sense that hopefully all are happy with the end results and decisions. Part of the working out process is that some have decided to start a new venture. Change is difficult in some ways but new ventures are good and exciting.

  9. Paul-
    No worries. I didn’t think your comment was trivializing at all – just informational. I was more responding to Will.

  10. Natasha said

    Take all the love that you have for your husband and find small ways of serving him (write him a love letter, help him in whatever way with the job hunting process if he’s open to that, prepare his favorite meal, take him out on a date you’ve secretly planned, offer a sexual favor focusing on only his needs, give him a massage, give him a list of all the strengths you feel he has, thank him for little things, etc.).

    OK, with you so far. And then,

    Serving him will more than likely help with the feelings of resentment.

    In which universe? I see it as a path to increased resentment, not less. I’m wondering if the suggestion shouldn’t be the other way around. I think the wife should confess her unwanted feelings of resentment to her husband. (Just talking about it can defuse the situation.) Then, the husband might take it upon himself to “prepare [her] favorite meal, take [her] out on a date [he’s] secretly planned, offer a sexual favor focusing on only [her] needs, give [her] a massage, give [her] a list of all the strengths [he] feel [she] has, thank [her] for little things,” etc. He sounds like a great guy who might be willing to do these kinds of things, but right now he’s operating in the dark. Men aren’t mind readers! The wife needs to speak up about what’s going on with her and give her husband a chance to respond. Letting this fester is a *bad* idea. There’s no harm in saying, “Look, honey, I’m stressed to the breaking point and need a little pampering.”

  11. For John Dehlin, re “What Happened at Mormon Matters” (here because comments are closed in his post)

    True that as the owner here you can do whatever you want to do with the site, however maybe you should remember that part of MM’s appeal and/or its niche market involves in not censoring as much as other blogs do. Here people can talk about almost any issue or subject and the bloggers are usually tolerant of outrageous and even dumbass comments (like most of mine…bout 50-50? 🙂 ).

    Anyways, although you can do what you’ve done, maybe its also time for an olive branch for the mutineers, especially in the case of BiV because remember that you took her admin rights away right in the middle of a contentious debate between you two, so any third party will think that it was a straightforward punishment for her beliefs or for her thoughts, which is the worst kind of censorship/punishment. And I’d hate to see people like hawkgrrrl or MH or NHP go too. Maybe you could just bring in the mormonstories to this site and have both written and podcast under the one MM brand? with the podcast panel too.

  12. I sympathize with the OP. I have been out of work for almost 9 months after holding what seemed like a very secure job at a large regional law firm. My wife and I both expected I would quickly find something, but I have applied for scores of jobs and had only a handful of interviews. We have 4 children, including a baby that was a newborn when I lost my job. The stress has been, at times, almost unbearable. My wife has worked a couple of temporary jobs and I have done a good amount of low-paying manual labor to try and make ends meet.

    I have made it a point to be extremely helpful around the house while I’m out of work, and I know my wife appreciates it.
    That said, there have been periods where she simply cannot hide her anger and resentment. I will admit that it’s heartbreaking to have your best friend and usual unconditional support look you in the eyes and, in despair, plead to know how you could let this happen to your children. I feel that I am really trying to find work, but I’m really just banging my head against a wall.

    I have to say, though, that I understand her perspective. I can’t imagine the fear of going through this as a mostly passive player. It wpuld be terrifying. Her periods of anger have been intermitent, I think, and she’s been open about them. Although it is terribly hurtful to feel like a failure to your family, it’s important for her to be able to be honest.

    I’m not sure how any of this helps you, except that you’re not alone in your situation I don’t think there are any easy answers. I think open communication is still the most important thing. Once that goes, the prospects for a happy marriage begin to fade.

  13. Sympathetic – thanks for your story. With DH, I know his job loss had very little to do with him (it was a last-in, first-out situation). I don’t resent him, I resent that the science and engineering jobs we are trained for are disappearing yet there is still a big push for STEM education.

    My only complaint with DH is that he’s so easygoing though that it doesn’t seem like he’s taking his/our situation seriously enough.

  14. “economic statistics have gotten increasingly divorced from measuring anything real.)”

    Thomas:

    Now there is an economic observation that you and I completely agree on. Frankly, terms like recession and depression are better used as abstract connotative descriptors in casual conversation. Only thinktanks, government entities, and University econ departments should be engaged in discussions over the technical relevance of contractions, expansions, and business cycles. Spreading the good news that “the recession is over” based on some sloppy cocktail of macro-economic data is quite meaningless on the frontlines of peoples budgets and incomes.

  15. Another great topic, Natasha, and so relevant to our times. It’s extremely difficult for men who view themselves as providers to suddenly be unemployed and having a very hard time finding a new job just makes it worse. 180 job interviews just breaks my heart! And 7 kids to boot. Wow.

    I think the whole family will have to pitch in to reduce the stress and financial burden, and I agree that they should feel OK about accepting financial help. I do think that some people feel a stigma associated with requesting help. As church members, it always feels easier to give than receive, whether it’s money or service or whatever. Good advice as always!

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