Ever been in a catch-22 in your marriage?
If you do one thing you’re in trouble, but if you do the opposite, you’re in trouble, too–just in a different way. You feel as if you have no options.
It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage, and this week we’re going to talk about catch-22s and marriage. I guess it’s the week when we talk about tough choices, after Monday’s epic rant to the woman who wants to leave her husband for her lover! But many catch-22s aren’t as morally iffy. Many are just plain hard, and today I have two questions from two women. Here’s one:
I am the 24-hour caregiver for my mother-in-law (who doesn’t like me) She refuses to go to daycare, although when it was my husband’s older brother turn to take care of her she went. She bullies me and I “turn the other cheek”. My own mom doesn’t recognize who I have become and my friends say I am a shell. My husband sees the problem and sides with me, but it does no good. His siblings are refusing to take her and we can’t make rent without her. My husband just lost his job and I’ve been looking for a year and can’t find one. She gets mad if we leave together and if we are in the bedroom with the door shut she pounds on the door. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that we are together on the problem, but helpless to change it.
Here’s another, from recent comments:
My husband has told me he doesn’t love me and has checked out of the marriage. I know he’s seeing other women. But he won’t move out because we can’t afford it. I feel nothing for him anymore either, but we homeschool, and I can’t afford to live on my own. He’s almost completely ignoring the kids, and it’s so awful. I’ve asked our family and our pastor to talk to him but my husband says God isn’t real and he won’t listen to them anymore. I can’t afford to live on my own, and my husband is angry and grumpy all the time, but I don’t know what to do.
What do these two stories have in common? The women feel as if they’re in an impossible situation, but they can’t see a way out of it–in both cases because of financial issues.
So what do you do if you’re miserable, but you feel powerless to change your situation, especially because of money?
Realize that we are never without options.
This idea that we are helpless to change our situation is just simply false. It is not biblical and it is not true.
It may very well be true that you are helpless to do something if you want to maintain a certain standard of living or if you want to keep your family happy with you or if you want to stay living in the same house (or keep homeschooling), but that’s not the same as having no options. That’s just choosing to limit your options yourself.
In the first case, for instance, the family could say, “we aren’t going to have mother live with us anymore”, and tell the other siblings they’ll have to do something or else find a home for her. And then they could go on welfare and live in government housing for a while; they could get an old trailer and live in that until they found a job; they could ask a family member to put them up in a garage while they looked for work.
In the second case, she could live in a one-bedroom apartment with her kids while going on welfare. She could move into government housing. She could ask her family for help.
In both cases, the women could reach out to their church bodies and be really blunt about the help they need. If the church doesn’t provide it, they could invest in joining a different church with a different ethos, and they could start volunteering and investing in people there, too, so that others are more likely to help them.
Now, none of those options (except the last one) is necessarily good, but they are options.
When you recognize that you have choices, then you recognize that staying in the status quo is also a choice.
If you choose to stay in the situation that you don’t like, but you realize that this situation is better than other choices, then that is also a choice.
That’s important to realize, because when we start feeling helpless, like we have no options, it’s easy to get despondent and bitter.
But when you realize that your life is a choice, then you can walk in gratitude. You can realize, “okay, this may not be the way I wanted my life to turn out, but out of the options that God has presented before me, this is the one that I feel like I should walk in.”
Think about the difference between saying, “I’m stuck,” and saying, “I don’t like my life right now, but I’m choosing it because [insert benefit here: I still get to homeschool; I get to stay in my house; the kids still get to see their dad].” When you realize the choice, then you also realize the benefits that you’re getting from it, and how important those benefits obviously are to you.
Even if you have few practical choices, you always have a choice in how you react.
Viktor Frankl, who was a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany, wrote some brilliant literature on the power of choice in a person’s life. One of his famous quotes is this one:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
Choosing your attitude is a choice, in and of itself. And it’s a choice that God asks us to make. The apostle Paul said this:
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13)
I like the phrase that Paul uses: “I have learned…” He knows that this kind of peace isn’t automatic. It’s HARD. And what I’m saying is super hard. If you’re living in a situation that looks really bleak, it is very hard to find contentment. But God asks us to find our joy in Him first. When we keep that eternal perspective, and when we concentrate on what God is teaching us about our character, rather than on perfecting our circumstances, it is amazing how much our attitude can change.
When you realize that you ARE making choices, then instead of spending emotional energy being upset about your life, you can spend that energy figuring out how to make the life that you did choose bearable and even joyful.
When you believe that you are in an impossible situation, then it’s all too easy to give up and focus on everything that is wrong. But when you realize, “I am choosing this life as the best out of my possible options”, and thus “I will turn to God to find my contentment”, then you can also ask God to show you what practical steps you can take to make your situation more bearable.
In the first case, she and her husband could draw better boundaries with the mother-in-law: “Mom, either you respect our privacy, or we’re going to withdraw from you and not eat dinner together. You’ll have to eat by yourself. And if you continue to treat us this way, then we will have to take you to daycare, even if you don’t want it.”
They can search out options for respite care so that they can go out at night.
They can sit in their room and watch a movie, even if their mother bangs on the door, and they can ignore her if she is rude.
In short, they can draw boundaries. They can say, “we will treat you with love and respect, but we need love and respect as well. If you trespass over our privacy, then we will not be able to give you all that you want.”
In the second case, she could say, “I know that my husband is grumpy and doesn’t help at all with the kids, and is often angry. But I will take the kids outside of the house for a lot of the day. I will homeschool in our local library. I will take time in the evenings to retrain so that I will eventually be able to get a good job from home.”
And then both women can look at how to include more things that bring them joy into their lives.
Let’s rethink the Catch-22.
We need to stop feeling like we’re victims. God says,
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
There is ALWAYS a way out. Sometimes, like Viktor Frankl found when he was a prisoner, that way out is an attitude shift. Sometimes it’s something more practical. But focusing on how you have no choices never does anyone any good–and only draws you further away from God.
Focus instead on being grateful for what you do have–because you have chosen this life, even if it doesn’t feel like it. You have decided this is the best option you have, which means that there are things about your life for which you are grateful. Speak that gratitude. Own your choices. And then, once you have peace and joy, it’s much easier to work at expanding those choices later. But if you’re always focused on what you don’t have and what you can’t do, you’ll never feel satisfaction.
Look, I’m not trying to be heartless, like I have no sympathy for these women. I hope it doesn’t sound that way.
Both situations sound awful! But the truth is this: feeling helpless will not make anything better. It will only leave you paralyzed and bitter. Seeing God in the midst of it, and finding joy in the midst of it, is the only real way out of feeling trapped.
What do you think? Have you ever felt like you were in a Catch-22? How did you handle it? Let me know in the comments!