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Change doesn’t always lead to increased happiness
Regardless how appropriately or inappropriately you may feel, she speaks to her callers during her syndicated radio program (they called her, she would point out, of their own free will for her unbridled nagging!) Dr. Laura Schlessinger is one interesting, articulate and self-assured woman.
It had been years since I’d heard her on the radio and as I perused my XM Radio channels the other day I heard her familiar voice. I also caught sight of a book cover featuring the diminutive blonde, with the ready smile and razor sharp tongue, in a bookstore display of new releases.
During her daily radio program she places herself in treacherous territory with abandon and now that I know she’s regularly featured on XM Radio I’ll listen on occasion. Especially now, for I heard a mellowing in her voice and an occasional tenderness I did not detect years ago.
One day this week I rediscovered Dr. Laura and I heard a most interesting call. “Steve” had phoned in to get Dr. Laura’s permission to divorce his wife.
This’ll be a good one! I thought.
Steve and his wife have been married for many years, their kids are young adults living on their own and he no longer wants to “live a lie.” He claimed that from the very beginning he had been attracted to his wife, yet married her more out of obligation. When they first met she was already a young widow and the harried mother of a young child. After a series of hasty, intense encounters she became pregnant and he offered to marry her. After all, he reasoned, it was his child and he needed to act responsibly.
They raised their children together. Now he wanted to head out into the world to find “true” love, claiming he’d never experienced it. Not after all the soccer games and Easter egg hunts. The broken arms, Friday movie nights and college graduations.
I could not help but think back to a quote I had run across recently attributed to writer Elizabeth Clarke Dunn. “Change,” she writes, “is an easy panacea. It takes character to stay in one place and be happy there.”
Change, for some people, can be as enticing as a drug. It lures people of all ages into thinking that a change in jobs, toys, houses, clothes, communities, friends or partners will help us feel better about ourselves and create an environment of greater happiness.
A note of clarification is due here: I do not advocate that anyone stay in a relationship that is illegal, dangerous, unethical or life-threatening. And if children are involved, their safety is paramount as they depend on the wisdom of adults for their guidance and well-being.
What I am suggesting is that we live in a throw-away society that regularly recycles people and intimate relationships with little thought. Rather than looking deep into our own souls, recalling our promises, considering our religious stirrings and choosing to make significant (and probably difficult!) changes in our lives aimed at improving our relationships, we are quick to toss it all and move on. We limit our abilities to make wonderful lives with the people we chose when living gets hard, routine and predictable. We seem unable to envision a path that leads to contentment and joy with those closest to us and instead chase the undefinable enticement we label as “happiness” and “love.”
Worse yet, we ask those who love and depend on us to go along for the ride. Change allegiances. Adjust. Love and bond with others who have no history with us.
Perhaps you can guess Dr. Laura’s response. She challenged Steve to embark on a new journey with his wife. To decide to love her and find ways to rekindle the sparks that once lit their fires. To try new routings, to date again and build new dreams by fashioning new projects, especially now that the intensity of their child-rearing years are behind them and they have the luxury of time and space to be creative and focused.
It was not what Steve wanted to hear. Digging deep and rising from the ashes seemed overwhelming. Besides, he did not want to recall his promise before God, family and friends that they would stay married until death parted them.
We will never know what choices Steve made once he put down his phone. But I hope he stayed put and worked to resuscitate his relationship. His children and grandchildren will be marvelously served by watching a marriage that is growing, adjusting and increasingly satisfying because they valued each other enough to create a happy life together.
Now that’s the kind of change we can all live with!
Joan Bay Klope is a freelance writer and speaker who makes her home on Whidbey Island. Her award-winning column has run for 12 years in Western Washington newspapers. E-mail comments and speaking requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.