Marriage Licenses and Security

In season 3 of Seeking Sister Wife we are introduced to the Merrifields, Garrick and Dannielle. They have found a potential sister wife with complications. Their potential, Roberta, is Brazilian, and the easiest way for them to get her to the states is to bring her with a fiancé visa and have Garrick marry her (thus getting a license from the government that would allow her to legally stay in the country). The down side to this is that it would require Dannielle and Garrick to get a legal divorce first. Even tho this “divorce” would be in the eyes of the court only, the decision to carry out this plan is obviously filled with emotion, and all the more so because the Merrifields have had marital struggles in the past which had led them nearly to the brink of “true” divorce.

Even tho the Merrifields have a more complicated situation than most (given that Roberta is a foreigner), this decision (to divorce on paper), has been faced by many polygamists over the years. Besides obtaining citizenship for a foreign spouse, there are several reasons for contemplating this plan. The reasons may include extending insurance benefits to children or adopting children (as Kody Brown did with Robyn), or extending security or benefits to the new wife.

In any case, there are all sorts of doubts that will begin to play upon the minds of those involved (this is a continuing theme for Dannielle in several of the first episodes of season 3). The wife especially will be worried about being abandoned, and Dannielle is no exception. Of course it doesn’t help matters that her family members are expressing doubts and concerns to her about it (not that they shouldn’t – more about that below).

The concern is that once the marriage license is gone, Danielle will have no protection from all of the difficulties of life that may arise if Garrick decides to abandon her. Of course, this is a nonsensical concern, as Garrick could always end up filing for divorce at any time.

Without making this post too long, I will put it simply to all the women out there, especially those who have not yet chosen a husband yet (and yes, it is primarily the woman that does the choosing):

The best protection is the character of your man.

This advice applies to monogamy or polygamy equally. Do not settle, or be lax, in making your decision. Do not get carried away by money, or attention, or good looks (tho these things have their place in making a decision about marriage – they are secondary), and then trust the government to keep you protected from your poor choices. It is a bad plan, and all too often will lead to misery, legal battles, and wealthy lawyers. A license is no guarantee of protection, financial or otherwise (my wife Melissa can speak to this in great detail based on her previous marriages).

It is a much better plan to be careful about your mate, then stick to your choice thru thick and thin. Choose a man whose character will not cause you to doubt his dedication to you or your children. Choose a man who is worthy of trust and responsibility. Choose a man who will be able to stay with you and love you despite your personal flaws (and visa versa – he will not be perfect either). Choose a man who will remain by your side to lead, protect, and provide even if the county records building burns to the ground (and the “proof” of your marriage with it).

Fortunately for Dannielle, it seems that none of the concerns expressed by her family have anything to do with Garrick’s character. They don’t seem to think that he will leave her, they are only concerned about what would happen if he did, and these are very different things.

As for the opinions of friends and relatives, they cannot make choices for you, nor should you let them. However, there are circumstances where you should eagerly seek their input. You may discover that you are like a particular woman that I work with. She has been married several times previously; all of them ended in disaster. She had a string of husbands that were found to be sexually abusing her daughters (beginning with their biological father). We talked about her life and difficulties for quite a while; mostly I just listened. It turns out that she now identifies as a lesbian, and has a girlfriend, tho this arrangement has not been without problems as well. She told me that her “picker” was broken. In other words, the part of her brain that runs the program for picking a good mate (whatever part that may be) is not functioning well.

Take careful stock of your own thoughts, feelings, and past experiences, and ask yourself if your “picker” is broken (essentially this means you are a poor judge of character). If this describes you, then you should seek input from family and friends, and be sure to take things slow, so that you can gather enough information to make a good decision. You will want to see your potential mate in lots of different situations and interacting with lots of different people including, and perhaps especially, your family and friends. It will be worth it to make a good decision. It will be more protection than a piece of paper ever will.

Seeking Sister Problems

Humans are obligatory problem solvers.  They cannot help it.  If they didn’t have problems of their own, they would invent them.

We humans love problems!  Dealing with problems is essential to our health and well-being.  Our brains are designed to anticipate them, think about them, worry about them, and eventually solve them.  Our brains do this all the time, very well, and sometimes too well.

Even tho tendencies we may have are natural, evil can come of them when they are allowed to roam too far, or wander outside of the bounds the Lord has set. Problem-solving is one such tendency.  It is so ingrained in our being that when things are going generally well, and no problems seem to be presenting themselves to us, we will, of necessity, create our own problems.

If they chose to, most people could objectively look at their lives and see how frequently the problems they had were of their own engineering, and their suffering self-inflicted.  Yes, it is true that time and chance happens to everyone, and yet, it is also true that our lives are largely of our own making.

While these two ideas may seem to be at odds with one another, they are both true.  It is true because: what happens to us is only half of our life.  The other half is how we respond to the things that happen.  This weightier half is made up of what we think and do about the things that happen to us, and those around us.  It is our response to both the past and present, and also our response to the future.

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.  – Shakespeare (Hamlet; Act 2, Scene 2)

We interact with the past thru our our mental and emotional analysis of our memories.  We interact with the future thru our mental simulations of possible events.  We imagine the things we might say or do, and we play these things out on the stage of our mind.  The data we have collected, and analyzed, from the past is fed into these simulations of the future.  We interact with the present thru our choices, which are determined by the outcomes of the simulations of our future.  After running these simulations, we do a mental calculation.  We weigh the pros and cons, consider the benefits and costs, the difficulty and feasibility.  In other words, we plan, and then we choose the action based on our plan, however hasty or shortsighted it may be.

molehills“Problems” have everything to do with our perception of them.  As I mentioned above, we even have the power, in our minds, to transform non-problems into problems, or small issues into big issues.  The proverb speaks of turning mole-hills into mountains.

For example, it is normal to have disagreements with those around us.  It is even normal to argue about those disagreements, but it takes special effort to turn agreements into something to argue about.

Here is an example of what I mean.  In episode 10 (of the second season of SSW), Brandy comes back to visit the McGees.  Brandy is spending the day with Paige, chatting and helping with the household chores.  In this scene the two women are folding laundry together, and we quickly see that things are not going very well.  I don’t know how much of this scene is the result of “editorial sculpting”; regardless, this exchange is illustrative.

Brandy: “Do we fold the same?”
Paige: “That’s what I was looking at.  I was like, yeah, she actually folds like I do.”
Brandy: “Nice.”
Paige: “That’s pretty cool.”
Brandy: “So, are you particular about, like, say I would have, (she begins to demonstrate folding a towel another way) because there is another way, and so…”
Paige: “No, I would have fixed it.  I wouldn’t have said anything; I would have just fixed it.”
Brandy:  “You would have fixed it?”
Paige:  “Mm-Hmm.”
Brandy: “Ok, so there is a particular way of doing things?”
Paige:  “Yeah.  There’s a right way and a wrong way.”
Brandy:  “Any other, like, pet peeves or particulars?  Like, if it was my day to do dishes – would you come in behind me and see if the dishwasher was loaded right?”
Paige:  (Nods, Yes)
Brandy:  “Yeah?  I used to be very particular, but now I’m just so grateful if someone helps.  I’ve gotten to where I’m just like, just put it in the closet and shut the door.”
Paige:  “No.  Towels, they have to be put in a certain way because they will fall over.  So, you have to fold them a certain way.”
Brandy:  “So, how would that work, you know, with me coming in?  If I come in, like, how would that work?”
Paige:  “You’ll just have to learn to do it my way.”

Towels

If you can grasp the reality, that our lives are largely what we make of them, and yet you continue to feel like you can’t stop worrying, can’t stop creating problems for yourself, can’t stop creating problems for others, cant stop sabotaging yourself and your relationships; then perhaps there’s something wrong with your understanding of the human brain and our search for happiness and satisfaction.

We aren’t made to experience “happiness” in the way normally think of it: carefree,  pain free, completely fulfilled, excited, and free of any suffering.  Rather, we were made to survive, and survival, in a very human sense, means to create.  The strange thing is that suffering (that is, the mental component of suffering), and creating are connected.   A large part of suffering involves a mental process called rumination.

Rumination is when we focus all our attention on the ways we are suffering, on its possible causes, and on our failures (and the failures of others) that have led us to our suffering.  These thoughts are repeated over and over (thus the name, rumination) without resolution.  We allow ourselves to rehash and dwell upon the causes and consequences of our suffering, rather than dwelling on its solutions.

Instead of devising the next step for our life, we ruminate on the last one. Rather than imagining new opportunities, we assume nothing better is possible. Rather than taking control of our life, we embrace an attitude of powerlessness. We become helpless, and our suffering becomes meaningless because we are at the whim of how the world makes us feel, but we were meant for better things.  We were created to create.  We were made to act, and not to be acted upon (See 2Nephi 2:14-16).

So what is the connection?  Rumination (a component of mental suffering) and creativity are controlled by the same parts of the brain, and they have an inhibiting effect upon one another.  Suffering will result when we stop creating, and visa versa.

Pain is Inevitable, Suffering is Optional

When we focus on creating, our pain is no longer meaningless – it is no longer “suffering for suffering’s sake”.  Rather, as pain cannot be altogether avoided, it becomes an expected part of the process – the pain becomes “worth it”.  When we focus on creating and doing, we no longer categorize our emotional experiences as: “things that feel good” or “things that don’t”. Instead, we use the vastly superior categories: “things that are worthwhile” and “things that aren’t”.

Use your mind and energies to create, to do, and to improve.  It will give your brain something productive to do.  These are the things in life that are worthwhile.  These are the things that will give our lives actual meaning, and in a deeper and more satisfying way than complaining and worrying about things will ever do.  I repeat, our lives are not made meaningful nor satisfying by complaining.  Our lives are not made meaningful nor satisfying by worrying.  Our lives are not made meaningful nor satisfying by suffering needlessly, nor by needlessly increasing the suffering of those around us.  

Our lives are made meaningful and satisfying by the things we do and create.

Increase the talents given to you, rather than hiding them.  Read a book, write a book, grow a garden, fix your marriage, plan a trip, learn a foreign language, learn to play an instrument, go back to school, make your children a larger priority in your life, become a regular volunteer for a local charity, change your own motor oil, quit an addiction, start exercising, organize a chess club, get yourself right with God. 

The possibilities are quite literally endless.  There are so many things you could do.  There are so many thing you ought to do, and you know it.  God is the creator, and we are made in his image.  We were made to create.  We were made to improve.