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Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid

October 9, AD2017

I like the adage: “Some things are better left unsaid”.

But I have a hard time following it, especially when I am in one of my darker moods and in an intense “discussion” with my wife.

For instance, I’ll say something that aggravates her and she will bring up divorce.
“I don’t know why we ever got married. We should just get a divorce”, she will say.
“You’re never going to change. We should get a divorce”, she will add.

To prove that I’m not hurt when I really am, I’ll respond with a know-it-all rationalization meant to hurt her: “If we do that, here’s what we’re looking at financially”. Then, I’ll enumerate the financial disadvantages of divorce after 43 years of marriage and based on my “retirement” from my not-very-financially-lucrative career of toiling for non-profit organizations.

I sometimes feel like a loser when I share these “intimacies” with you in a public forum. But this is the most visceral way I know to describe how God then rescues me from my sinfulness through His great and wonderful grace.

You see, I have come to realize that thinking I can manage or control my marriage is a form of unfaithfulness for me. Sometimes it’s better to offer up the hurt, and just shut-up. Love in a marriage does not mean I have to always say what is on my mind. That’s because some things are better left unsaid.

Like my 90-year-old Dad sliding deeper into dementia and mental illness and insisting that my 90-year-old Mom is being unfaithful to him. He believes she is hooking up with our happily married and much-younger neighbor. Our family knows this is a delusion based on Dad’s dementia and mental illness. Over the past several years, he has not been able to leave some things unsaid because of his paranoia and illness, exacerbated now by dementia.

Thankfully, Mom has learned to weather a lot of these delusions. They now only fight infrequently; but when they do, it is still a doozy of a fight. It’s not a pretty sight watching your 90-year-old parents trade barbs with one another. I suspect that fighting is just one of many ways of communicating, although not a very healthy way.

“Dad, some things are better left unsaid”, we’ll advise him.

“But your mother needs help”, he’ll say, “and it’s not too late for her to get it. She’s like that guy in Rain Man (the 1988 film with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise) who’s got that disease. You know, he keeps repeating the same thing?”

Mom brings up certain things repeatedly and has certainly contributed to their fights during their 67 years of marriage.

I’ve got to admit, I am just like Mom and Dad. I cannot let go of the past. And I cannot follow my own advice, that some things are better left unsaid. Maybe it’s genetic. Or simply original sin.

There was that fight with the theology professor in diaconal formation four years ago. I had criticized him and the textbook in front of the entire class for the very-carefully-nuanced explanation about the formation of conscience in the use of artificial contraception in a marriage. I thought the text and the professor should have been more supportive of Humanae Vitae, the still-controversial encyclical of Blessed Pope Paul VI from 1968.

The professor dropped the textbook loudly on his desk and noted perhaps he should just stop teaching the class. It took me a few minutes before I realized I needed to apologize.

I was on the right track, but I had been disrespectful to him. My disrespect left my legitimate concern unaddressed. I should have approached the professor privately instead of attacking him publicly and stick with leaving some things better left unsaid (or until a more prudent time occurred).

Or like the time in the parish council meeting where I criticized a high-level diocesan official. I thought he was simply wrong. Well, I was wrong because of my attitude and penchant for criticizing higher-ups and which is almost always based on my inferiority complex.

I worry that some who saw me make these very public mistakes may still think ill of me, years past now. But what if they saw the real me in my private and more recent fights? There have been some doozies.

That’s why I so love preaching as a permanent deacon. The Lord instills in me through the Word, the realization, no, the demand, that I must begin with fixing myself before I try to fix others. I’m plenty broken already.

He takes hold of me and possesses me, driving a swift sword between my pride and higher calling. “Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

The beautiful Gospel parables we are hearing so far in October are about the Kingdom of Heaven as a vineyard or marriage feast. We are invited to work with integrity in the vineyard or participate generously in the marriage feast. We are called magnanimously by God to do this in spite of our flaws. This is wonderful balm for my soul, and it is exhilarating, pure joy, to share with others. It heals me, and hopefully others, when the mercy of God sinks deep into our being to enable us to live God’s mercy in a very public way.

The sword of God’s wisdom and mercy awakens me not to dabble in the rhetoric of divorce, but in the indissolubleness of marital love. I do this by prudence and not scapegoating others, especially my wife.

I pray that I’ll hold my tongue and labor humbly and mercifully in the vineyard where, sometimes, some things are better left unsaid.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Deacon Jim Dougherty is a married permanent deacon for the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) in the Diocese of Honolulu. Dougherty received a doctorate in Interdisciplinary Studies; an MS in Criminal Justice; and a BA in Psychology with minors in English and Philosophy. For 27 years, he served as executive director of the DeLaSalle Education Center in Kansas City, Missouri, a national model of excellence in education for central-city high school students who needed another opportunity for success. Dougherty participated in a Catholic healing ministry in Kansas City from 2006 to 2013. He has been published in American Jails and Deacon Digest. He has self-published a spiritual memoir about his son’s death and healing after tragic loss in an encounter with police in Kansas City in 2002, entitled: A Place for Us to Meet. He and Karol have been married 43 years and have four children and six grandchildren.

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  • Michael Siddle

    Husbands Learn these words for a happy marriage “ I was wrong, you were right. Sorry”

    • Dan

      And the third line: “And it’ll never happen again.”

    • Sean

      “Better left unsaid” are usually wise words to remember.
      Nevertheless, I continue to be amazed at how easily husbands surrender to just about everything wrt their spouse.
      FYI, sometimes (frequently?) the husband is, in fact, correct/right or in a better position to judge.
      Did you marry a woman who will make your life miserable unless you raise the white flag??
      Act like a gentleman, not a jellyfish.

      Twenty six years married and seven children. I’m not perfect and neither is my beautiful wife.

  • Pueblo Southwest

    Good article. Bottom line for two things best left unsaid: those that hurt and those that accomplish nothing. As for speaking to error; to take from Marshall McLuhan, the message and it’s delivery are the message.

  • Guy McClung

    Jim-So it has taken you 43 + years to figure out your wife is right? Once this realization sets in, marriage is easy street. Recently I have also figured out that, from all eternity, God decided this woman whom I love infinity is the one He chose to help bring me, sometimes drag me, back to Him. If she just gets me into purgatory, she will have done one heck of a job. Tell yours today, “You are precious to me.” Guy McClung, Texas (happily married over 44 years ; wife, about 42 of them)