A House Divided is Happiness Diminished

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

~ Abraham Lincoln

Quote #16 in the series 16 Principles of Happiness from the 16th President

President Abraham Lincoln presided over the dissolution of the United States. The nation split into North and South, Union and Confederate. The whole was cracked and made incomplete until a 5-year war was waged to return unity, to dissolve the disunion, and restore political and geographic wholeness and completeness … and end a vile self-inflicted national wound.

Just as nations can be wounded and cut and split and dissolved, so too can families. Internal wars can erupt and rage as happiness is sacrificed and the joys life was meant to provide are wasted on the bloodied battlefields of our homes and our relationships and our hearts and our souls. Happiness is displaced. Peace is dislodged. And unity is damaged.

How do we reunite the divided home? How do we mend the bleeding soul within a wounded marriage? What are the options? How can a divided home be rebuilt?

Unhappiness is a Home Divided

There are, of course, mild to severe divisions, each with its own level of unhappiness. Some homes are witness to heated wars of verbal abuse – cursing, belittling and profound acts of disrespect. In others, there is a distant and empty barrenness that permeates the family. It is a Cold War of disdain and disregard. It is a passionless and sterile relationship with frigid communication and emotional paralysis, where silent treatments and cold shoulders and defensiveness and passive aggressiveness are the weapons of choice.

Whether your home is marked by periodic explosions of anger or by a general state of tension, whether family life is merely unsatisfying or on the verge of total system failure, there are steps that can be taken, principles applied, help available to start mending and reuniting your divided home.

The lives of those we love most are often the ones found lying on the battlefield at the end of the day, dismembered, and bloodied. Our children are truly victim to the battles we wage with a spouse for whom we no longer feel the burn inside as passion and love and desire.

Caveat: If abuse of any kind or other forms of deeply disturbing behavior is present, you must protect your children. If such has been the cause of a divorce, what I say hereafter may not apply directly to your situation. Use good judgment and seek professional advice before deciding to follow any of the advice provided here.

Regardless, how we approach any effort at reconciliation will depend on the reasons for the strain on the integrity of the marriage in the first place. Divisions often start small, as little fractures, disagreements that fester and widen and slowly begin to separate once-unified couples.

6 Areas of Potential Division

Following are just a few of the reasons a home might be divided or cracks in the unity of a marriage might begin. Consider what is at the heart of your marital fractures.

1. You and your spouse are of different religious faiths.

So, you got married, never giving religion a second glance. Now, with a stream of years under the bridge, all of a sudden, religion has become important. You start talking about getting the kids to church (or synagogue or mosque or temple), and suddenly your spouse takes an interest in a subject ignored for years!

Possible Solution: try the other’s faith on for size to see if it fits. If not, go to yours and your spouse’s churches on alternating weeks. Later, at some agreed-upon age, let your children choose … and then respect their choice. Or look for a new one together as a family.

2. You and your spouse disagree over how to discipline your kids.

This is truly a house divided. If the kids become the battleground for this disagreement, everyone will pay the price.

Possible Solution: Communicate. Talk it out. Learn to see from your spouse’s perspective. Read the discipline literature together. Maybe there’s a better third way to discipline. Maybe each can let the other discipline their own way without it turning into a fight each time. But never tolerate abuse. Look for common ground. Exemplify more than preach good practices.

3. You and your spouse have personality conflicts.

Some personalities just are not very compatible … at least on the surface. A closer look often discovers character flaws like selfishness and pride and a rather harsh judgmentalism that may be the reason the personalities conflict in the first place.

Possible Solution: Work on building compassion and empathy and love. Work to decrease the role of selfishness and pride in your life. Learn humility. Over time, you will notice the other person’s personality doesn’t bother you so much.

4. You and your spouse have different interests.

She watches romance and you watch sci-fi. She likes walks and you like bike rides. She likes opera and you like oldies. She likes caviar and you like pizza. As a matter of fact, you just don’t seem to like any of the same things.

Possible Solution: So what! Watch and eat some of what she likes and watch and eat some of what he likes. The point isn’t to watch football or ballet. The point is to spend time together because you love the person you are spending time with! Take interest in what the other likes, not because you like their interest, but because you’re interested in the person who likes it.

5. You and your spouse have different schedules.

You hardly see each other. You feel like the two of you are always on opposite sides of life, ships passing in the night. One wakes and goes to bed early, the other late. Business trips and late nights at the office separate you for long or frequent periods of time. Even when you do see each other, you feel like strangers.

Possible Solution: Change jobs. Move closer to work to reduce commute time. Downsize. Don’t make lifestyle and career more important than the integrity of your family. There’s nothing more important. One day your children will thank you. And one day you will thank me! ;)

6. Your spouse takes your in-law’s side.

You are left feeling a bit like an outsider to your own marriage because your spouse always takes your in-law’s side or allows them to butt in to your marriage. You feel like your spouse never really left home and fully committed to you, like you’re married to your mother-in-law as much as to your husband or wife.

Possible Solution: Cleave to your spouse. Become one. No other relationship should EVER get in the way. Don’t be abusive, just let the in-laws know, they can butt in when invited by BOTH to butt in. Be compassionate, but stand your ground. Your marriage and family happiness just may count on it!

Marital Reconstruction

Unified, loyal spouses make happy homes. Division can produce fractures that pit husband against wife, mom against dad. Marital bliss then fades to martial misery, happiness to unhappiness, passion to anger.

After the Civil War, the United States began a very difficult process of Reconstruction, recreating a union where there wasn’t one. There had to be a path laid out for the return of Confederate states back to the Union.

Sometimes marriages and families need a sort of Reconstruction too as members regroup and rethink premises and attitudes and habits and behaviors and paths are laid for reunion. So take the first steps to Reconstructing your marriage and your home and redraw the division line to encircle your loved ones and return joy to a happy, unified home.

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What Do You Think?

  • What other causes of marital division have I missed?
  • Are there alternative solutions to what I’ve suggested?
  • What are your experiences with marital conflict?
  • Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Click on any of the posts in this series for further reading: