After 18 years of marriage I can say that marriage is not easy. Like a good diet and a great workout, a healthy marriage can be painful, hard work! But like diet and exercise, a marriage that is hard work can also be really good for you!
You know my view that total health requires a healthy diet, daily exercise, and inner well-being (the 3 keys). Inner well-being requires personal growth, and nothing contributes to personal growth like a long-term relationship!
(This is a long post, so I’ve recorded it as an audio file if you’d prefer to listen to it here)
Relationships are like mirrors. They allow you to see yourself. Fear-of-intimacy comes up when we aren’t ready to see ourselves for who we truly are.
According to sages like Byron Katie and Krishnamurti, the magic mirror of relationship allows us to see what we really need to work on by looking at what we think our partner needs to work on.
Whatever we find the most difficult thing in the nature of our partner is very likely the thing we deep down inside most want to overcome in our own nature. It may take a lot of self-inquiry to unearth the acceptance of this, for it is most likely that we are in denial of it.
“The Work” of Byron Katie is an incredible tool for this process, ultimately leading to a profound self-love and subsequent ability to love others as deeply.
As you go along, the struggles you most want to avoid are the ones that would bring you the greatest gifts if you were to embrace them. They are the natural lessons your life calls up, and facing these struggles will allow you to make breakthroughs. Think of them as detox. You have to get the crap out, which can be really painful, but ultimately you end up clear, vibrant, and healthy! In this process, be sure to keep in mind that although relationships are work, the one you should be working on is yourself!
To paraphrase Byron Katie, and get to the heart of her “Work”, write down all the things your partner should doâ€¦ “DH (dear hubby) shouldâ€¦..”. Then rewrite the list with your name in place of DH. You’ll now have a really valid roadmap of what you most need to work on to have a better relationship and to grow in the ways you most want to grow.
There is a balance that must be attained between this rigorous self-discipline of inner growth balanced with the practice of cultivating joy in ones life, a practice which is summed up in this statement by Regena Thomashauer:
“When a woman reverses the order of putting her pleasure last and really pays attention to her pleasure, making sure that each choice feels absolutely right to her and absolutely gratifying to her, sheâ€™s going to makes choices that enhance her life and enhance the lives of others”.
As lovely and empowering as this statement is, it almost seems opposite to the notion of relationship as a practice of growth. One might think this statement above means that if one is the slightest bit uncomfortable in a relationship that one should move on. I think that would be a misinterpretation, however.
There will be discomforts in every relationship with another human being once you get past the formalities or the honeymoon. If your heart is open and you are emotionally awake and aware, there will be challenges in any deep friendship, love affair, business partnership, marriage or family relationship.
Relationships are the most difficult thing we do. And numbing the pain of human relationships is probably the initial cause of most addiction. We have this illusion we all grow up with that relationships are going to be “happy ever after”. But in the real world, relationships are not like fairy tales. They are not like romantic comedies. Relationships are not like the way women fantasize about relationships, and they are certainly not much like the way men fantasize about relationships either.
In fact, men and women are pretty incompatible in their desires and needs, once family life settles in. My hypothesis on this matter is that we are not really supposed to get our total fulfillment from our partner in life. In fact, through not being able to get fulfillment from our partner, we have to go to a higher power to find such spiritual happiness. Perhaps this is why things are set up the way they are. AndÂ perhaps it is also to help us develop discipline, unselfishness, understanding, compassion, and ultimately the capacity for unconditional love.
Like extreme exercise and healthy eating, you can actually cultivate a desire for these relationship challenges. And when you enter in to something difficult with a desired outcome like health, happiness, growth, or wholeness you actually enjoy the rigors of your chosen path, however difficult in the moment. You relish the difficulty, knowing the results that will follow.
It is like hunger. If you have no money for food and you are hungry, then you will be starving and miserable, even if it is only for a day or two that you are without food. But when you go on a water fast because you want to and choose to, it can be a blissful and extremely healthy experience, even if you don’t eat anything for 30 or 60 days. The difference is in your desire and intention, and it ultimately comes down to choice.
But when do you decide if the challenges in a relationship are not contributing to your growth and are more like a junk-food addiction. Aside from physical abuse, which is an absolute necessity to escape from immediately, it can be very difficult to know what will be the best thing for you; work at staying, or follow your heart and leave. In the free world, relationship ambivalence is an epidemic.
My cousin just shared a teaching she had read somewhere, that there are 3 things you can choose to do in a relationship: Stay and not like it, Stay and like it, or Leave. It really is a simple decision. If you’ve been staying and not liking it for a long time, you might want to try staying and liking it. Just decide to stay and like it, and you’ll find that this is possible. You’ll find something to like about the relationship, something to love about your partner. And you’ll make those things your focus.
Divorce rates indicate that leaving seems to be the easiest thing to do in a marriage. What about staying together for the kids? When one has children can one really put ones own needs first? Is it morally acceptable to put ones own needs first? Is the relationship so bad that it is harming the children? If it is good for the children, much better for the children than the alternative, then isn’t it better to stay?
From what I’ve seen, divorce can be really hard on children. So can parents who are together but appear to not like each-other or who talk badly about each-other. A child is made from these two people, and has part of each of these two people in them. If one parent doesn’t like the other, then that child naturally feels like that parent doesn’t like a part of them (the child) either. I think this can cause deep self-esteem issues. Our parents are like the creators of our known universe and of us, in a sense, and therefore their opinions have a deep and lasting effect on us.
So, I can not think of myself as just me. I am not just me any more. I am part of a greater whole, a family. And my decisions affect each member of the family and beyond, into the fabric of the family of humankind. My decisions are steeped in being all about love for my children. Without this welfare of my children as my deepest desire, I am truly selfish. At the same time, my welfare is important as I can not be a good role-model or mother if I’m a miserable person.
And so while I am committed to going through the fire of relationship, I am also committed to the statement above, putting my pleasure first. This statement inspires me to keep my soul ignited with passion, joy, excitement, and love. It inspires me to seek out fun, to do the things I love, to be around people who bring out the best in me, to maintain mental attitudes that are pleasant to exist within, to stay in worshipful communion with The Source of All Love, to cultivate a heart that is filled with gratitude, and to make choices that really feel good to me at my core.
The two seeming opposites, working at a relationship vs. putting myself first, are actually two harmonious sides of the same coin. Each feeds the other. It is a balance. It is an art. It is dynamic tension. It is growth-producing. It is good.
So, eat the best foods you know how, that feel best for your body, being honest enough to know the difference between an addictive craving and a craving for something your body really needs. Find workouts that you really love and allow yourself to do them every day. Embrace the journey of self-discovery through life or relationship, increasing your ability to love and thereby becoming more whole. And be good to yourself!