Relationships are hard. I don’t have a PhD but I do have 18 years of experience in the same roller coaster relationship. So trust me, I know things.
We expect a lot from relationships and too often we expect to get more out of a relationship than we put in. The probability of getting credit for more than you have deposited is unlikely. If you put five dollars into the bank you cannot withdraw twenty. It is not rocket science. We are all smart people here but admit it, when you got married you expected something a little more Cinderella-ish as opposed to a Hitchcock horror movie where you are constantly fighting for your life. You’ll make it, but not without work and sometimes it is harder than you can ever imagine. Sharing your bed and your bathroom and peeing while your spouse shaves looked a hell of a lot sexier in your head than it does in real life. Nobody told you that you might have to compromise…a lot. Even on stuff like pizza toppings! Nobody told you that you would face more fears and insecurities than you did when you were single. All of the cards we got at our wedding said “have a wonderful life together” They didn’t say that some days your greatest struggles in your relationship and your greatest frustrations would be an opportunity to not lay blame, but to confront yourself. It seems easier to keep a running tally of your spouses shortcomings and invest in the belief that their issues are the only thing standing between you and that fairy tale marriage you once dreamed about but if you allow yourself self awareness you will learn to be more compassionate to yourself, and in turn your spouse. You may not love finding dishes and socks strewn all over the house but it will not break you. You cannot change your spouse, no matter how much you cry, nag, scream or throw things; you will waste so much valuable time trying to change people. If you want change, change yourself!
I am devoted to my husband. I have been with him for almost half of my life. The experiences that we have shared together have been transformative to every aspect of our lives. We started out as these young fools that thought we knew everything there was to know about everything and we couldn’t have been more wrong. As we grew as individuals sometimes we grew apart and sometimes we came together. We didn’t always show each the other the consideration we deserved but somehow we soldiered through to the place we are now and it feels like a good place where my heart is safe and full.
I can’t say why I decided that my husband was the one, why I was willing to put in the hard work and to allow him to slowly chip away at the walls I had built up over the years. I am not even clear if it was a decision at all or if it was beyond my control. I do know that I had no idea what a real adult relationship was supposed to look like and wouldn’t for a very long time. We got married and exchanged rings bounding us together forever and subscribing to the age old notion that two had become one.
The fact that for almost 18 years we have committed to work through problems as they arise (and they keep coming) shows that we truly aspire to achieve full intimacy, the kind that is not corroded by years of stubborn resentment and abundant expectations. I have chosen to evict years of hurt and anger from my brain and live in the here and now. My husband will undoubtedly piss me off again and I will without question drive him to the brink of absolute madness. We will love through it; and move on until the next jackass thing comes up. Ahhh…marriage.
When my children were born there was nothing more miraculous than those experiences. I was overcome with such intense love and emotion for these wondrous little creatures with their perfect fingers and toes, soft bodies and faces that were so animated yet completely void of pretense or fear. I spent endless amounts of time just looking at them, entirely captivated by their very nature to just exist and be happy doing so. It is an incredulous experience to be overcome with a love so pure. I guess it is similar to the way I fell in love with my husband, it wasn’t something that I decided to do, it was unavoidable. I was weakened with this sincere and eager feeling that distracted me day and night. In fact I tried really hard to not fall in love with him, I liked being single and I was pretty determined to not allow the existence of mysterious forces to take that from me. Apparently my defenses were feeble against these enigmatic powers and would continue to be many times over the years when I tried to battle against them. Sometimes love hurts and I admit that over the 18 years of my relationship with my husband I would try several times to struggle against it to no avail. I have loved him through all of the times, even the ones I didn’t like him very much, often neglecting the importance of loving myself.
I would describe most of my relationship with my husband as fiercely passionate, amplified by the fact that my husband worked away for many years and we all know that separation makes the heart grow fonder. My husband is also a Scorpio so he can be ardently intense! However there are also periods of time that we are slaves to the mundane daily tasks of working parents. sometimes marriage is boring, but at a certain point you really come to appreciate knowing what comes next.
Romantic love often thrives on separation because of the fantasies that we create during absence. Unattainable love can be quite thrilling but it can also be impersonal and wrought with bitterness and distress. Though there is an incredible amount of energy in passion, if we do not have the courage to make a real connection, to allow ourselves the abandonment of our mental inhibitions and our selfishness then we will never turn our romantic love into true lasting love.
From the beginning of time there has been darkness at the center of passionate love. In classical myths and literature such as Romeo and Juliet and Wuthering Heights, one possesses their lover completely in death only. Trusting in this type of passion glorifies a lifetime of unhappiness and life is too short to be anything but happy!
I have been distracted on more than one occasion by the delightful agony of passionate love. We endorse this type of feral romance in books, music and on the big screen everyday. It can be torturous but it makes us feel wildly alive. Though we use our bodies to connect and relieve loneliness and frustration, believing in the meaningfulness of our rampant romance, we rarely allow ourselves to be open enough to dissolve the walls we have built around our heart to protect us from hurt. So when the fantasy starts to fade and problems emerge we are left with the realization that we barely knew the person at all. The truth is we didn’t, we didn’t get to know them and we barely allowed our guard down enough for them to know us. When you look back on failed relationships were you ever willing to be vulnerable enough to allow true love to grow? If you are honest you might be surprised at your answer.
A long term committed relationship takes a certain amount of courage to let down your guard, to love, to forgive and to share your space. As a young woman emerging into adulthood I relied on a deceptive belief that to make someone fall in love with me I had to be everything they wanted. I had to like their music and share the same hobbies and beliefs. Compatibility is based on a lot of things but not on becoming a completely different person to attract another. It is an impossible charade to live up to and very damaging to our spirit to align our thoughts and beliefs with another to a point that we are giving up the beauty of what makes us unique and special.
There are so many things I wish I had known years ago but there is always something to be said for learning the lessons the hard way. The been there, done that, bought the friggin t-shirt approach gets you to the same conclusion eventually. If we have any intention of enriching love and deepening our relationships we really need to begin with ourselves. We are not responsible for our significant other’s happiness, decisions or well-being. To be in a fully committed and loving relationship we need to relinquish our clingy need for dependency. Relationships thrive when we nurture and support our partner’s without solely relying on them for our contentment and wellness. Chains of love are chains just the same.
I am sure you have all been told on occasion “you cannot love another before you fully love yourself”. You may have even repeated it to a friend when you thought they needed to hear it. How much of what we hear, repeat and even believe do we put to use? I have said that phrase to countless people over the years. I was free with advice that I never seized myself.
When we are in a committed relationship, or a marriage, we do not become one. We share a common space of mutual responsibility, sharing and joy but we still preserve our individual space and we are completely independent individuals. I always wonder if couple’s with joint Facebook accounts truly believe that they are one person, sharing a mind? If you respect and trust your partner that will allow you to afford them independence, than being together and spending time together becomes a choice instead of a chore.
One of the most important things I have learned in my marriage is that love is being present. The most precious gift you can give the one you love is your presence. Presence in the here and now. I spent a great deal of my relationship stuck in the past, tormenting myself with old hurt and agonizing over the future. I would allow these worries to invade good times and ruin them. To put it in black and white it seems ridiculous but I know a lot of you fail to enjoy the present moment because you are apprehensive about what tomorrow will bring or you are still clinging to the bad thing that happened yesterday or five years ago.
“The past is no longer there; the future is not here yet; there is only one moment to which life is available and that is the present moment” –Buddha
Nothing annoys me more than when I am having a conversation with my husband and I have to keep repeating myself because his attention is focused elsewhere. While researching relationships it was very sobering to realize that I am even guiltier of doing this. If you have ever spent a moment wondering why your significant other doesn’t confide in you more, ask yourself if you are present when they do? Are you playing with your phone, making a mental grocery list, thoughtfully planning what you would do if you won ten million dollars? If you are consistently not present, your lover will bore of confiding in you and you will get the same attention when you confide in them. We want to be treated equally in a relationship but often what we really mean is that we want what we want when we want it with minimal effort on our part. We are setting ourselves up for failure.
Learning to be mindful and live in the present we are not stuck revisiting the pain and the mistakes of the past or torturing our worried minds about a future that is not here yet. Instead we are mindfully enjoying our time together in the moment. It takes a lot of practice to mindfully embrace each moment with a willingness to accept things just the way they are. Once they have happened, we cannot change them but if we allow ourselves we can enjoy the moment or learn from it. Either way we accept the experience.
You can look for love and happiness everywhere which is the equivalent of looking for love in all of the wrong places. Love and happiness resides inside of all of us. My capacity to create joy and be in a healthy, committed relationship comes from loving and accepting myself. Loving myself and investing in myself really does allow me the choice to completely love another.
From the very beginning of my journey to be more mindful and create a life full of happiness and joy I knew that my relationship with my husband would need some examination. Looking back on what I have learned about marriage, from years of being in one, it is amazing how little either of us knew about relationships and what it meant to be in one when we said “I do”. I didn’t even know what the basic principles of a relationship really were and spent years of tortured angst believing it was my responsibility to make my partner happy, instead of subscribing to the notion that I was accountable for my own happiness, as he was his. Building enduring and gratifying relationships depends largely on our ability to extend warmth and kindness to ourselves. It is foolish to expect someone to love us unconditionally if we do not entirely love ourselves!
“They say marriages are made in heaven. So is thunder and lighting”