One of the unexpected joys I’ve received since launching this blog three months ago, is the incredible honesty, vulnerability, and wisdom that my readers share with me through their comments and emails. A lot of my thinking of late has been about my marriage and how I’m starting to perceive it as an evolving entity that defies any of my attempts to define it, or even describe it. I’m reminded of that famous Marshall McLuhan quote about how “fish did not discover water.” Maybe the very fact that I’m immersed in my relationship means that I will never be able to “define” it. This brings me back to an insightful comment I received on my last blog post. A reader wrote, “I remember in my youth a couple being interviewed who said after 60 years of marriage, that it was a fallacy, the concept of a long and happy marriage: that it is more like several marriages, recontracted in difficult evolutions and changes, that resulted in their enduring bond.”
This comment resonated so deeply with me, and it generated a lot of discussion around the dinner table with my wife. Our socialization really does a disservice, by suggesting to us at a young age that our goal in life is to fall in love with our prince/princess and live happily ever after. It doesn’t take long into our adult life to discover the fallacy of this notion and the angst that it entails. In fact, if you were to chart any long-term relationship on a graph, you would not see a steady line of increasing bliss, but rather, a fluctuation reflecting the inevitable ups and downs of the relationship. As a byproduct of industrialization, we as a society have become addicted to immediate gratification and the allure of “progress”—the next great thing coming around the corner.
I have been consciously inviting mindfulness into my daily life, and this is slowly (and I mean painfully slow), permitting me to give my relationship with my partner “space” to contract and expand into its natural "flow". So, what does this look like? Lately, it's meant having authentic, difficult discussions with my wife about what we each need in our relationship. This sounds simple, but in all honesty, many of us butt heads in our interactions with those closest to us because we “assume” they know what we need even though we’ve never articulated it. In this process, the easiest part for me has been expressing what I need, but sitting quietly and listening to what my wife also needs has at times, left me with a sense of unease and vulnerability primarily because of my perceived lack of control. It’s taken me awhile to realize that none of us ever has “control” of someone else’s emotions and primal needs. The beautiful part of this process is not to look upon this as a “loss”, but as an “emancipation”—permission to trust in our deep bond of love for our partner as we embrace the natural ebb and flow of our relationship.
Psychotherapist David Richo suggests that healthy relationships are based on the five A’s, “attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowing.” For me, I struggle the most with the first and last on the list because these are the two that involve mindfulness and trust. When I think about my 27-year marriage, I can see how the reader’s comment on my last post clearly articulates the “several marriages, recontracted in difficult evolutions and changes” over the near three decades I’ve spent with my wife. Because we were married at such a young age, our “first marriage” was a blissful defiance as we set out to prove to ourselves and everyone else that we were mature enough to make this work. With the birth of our son, our relationship morphed into being present for this fragile person in our care. Later, as a result of issues involving addiction, mental health, and finances, our marriage became more about weathering crisis after crisis. Most recently, our marriage was “recontracted” yet again, with the disclosure of my having been sexually abused as a child. For my entire adult life, I had a huge part of me that I kept hidden in a box buried deep in my psyche. The person on the outside was not the person screaming to get out on the inside. The disclosure about my childhood trauma has allowed me to open that “buried box”, and with the support of my partner, I am learning how to reconnect with this part of me. Writing has been so cathartic because I’m witnessing the authentic picture of me slowly take shape before my eyes—it’s as if the words on the screen are parts of a scattered jigsaw puzzle finally coming together.
I may never be able to “define” what my marriage looks like—or means to me, but I am certain that part of its longevity is directly attributed to my falling in love with the same person over and over again as she evolves over and over again. It’s so tragic that many of us spend our life looking for someone who completes us when all we really need is what David Richo describes as a soulmate, “not the one who says he or she is your other half, but the one who shows you that you are whole."