We encounter another, we merge, and we form a new dynamic in the world. How do we keep our sense of freedom while creating a real and lasting relationship?Today is my 56th wedding anniversary so I feel inclined to write a few words about marriage. Maybe I will write a book someday on “How to Stay Married”. So here are a few observations about what has held us together over the years. These were never conscious intentions, and are more obvious in retrospect. So I am reflecting here on qualities that may help you endure and thrive in relationship, no matter your spiritual inclinations. If you are long married you may have your own unique list. As a counselor I have noticed no two relationships are alike.
Relationship often seems to take a backseat in non-dual teachings despite the fact relationship issues are often raised among students, who somehow fear it is not good for their spiritual life to love a partner. Waking up is a solitary endeavor, and yet as humans we are in a massive dance of Oneness with others, and need to learn to navigate relationships. Feelings can still arise that draw us to a unique other. Partnering is a great teacher, and often provides a stability and grounding that serves a spiritual seeker well. Here are a few of the things I have learned about how a relationship may endure over a half century and more.
Supports for Lasting Relationships:
- Having some interests and shared values in common, but respecting the areas of divergence as well. When valued, your differences may help to form a stronger team.
- Being flexible and open to shifts in these interests and values –you are both going to change over 50 years – can you enjoy new perspectives or do you contract at the thought of it? Open yourself to curiosity rather than staying in old patterns.
- Having an innate stability inside of yourself. If you walk by the ocean daily you will notice there are often changes in color, intensity, air temperature, highs and lows. Marriage is like this. Can you find the stillpoint or center within yourself that tolerates the shifts in weather, and return to stability, just as the ocean does, no matter what is happening on the surface? I did some years of therapy to heal early wounding and find this center in myself.
- Staying sober –at least 98% of the time — and never being so badly behaved that you humiliate or abuse your partner. Never abuse or accept abuse. Be generally kind to one another.
- Understanding your life together is teamwork and you each have different strengths and vulnerabilities. Never demand the partner think like you or do things your way but find the middle road (this is being Buddha-like!) – negotiating solutions that work for both of you. This is true with all the major issues – sex, money, children, major purchases, in-laws, career changes, etc. You are building strength as a team and are not in competition.
- Waiting out or walking through the difficult stretches – every life has these. Get help if you need it. Know your partner may experience a trauma very differently than you, and feel helpless to help even if he or she wants to. They may have a different way of feeling loved and appreciated. They may have needs you never imagined having. And these may change from year to year. What you need and want at 20 is very different than what you need and want at 60.
- Giving up the youthful longing to be completely seen and understood. You will never be seen and understood just as you see and understand yourself — in fact, you are always in flux, you change, you are movement and may not even understand yourself at times. Who are you? It can be very confusing for another person to pin down exactly who and how you are from day to day. There is no such thing as mind-reading your partner and if there were, you would not like it. Appreciate their effort to try, and be satisfied with small successes. Be clear about what you want and flexible in letting it go if it is clearly necessary.
- Learning to know yourself, and to listen to others. Our involvement in the encounter movement of the 1960”s and 1970’s, and later following psychological healing, and meditation practices in a search to go beyond the personal self, has had a profound impact on our willingness to be with what is, to feel grateful for the life we have shared, and to respect and enjoy the uniqueness of one another just as we are.
- Remembering your own foibles and that it may sometimes be challenging to live with you! When I am irritated by something my partner does I remind myself of the ways I can be irritating to him – the things he puts up with – like my past traveling without him to India and Europe, and my general disinterest is cleaning house. On the whole his area of acceptance has had to be greater than mine
- Respecting and supporting each other’s needs and goals. My husband put up with me going to school off and on for over 20 years. Each of us have had diverse traveling schedules related to his work and for me, a need to individuate and see the world. I have found that resistance is often anxiety – partners need to reassure each other that they will return, you do want to be in the relationship, you are there because they matter to you.
Staying Married Means Aging Together
As we age we do not look as good, may not feel as good, and do not have the vitality we had when we first partnered. The question becomes are we going to face this stage of life together, or not? We may have to renew our intention if not our vows. This is where the real quality of character in our relationship comes through – if there has been respect, kindness, significant shared experiences , flexibility, communication, support , some humor and some good times together you may make it through to the end. It helps greatly if you have enough financial stability. a positive attitude about living, and the ability to accept things the way they are, even if you sometimes feel like working to change them. Ultimately we must face the pain of loving, and letting go.
Calming the Dialogue
I’ve learned a few things to say that calm the waters on a challenging day – “I agree”, “What do you need?” “I’d like to do this – how would you feel about it?” “What do you think or feel?” If you have a spiritual life, that is, a deep intuition of your true nature and its connection to all of life, you will want to stay aligned with this. In relationship this means trying to get under the surface of how a partner feels and what they need, and seeking solutions that serve both of you equally well. It means owning your own reactivity should it arise. It is not his or her fault. It means moving from the heart when you are able, and finding your way to peace and stillness when it is needed. This is not easy at times, and you may always be on a learning curve as far as living your spirituality is concerned. I certainly am.
These are some of the ways I’ve learned over a long haul that love. like any other energy, will not die, but simply keep changing form.