This is the story of how two strong willed individuals created a successful, exciting and rewarding 50+ year marriage– becoming more of who they are as a couple than as individuals, without stifling the personal growth of either one. There is sage wisdom here, whether you are married or not.
WHAT IS MARRIAGE, ANYWAY?
Almost no one is foolish enough to imagine that he automatically deserves great success in any field of activity; yet almost everyone believes that he automatically deserves success in marriage. Sydney J. Harris.
Like most everyone else in the mid-20th century, we entered into marriage without a plan. If you were in love, marriage was the thing to do. Society definitely condoned it; maybe even expected and demanded it. The fact that divorce was becoming a national epidemic didn’t faze us for a minute. There was no official “marriage” operating manual. None was needed; our parents had made it look easy, so what’s the big deal.
The big deal is, it turns out, that marriage is a lot of work; it doesn’t just automatically work out for the best. They say if couples knew how much work and expense kids were, they’d never have them, and the same can probably be said about marriage….except you can never change your mind about being a parent.
We’re not against divorce, per se, but we do think many couples give up too soon, and what’s more, the dysfunctional behavior patterns that caused the first marriage to fail are going to be carried forth into subsequent marriages. Ultimately, we have to embrace and manage our own dysfunction if we want successful relationships of any kind in our lives.
Joseph Campbell, American Mythologist, writer and lecturer, had this to say about marriage:
“… marriage is not a love affair. A love affair has to do with immediate personal satisfaction. But marriage is an ordeal; it means yielding, time and again. That's why it's a sacrament: you give up your personal simplicity to participate in a relationship. And when you're giving, you're not giving to the other person: you're giving to the relationship. And if you realize you are in the relationship just as the other person is, then it becomes life building, a life fostering and enriching experience, not an impoverishment because you're giving to somebody else . . . each helping the other to flower, rather than just moving into the standard archetype. It's a wonderful moment when people can make the decision to be something quite astonishing and unexpected, rather than cookie-mold products." From “An Open Life”.
Ram Dass, author and spiritual teacher, also gives us a good insight into marriage:
“The reason you form a conscious marriage on the physical plane with a partner is in order to do the work of coming together to God. That is the only reason for marrying when you are conscious. The only reason. If you are marrying for economics, if you are marrying for passion, if you are marrying for romantic love, if you are marrying for convenience or gratification, it will pass and there will be suffering. The only marriage contract that works is what the original contract was. We enter into this contract in order to come to God together.”
If this is not how you view your marriage, not to worry. It took us decades to figure out that our marriage had a higher purpose than just being good parents and responsible members of society. Once we had agreement on the highest purpose of our marriage, everything changed. And our agreement was similar to that described in the Ram Dass quote above: we both wanted to be 1) more aware, 2) more conscious, 3) more fully functioning, 4) more spiritually fulfilled, 5) more united as a couple AND 6) we agreed that we would accept the feedback and coaching of the other to achieve these goals.
Once this agreement was in place, it became the “relationship North” that guided us in every important decision, every disagreement or argument. If Marilyn said something that hurt Kent’s feelings, the question would be: “is her comment within the spirit of the feedback and coaching that we both agreed to accept”. If “yes”, than Kent’s hurt was his problem to resolve, not Marilyn’s. If either of us was in a grumpy or disagreeable mood, we could ask ourselves, “is this attitude making our relationship more workable and loving, or do I need to take responsibility for my mood and change it?”
The agreement could also be used to resolve questions such as, “should we take a week’s vacation in Hawaii and just veg out on the beach and do nothing?” Answer: probably not, if that money could be used to attend a week-long consciousness-raising seminar instead. Right about now, you might be saying, “you guys sound boring…or way too goody-goody for me”…or something like that. Personally, we think we’re pretty interesting and fun and not straight-laced at all. But more important, there is a key relationship principle here. Tony Robbins, motivational life coach, said it this way, “nothing tastes as good as good health feels”. In our world, we translate Tony’s quote this way: “no amount of self-indulgence can equal the deep satisfaction of relationship mastery”. Being a “we”, is much more thrilling than being a “me”, because it aligns you with the nature and intend of the Universe itself.