“That’s it! I’m done trying to make John happy. I’m done with marriage. I’m never getting married again” she said shaking her fist in the air.
She paused, took a deep breath, and then burst into tears.
It was almost three years to the day since she and John stood before the altar holding hands as their Pastor pronounced them to be “husband and wife”. His words to them included “Today, you are adding the important word commitment to the love you have for one another. You are choosing to join your lives together. Choosing to love one another unconditionally.
The love you weave into your marriage is important because you will trade, day by day, all the days of your life to create the love that that will bind you to one another. And the love you offer each other will, more than any other experience in life, create who you will each become”.
Prophetic words that seem to end in the pain of broken dreams for so many.
When we love another, we make room for them in our heart. And what we take into our heart has the power to transform who we are at a deeply personal level. Thus marriage, more than any other choice we make in life, is a commitment to move toward spiritual growth; toward growth in self awareness.
What are the skills to improve your marriage? How do you fix a marriage that seems to be faltering?
Marriage Is A Crucible
Marriage is the spiritual crucible in which we learn how to live and “become” one with another person. It is the spiritual crucible that teaches us the skills to invite a love for “other” into our experience of life. It is the spiritual crucible that teaches us how to make room in our own never ending want’s…..for the want’s and needs of “another”.
Marriage is the spiritual crucible that teaches us how to act and live so as to benefit others.
Here are some of the skills I’ve learned from observing friends……and those I’ve learned through personal experience. They apply equally well to marriage and the relationships we have with family and close friends.
Skill #1: Love is not a feeling. Love is a behavior
Of all the skills, this is far-and-away the most important.
There will be times in your marriage when you may not feel loving toward one another… especially when you are tired, overwhelmed, not feeling well, or distracted. The spiritual growth that comes from the experience of marriage is the wisdom that unconditional love is a behavior, not a feeling.
Marriage is a commitment to being loving in our behaviors toward our partner…regardless of how we might be feeling at the moment. The commitment to always “be” kind and loving is the foundation of a healthy marriage. Unconditional love is a love grounded in a lifetime of shared loving behaviors.
Skill #2: Learn to own your own feelings
No one can make you feel anything that is not already inside you. It is human nature to blame others for our feelings, but we need to deal with the beam in our own eye before we worry about the spec in our partner’s eye. We all bring the baggage of our own history into our personal relationships. We all have emotional “hot buttons” that others can push. We need to remind ourselves that they are our buttons.
Skill #3: Practice self-awareness
This is the ability to look inside when life is not going the way you would like it to go. Again, it is human nature to want to blame others, including those close to us. Everyone wants to change the world, but it is a rare person that can acknowledge and accept the simple truth that the only person any of us can change is ourselves. Grow in self-awareness is identical to spiritual growth. It is very difficult to love others until you have learned to love yourself.
Skill #4: Every Choice Will Create A Consequence
As obvious as this skill is, it is probably the most difficult to accept and practice in every-day life. Essentially this skill is telling us that we have created the life we are living one choice, one decision at a time since childhood. Stated simply, only we are responsible for creating the life we are currently living. And only we can change it.
Again, it is human nature to want to blame others for the choices we’ve made. If we want love and compassion woven into the fabric of our marriage, then we must learn to offer others love and compassion in all our choices, and in all our behaviors.
A Metaphor For Love
The metaphor that I like to use for unconditional love is the spiritual power of a river. As a hiker in Oregon, I learned that many of the great rivers in Oregon begin as springs bubbling up out of the ground.
Lava flows from ancient volcanic eruptions blocked the rivers forcing those ancient rivers to change course. In many cases, it caused the water to flow underground for many miles before bubbling up to the surface as springs.
What became obvious to me is the simple reality that the ancient volcanic eruptions may have been enormous and powerful beyond imagination……but the water always won. It flowed over, around, and under those great lava flows.
In the end, the water always won……and that water is still flowing today millions of years after the memories of those powerful volcanic eruptions have long ago faded into the mists of time.
Rivers are the lifeblood and the arteries of the Earth Mother. A river is always flowing toward the ocean. Every drop of rain that falls eventually joins a river, and like life itself, it returns to the ocean that it came from. Every time you step into a river, it is the same, and yet it is radically new and different.
River water is a great spiritual metaphor for life, and most importantly it’s a great metaphor for unconditional love. Unconditional love is like water flowing in a river. It embraces uncertainty. It reminds us that life can be very uncertain at times. It helps us to live in the moment with what “is”. Unconditional love always wins.
Love in a marriage is similar to a river. It will flow along its unique course as it winds through the days of your life on its way back to the ocean. The energy that creates a river is gravity. The energy that creates love is kindness.
Unconditional love is always kind.
When your marriage encounters obstacles, and it will, because that’s how love transforms us……return to the wisdom of the rivers. If your love energy is kindness, it will flow over and around those obstacles.
Sometimes it may even flow underground for a time, but if we learn to trust it, the unconditional love we have for others will always win.
Like sunshine, love has no “because”…..it just “is”. It shines because that what it does.
There is never enough time to do everything we want to do in life….but there is always enough time to love….enough time to be kind.
The kindness of unconditional love is like the smell of a rose, the shade of a tree, or the light of a lamp. It never requires a because. It is content simply to be itself and to give itself away with abandon because it is the essence of who you are.
When you practice unconditional love, it has the power to transform those who have the privilege of being part of your life. The ability to offer others unconditional love however, always requires that we have the courage to become self-aware. It is all-but-impossible to love others until we have learned to love ourselves.
Pain is a powerful teacher if we have the courage to awaken spiritually and become more self-aware. It’s not uncommon that we learn to love ourselves only after we’ve taken those inevitable journeys through the valley and its shadows. I never intentionally chose them, but I’m forever grateful for those dark night of the soul experiences. Much of what I’ve learned about love came from those difficult times I found myself lost in the valley shadows struggling to grow spiritually and striving to become more self-aware.