This is a continuation of last week's post on the things that have helped us stay together for 3 decades. As I said then, we are far from a perfect couple, and certainly don't practice all these things all the time, but we are here, and happy to be together after all these years.
A few more things that have helped us along the way...
"Let there be spaces in your togetherness" (Kahlil Gibran). One of the most important things we took away from seeing a couples counselor a number of years ago was the need for a formal honoring of space and separateness in a relationship. So since then, with rare exception, we have made sure that each of us have had at least one three-hour time alone a week, when we knew we would have the place completely to ourselves--guaranteed. It's amazing how refreshing this can be, especially for introverts (as both of us are). We've made some minor adjustments recently due to the pandemic but this is still a very salient aspect of our marriage.
Deeper than a mirror. As Lawrence's and my relationship evolved past the earliest days, more difficult feelings began to rise up. Anxiety. Jealousy. Insecurity. Anger. Fear of abandonment. Attempts to control. Rather intense feelings. Over and over I despaired about this, feeling it must indicate that our relationship was unhealthy and perhaps therefore, should end. Even though some of my wiser married friends told me, kindly, that this was par for the course, I couldn't imagine they were right.
I don't remember how long this went on, but I do remember being immensely relieved when I read in John Welwood's book, Journey of the Heart: The Path of Conscious Love, that intimate relationships are meant to bring all these deeper, more difficult emotions into the light. So that we can see them and work on them. So we can recover from them. Instead of being a sign of an unhealthy relationship, the appearance of these difficult places in ourselves may point to a relationship that is deepening. That understanding was a huge relief, and a game changer, for me. We may have needed some support and assistance but we were not weird or flawed or headed for the divorce courts. Our relationship was progressing normally. And fruitfully. And deeply.
I am willing... I have managed to get into some serious fears of abandonment and attempts to control at various times in our relationship. And at various times I have felt God calling me to surrender. Which I usually fought. Sometimes long and hard. But ended up, often with a lot of tears and anguish, saying, "Okay, I really, really, really want to leave, but if You want me to stay (yikes!), I...am...willing." Alternatively, and just as importantly, "I really, really, really want to stay, but if You want me to leave (no!), I...am...willing. No! But I am." Those currents of surrender helped form a river that continues to feed me. And our relationship. Grasping at another human being, or at quick solutions, doesn't usually work very well. Genuine surrender to higher wisdom? Pretty amazing.
The right dance. And last but not least, here's a bit of silliness. Both of us have trouble at times admitting that the other is--or even might be--right about a topic or incident or fact that we disagree about. But we are also fans of Calvin and Hobbes comics, so somewhere along the way we morphed their "Very Sorry Song" into our own "Right Dance."
That is, if we have a (usually minor) argument about something and then discover that the other is right, the "wrong" one has to do a dance of some sort, while reciting and/or singing something like, "You're right, you're right, you're right! You're very, very right!" In the spirit of the spontaneity (and insanity) of our favorite feline and his human sidekick, the exact moves and words are up to the individual at the time. Sometimes the dance is lethargic, shuffling or playfully resentful, sometimes bright and energetic, like a number from a Broadway musical. It still makes us laugh after all these years--humor makes humility easier to swallow, and a little humorous humility goes a long way !
So I've given you a peak into our relationship--sweet, struggling, satisfying, imperfect, and a great gift, for which we are both very grateful. I hope these snapshots offer some wisdom.
Until next time,
Couple & mountains, Timo Stern, unSplash
Calvin & Hobbes comic, Bill Watterson