My husband and I recently celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. For me it was the celebration of an important yet unexpected milestone – I feel like I am now truly ready to commit to cultivating a beautiful marriage. Until recently I had not been wearing my wedding ring very often (I even left it packed in a box in storage as we travelled around Australia!), I often found it easy to give excuses why it didn’t suit me to wear it.
Our marriage started well, but despite the fact we wrote our own vows for our wedding ceremony (interestingly, I don’t remember mine and a copy is nowhere to be found), I never took the time to create a vision for our relationship. Perhaps I felt that the love we felt was enough to weather the storms, perhaps I didn’t anticipate the kind of storms I would experience. Often when we think about marriage we are familiar with the concept of for better or worse, till death do us part……but what happens when the challenges that arise don’t quite fit into this?
It was bewildering for me to discover after being married for a number of years that our “love” was not enough. Instead of our love and relationship growing it often felt like a chasm was widening. From the outside looking in people would comment how lucky I was to have such a wonderful, supportive husband, two beautiful children and an adventurous lifestyle. But on the inside I was experiencing a growing sense of disillusionment.
Have you ever felt a chasm in a relationship?
Do you know the feeling of being next to someone and yet feeling totally disconnected from them, like they could be on the other side of the world?
I didn’t want this to be my experience of marriage, I wanted my children to see a happy and thriving marriage and I wanted to reconnect to my husband. I struggled to find ways to foster our relationship, I tried to encourage my husband to communicate more openly, to embrace the latest relationship book I was reading, to work on himself, I even suggested (albeit flippantly) that we attend marriage counselling. I felt a sense of desperation of wanting to find a way forward, a way to bridge that chasm that I felt so painfully.
Years later I look back and see that none of this was followed through, and in hindsight know that none of it really matters.
For me the catalyst for a beautiful reconnection and new beginning in my relationship was to look within. With some skilful prompting from my mentors at the One World Academy I finally realised that if something needed to change then it needed to start with me.
In the spirit of Share, Grow and Heal, I offer you ten things I have learnt from ten years of marriage, in the hope it may inspire others to cultivate and experience beautiful relationships and so that our children will be surrounded by relationships that embody connection, joy and honesty.
1. My husband is not responsible for my happiness, but I am.
What a relief this has been to see, I don’t need to wait for him change so that I can be happy, he doesn’t even need to change for me to be happy. I have found it very helpful to reflect upon the idea that happiness does not come from anyone or anything outside of ourselves and I wholeheartedly encourage you to ponder this too.
2. Marriage is a “we” not a “me” endeavour.
Sounds obvious right? But I was surprised to find that when I began to inquire into my thoughts, when I observed what was driving my emotions, responses and actions there was very little “we” focus. Instead much of my thinking was consumed with self-centric thinking, it all about “me” – I was often fearful about how I would be perceived by others, I needed to be right, when my husband wouldn’t take my advice I would feel defensive and threatened and then blame him if something went wrong, I felt if only I was a better teacher, a better example he would want to change. In seeing this I came to see just how much of the chasm I had created in my own mind.
3. Marriage is an act of acceptance that begins with an understanding and acceptance of yourself.
No-one is perfect but we are all perfectly ourselves. The more we compare ourselves to other, the more we compare our relationship to that of others the more we distance ourselves from the truth of who we are and the truth of our relationships. For me growing self-acceptance has been key to accepting my husband and our relationship for what they are, for all that they are.
4. Marriage is like crossing the “sodden Loddens”.
Not long after we got married my husband and I embarked on a couple of hiking adventures in Tasmania. Our hike to Frenchmans Peak involved crossing the Lodden Plains which we nicknamed the “sodden Loddens” for the often knee deep mud that we were sinking into for hours on end. This was the most challenging aspect of the walk for us, and each of us at different times would sink down, shout with frustration and refuse to get up again. It has also become one of our most fond memories of the walk and a beautiful reminder in times of challenge – we remember that what got us through was the patience, support and encouragement that we gave to each other. When one went down, the other was there to uplift. In looking back over these last 10 years, I see countless examples where we have continued to do this for each other and also for our children.
5. Gratitude is Great.
In a recent post I shared one of my favourite mantras to help heal an ailing relationship “I am because you are”. To look at another and reflect upon these words is a powerful practice, for me it has helped me to see that I am only here today because of all the people and experiences in my life, not in spite of them. When we choose to see life through the eyes of gratitude we make a choice to focus on all that we have, all the beautiful moments we have shared with others, all the patience, support and encouragement that we have been given and life indeed becomes a very rich and fulfilling experience.
6. Marriage is more important than being right.
It has been humbling to see just how much the chasm that I felt in my relationship with my husband came from wanting to be right, from wanting to win and from finding it easy to blame him when things didn’t go my way. I realised I needed to make a choice, to decide what was more important – being right? winning? judging and blaming others? or being loving? showing patience and kindness? not taking everything so personally? or simply being happy?
7. Focusing on your differences drives you apart, seeing sameness bridges the chasm.
I will never forget the night I realised this, the night where I finally found a way to bridge the chasm that I felt kept me from my husband. By reflecting on a moment of anger and overreaction I was able to see that despite the fact that my husband and I do things differently, that we are more alike than we are different. I was able to see that my husband experiences anger, just like I do, my husband sometimes feels frustrated, yep me too, my husband wants to be a good parent, same as me, my husband wants to be loved and feel like he is valued and doing a good job and so do I. I cannot tell you how liberating it felt to see all of these things, as if for the first time and to experience the sense of softness, openness and reconnection that emerged.
8. Being surrounded by family and friends who value relationships is a great support.
In saying this I don’t mean people who just stay in a relationship that is not growing or joyful, I don’t mean people who just grin and bear it. We have been blessed by examples of people who are willing to hold a greater vision for their relationship and commit to cultivating a beautiful experience. I have only recently realised how much my husband’s family through honest and open communication about relationships has provided an important background to the unfolding we are enjoying in our marriage today, I am deeply grateful for this.
9. A happy and fulfilling marriage doesn’t just “happen” and it certainly does not come from wishing and waiting for the other to change.
Marriage like love is a verb, it needs patient, persistent and courageous tending. If you want a loving relationship you need to be loving, if you want more open honest communication you need to be honest and open, if you want a growing relationship you need to be willing to grow yourself. Ghandi was right, we need to be the change we want to see.
10. Having a vision for your life and your relationships is essential.
When it comes to creating a vision here are some questions that I have found very helpful to reflect upon –
How do I want to feel in life? How do I want to interact with the other? What legacy do I want to leave? When challenges arise, how will I respond? What is more important to me being right, or being loving? What example do I want to show to my children?
As you may have gathered the practice of awareness has been key in arriving at this point. For me self-awareness has been a saving grace in my life and in my experience of relationships. It has been a joyful discovery that in understanding and knowing myself better that I can see my husband more clearly, for the beautiful person he is….instead of through the lens of my perceptions and ideas of what he should be.
It feels wonderful to be wearing my wedding ring again, to have found meaning in its symbolism. It’s not really about the ring, but I like the change I feel and see, I like the reminders wearing it gives me and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to begin the next 10 years of marriage seeing with fresh eyes and an open heart.