How would you describe marriage?
If you’re single it might be described as a “happily ever after” fantasy.
If you’re married and feeling loved, it might be described as companionship and connection.
If you are unhappily married, you might describe marriage as an empty, lonely nightmare or perhaps even a war zone.
It seems as if our chosen definition of marriage says more about our state, than the state of marriage.
As a Marriage and Family Therapist who has worked with hundreds of challenged couples, I find myself affirming Katherine Anne Porter’s description of marriage.
“Marriage is the merciless revealer, the great white searchlight turned on the darkest places of human nature.”
Does that description of marriage sound terribly unromantic and harsh to you? There are times when marriage does feel up close and way too personal.
In reality, marriage is the great revealer, not just of your mate, but also of you.
Prior to marriage I remember being confident that I would never imitate my mother’s negative patterns in conflict. Yet in our first marital spat who do you think I resembled? You guessed it. I repeated what I had seen modeled.
What are your expectations? Do you expect your partner to reflect constant happiness and adoration at all times in your direction? Do you expect them to consistently reassure you of your value and to affirm you as a wonderful partner even when you have reacted poorly? Those are unrealistic expectations. We all blow it.
At that moment of self-awareness, when I see my reactions and feel ashamed, what do I do next?
Do I own my bad behavior, ask for forgiveness and work on changing my patterns? Or do I make my mate the problem, blame him/her and push my partner away either by distancing or attacking?
The quality of my relating is really determined by how I choose to answer this question.
Can I trust that I can be loved and valued even when I blow it?
If the answer is “no”, I will do everything I can to hide, to avoid vulnerability. Is it possible that I have spent most of my married life attempting to hide my shame from my mate? Perhaps I have disguised my feelings of “I’m not enough” with perfectionism, with substance abuse, with my sense of humor or with a work addiction. There are many masks I can choose. However if I hide behind a mask, my true self will never be loved.
Intimacy requires that I get real about who I am, what I think, and how I feel. This is the best definition of intimacy that I have ever discovered.
Intimacy = “Into Me See”
In order to be intimate, I have to be self-aware and then I have to take the risk of being vulnerable and share my truth. There is always the chance that my mate may reject what I share, make fun of it, expose it or disrespect it. There is also the possibility that my mate will treasure it.
It seems to me that far too many married couples often spend more time telling each other the truth, as they see it, about each other, rather than telling the truth about themselves. That is not intimacy! That is projection at best, or control at worst.
Yet it is not enough just to speak my truth, I also have to be able to hear, value, and accept my mate’s perspective. That is a foreign concept to many of us.
What if God designed relationship and marriage in particular to keep us real? It has been said that every married partner lives with a full-length mirror. We may minimize our own bad behavior, but our spouse will be affected by it.
The way I am in relationship tells me more about me than about my partner.
I can’t be in a marriage relationship without being aware of where I fall short. Where I don’t live out of love and where I have to face the parts of me that are immature and in need of development.
The dating period, the engagement season and even our wedding day are all about putting our best foot forward. That is hardly preparation for the self-disclosure and vulnerability that will be required to build an intimate relationship.
Any relationship that causes me to confront my need for growth has enormous spiritual and psychological value.
As I watch people choose to divorce, I often wonder if they are leaving their spouse or if they’re running away from their own exposed weaknesses, immaturities and flaws that became apparent in their marriage relationship. Every time they look in the mirror of their partner’s eyes, they see something about themselves they don’t like.
When our immaturities are self evident, we can resent our partner, we can blame our partner, we can criticize our partner, or we can own our own stuff, face it, ask forgiveness for it, and grow beyond it.
God’s love is an unconditional love that affirms my value even when I fail terribly. I will make mistakes, but I am not a mistake. I will fail, but I am not a failure. God’s love transforms me if I acknowledge my need for that love.
Habits can be changed. People can be transformed. Backgrounds don’t have to determine my future.
Have you smashed the mirror when your unfinished parts are revealed in your relationship? Or have you taken those weaknesses, those immaturities to the Lord and into a community where you can face them without shame, be supported and challenged to grow?
The choice you make determines whether the real you will ever be loved or whether you will continue to hide behind a mask. Are you willing to risk intimacy and vulnerability with your spouse?
Is your relationship going to be up close and personal?
Until our next Conscious Lover’s Blog…