Being in a marriage means being willing to have many of your most cherished beliefs upended. It’s the ultimate vision quest. Eckart Tolle says, “If I accept the fact that my relationships are here to make me conscious, instead of happy, then my relationships become a wonderful self mastery tool that keeps realigning me with my higher purpose for living.”
One common cherished belief is that marriage can insulate us from being alone. But there are many moments in a marriage when partners feel deeply alone. The belief that people “shouldn’t” feel alone when they’re partnered adds salt to the wound. Yet even as it’s hard to keep the “us” of a relationship in mind in lonely marital moments, consciously recalling the positives aspects of your relationship reorients partner’s toward reconnecting. Psychologist Terry Real considers this an important relational skill. He calls it “holding your relationship in high regard.”
The time to practice this skill isn’t when things are going well. It’s when your partner isn’t meeting your needs–when they forget to put gas in the car, don’t appreciate the gift you gave them, or act underwhelmed by your successes. When we’re hurt we tend to filter the past and future through a single moment. A small, time-limited event can become representative of many past events and indicative potentially infinite future ones. Holding your relationship in high regard offsets this tendency.
All relationships waver between connection, separation and back to connection again. Like Goldilocks and the three bears, sometimes there’s too much closeness or too little closeness. Sometimes, the closeness is just right. And because “too much” and “too little” are subjectively experienced, it’s more about accepting who you are, who your partner is, and the perceptual differences between you, than it is about establishing a baseline for the “right” way to be.
Marriage contains an I, a you and an us. Learning to support your relationship is a balancing act. All right, let’s face it: sometimes, its a circus. One partner may need to resolve an argument at 10:45 at night, while their mate needs to put the discussion on ice. The relationship may need both partner’s to self-soothe and re-boot and try again later. Maybe in the morning, they’ll be more open to each other’s viewpoints.
Our well-oiled defenses don’t work in committed romantic relationships. In fact, they typically backfire. The independent, do-it-myself strategies that set us up for accolades in the professional world interfere with the deeper intimacy the I desires with the you in the us of marriage. To let love in, we have to unlock the gates, unbar the windows and doors, and turn off the alarm system. And when you let love in, you invariably also get love’s entourage. Love brings with it a host of uninvited guests: grief, emotional pain, fear, neediness, vulnerability. In love and in committed relationships, learning how to welcome these uninvited guests is part of what can keep, in Tolle’s conceptualization, realigning us with our higher purpose.
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