A newlywed psychotherapist meditates on the goodness of her marriage to a monk
I met Kaspa when he was living in a Buddhist community as a celibate monk. He’d been there for four years, and we met on a psychotherapy training run by his Buddhist teacher. He was celibate, and then he wasn’t. We married a year later.
This is the bit I thought you might find interesting. But it really isn’t the interesting bit at all.
The interesting bit is that I feel it’s a good marriage. Good, not perfect. But what makes a good marriage?
I have found myself asking this and other important questions. How can we preserve what we have? What can we do when things (inevitably) get difficult?
In some ways we were lucky enough to have a big head start. Apart from the falling-in-love bit, which gives everything a golden glow, we have lots in common. We are both writers, therapists and Buddhists. We like watching trashy crime series. We enjoy growing vegetables and we both make bad jokes (although Kaspa might disagree with that last point…).
We are also human as everyone else, which means we have our fair share of neuroses, childhood wounds and dysfunctions. Sometimes these dysfunctions clash like stags’ antlers—CRASH—and a solution or even a balm seems utterly impossible.
In my experience as a therapist, I find all couples subconsciously taking on various roles which complement our other halves. It’s like we make a deal without realizing—I’ll express this relationship’s anger for both of us, and you can express all its vulnerability. I’ll do the go-getting; you do the ‘feeling insecure’. One of my invisible deals with Kaspa is that I take on too much responsibility for ‘taking care of everything’, and I set him up to reinforce my difficulty trusting others. On some level this deal suits us both, but it also completely sucks.
In my opinion, part of what makes a good marriage is being willing to look at these dodgy deals we make without being very aware of them. It’s being brave enough to be curious about which complaints become self-fulfilling prophesies. It’s being curious about the dance we dance, and being willing to change our steps. Changing our steps is not easy. It means changing who we are, and we like to think we know who we are. Even so, it is possible.
Over time, I’m more able to recognise the times when I’m being triggered by my belief that ‘I have to do everything’. I might notice when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed, and I manage to ask for help rather than soldier on. I might catch myself mid-argument and try to take responsibility for my half of what is playing out between us.
I’ll say it again, though: making these changes to ourselves is difficult. And so I think a good marriage is also about being able to forgive ourselves for not being perfect, and for showing the worst parts of ourselves to our spouses. It includes being able to see the worst of our spouses, too, and loving them exactly as they are. When I can’t manage this, it helps me to know that I can trust something greater than both of us. Whether you have this spiritual dimension to your life or not, it can help to remember that our human perspective is really quite narrow – we see only so much. We don’t know it all.
In some ways my ex-monk and I are still in the early stages of our marriage. Our first year anniversary was only last month. In other ways it feels like we’ve spent several lifetimes together…
In the years to come, I foresee more clashing of dysfunction, and more painful change. It’s hard work to be a human-in-a-relationship. The good news, though, is that these clashes (if we can hang in there) lead to an ever-deepening appreciation of each other, and ever-widening circles of love. The ripples grow and grow and grow.