“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
— Carl Jung
“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
— Blaise Pascal
Stove Top Betty
1979 was the last year General Motors made and sold ovens. Who knew that the same company made Pontiacs and electric stoves? There she was, though, that big metal box sitting tired but stout on our linoleum floor in the sixties ranch house my wife and I bought in the late 1990s.
We called that old oven GM Betty. She may have been a Kennedy-era relic, but she commanded a presence in our kitchen. Everything we did, whether chasing toddlers or debating holiday plans with the in-laws, was reflected on her dull gray belly.
She had plenty of electric horsepower left too, right up to the day our Home Depot renovation saw her being wheeled out. In those first few years of our marriage, GM Betty’s coils never failed. She fired up hundreds of late- night formula bottles and held pots of spicy soups on her chipped grates.
Imagine if old Betty could speak, if all the appliances in kitchens and family rooms could speak, with all the emotions flying and hurt feelings within all the relationships. She could have kept a marriage counselor busy for months. Those uncomfortable Sunday mornings, when my wife had been up earlier than me again, when the kitchen’s sunlight, unfed kids, and dirty dishes exacerbated the tension from the previous night’s fight. I had pissed her off with another flippant comment in front of friends, but did not know the extent of the damage until I got the morning elbows and stiff shoulder.
GM Betty became a symbol of those early years of my marriage. Everything was raw and new. I was thirty- three years old and had never permanently resided with a one-year-old, a dog, minivan, or someone of the opposite sex who did not share my DNA. Twenty-two years later, it is comical to consider what I thought I knew about love, myself, life, marriage, parenting, and adulthood. Maturity-wise, I was a high schooler.
Betty is a demarcation. She represents the end of marital innocence and the headwater entrance to deeper and much stormier currents. What happened in front of her indelibly changed my perspective, opinion, and ability to understand and embrace a mature marriage.
I had unfortunately mastered the ability to make adolescent comments about my wife and marriage when there were willing, friendly listeners and alcohol on hand. It seems so easy for me, for most men, to revert to our inner sixteen-year-old and puerile need for attention. The cheap, high school-like laughs we seek end up costing more than we think, though.
We jest about our spouse’s driving record or the laundry, seemingly innocuous stuff. It is a sport to us, getting laughs like some standup comic by sharing personal data about our marriage that our spouse rightfully considers classified. This relatively innocent action, sharing more than we should, unaware of the impact of our words, is just part of the great adult unconscious that we inhabit. What does that mean? It means our adult attention lingers endlessly, precariously in thoughts, concepts, and beliefs, like a raft atop of the unfathomable sea and ancient feeling kingdom stirring below. “Ninety-five percent of our lives are lived unconsciously,” says Dr. Robert Lipton in Biology of Belief. Entering marriage, especially in its early years, is an entrance into the timeless arena and halls of this great unconscious.
I had no idea of the puerile insecurity still living powerfully in me, the need that wanted others to embrace me. I could not imagine my words could hurt my wife’s feelings back then, or that they poked her sense of self. It was just entertainment to the sixteen-year-old in me. How could I have known her sensibility, since I was clueless of my own?
I began to realize the real work of marriage was not between us and our spouses. It is in us and our deep- seated emotions. We are married to our old emotions. Our spouse is just a supporting cast member in a play that we must choose to enact.
Marriage is a relationship with self. Back in the kitchen with my wife in those early years, on the morning after a night out, it was like trying to kiss her while she was getting a basketball rebound. Her elbows were flying and hips were checking while my regrets were building because I had hurt her feelings.
These uncomfortable exchanges happened so many times that I started calling that spot in front of Betty the “paint” and the “three-second zone.” I got “boxed out” of so many conciliatory hugs and apologies that I learned to tread lightly in front of Betty, especially when both she and my wife were grilling something hot.
As marriage unfolds, you wonder how all the emotion-infused debates and disagreements get started. The feelings and reactions and words get so big and intense over issues seemingly so small. What you will see, though, is that there is a whole other world, a literal kingdom of experiences and feelings breathing inside of you and your partner, just below the surface of interaction.
This topic about what rests quietly, mysteriously, inexorably, and so often unconsciously inside us all is what motivated me to write this book. When I started using my reactions to my marriage as the fuel to sit quietly longer, to do more therapy, my intuition and feelings showed me answers to every question I had. What did I want in my life? Why did I hate this and love that? Why did my wife and kids respond these ways?
I have been fascinated and obsessed with how many old emotions, sensibilities, longings, joys, and desires we all carry unsuspectingly into our relationships. I am in awe of both who we are and who we think we are when we cross the marital threshold. I am even more amazed at what is demanded as we move forward.
This is what I have been doing and teaching for the last twenty-three years, to go back inside our heart. Until you sit alone and linger in your old feelings, everything else is an illusion, jibber-jabber, psychobabble, and therapeutic wind that is wasting your money. Just sit. Just sit quietly alone with your eyes closed and back straight and listen to your heart.
Why? Why sit? Many resist the notion that just sitting will help. Some mightily disagree. I guarantee that these skeptics have either tried and it was uncomfortable, boring, or considered time wasted, or they are simply nervous about unwanted feelings and memories arising. I understand and had that same perspective. Your marriage, though, is asking for all of you, all your resources, capabilities, and abilities to perceive, grow, and learn.
The rational mind, the one being used to read these words, is not enough. It has limited scope and depth. No offense to that side of the brain, but it alone is not capable of handling marriage. As Robert Monroe says in Far Journey, if we use only our rational faculties, then we are “only partially successful using an incorrect standard of measurement.” It is beyond the rational and logical where we must take ourselves, and it is only by sitting quietly that we can grasp and access the resources, perspectives, and guidance to understand marriage. Eric Jaffe, describes in his article “Meditate on It,” the power of sitting. He says it “relaxes the heart and strengthens the mind’s ability to connect symbols and meaning.” Lee Sannella, MD spent a lifetime studying meditation. In his book The Kundalini Experience, he summarizes succinctly how and why meditation is the only method to address the psychological, emotional, and physiological stressors of marriage. “It reduces the noise level and changes the functioning of the nervous system’s ability to handle stress so that it becomes more efficient, creating deeper possibility.”
“When we are rational, using abstractions, we cannot take all features into account.”
In the next few chapters I will show you the simplest ways to do this, to sit alone. This is where those “deeper possibilities” lie, in an old, timeless neighborhood and locale I call The Space in Between (SIB). This is where your marriage began, long ago. In here are the unabridged knowledge, facts, and certainties that your friends, parents, colleagues and innocent therapists will never provide or comprehend. In this SIB, there is a wisdom and “reality that lies...beyond the cogitations of the rationalizing mind, only grasped by intuition.”
You are going to learn the roots of why you react the way you do in your marriage and in every relationship in your life. You will see that the battle you are waging with your spouse is you shadow boxing with your unresolved, unprocessed, and unexamined deep-seated emotions that are creating your maddening reactions.
It looks and smells like it’s your spouse’s or mom’s fault, but it always comes back to you. Sorry about that. Everything that is challenging and hard and upsetting in your marriage is merely a reflection of what you are carrying in your right brain.
Marriage: The Great and Difficult Story
Running a marathon while getting a root canal is child’s play compared to marriage. I believe that developing a mature, supportive, and loving adult relationship with your partner is the most difficult thing you will ever do. Why do so many fail at this, and why is it such a challenge? How can something that begins so reasonably, comfortably, passionately, and innocently become so unruly?
The teachings here will shine a light on both why relationships are so difficult, and why there is nothing more important than working on them. An eighty-year Harvard study recently stated, “The only thing that matters in life are your relationships.” Therapists like me who have been living, breathing, laughing, crying, meditating, counseling, and studying relationships for over twenty years realize the same thing Valliant says in the study: “Finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away” is all that really matters in life. It is the key to health, happiness, and finding meaning in life, period.
Working on your marriage is important. Really important. Why? Because “a supportive relationship is the Number 1 predictive factor in having most positive outcomes in life.” It is the healthiest thing you can do.
The work and commitment that you put into your
relationship is the work of your life. I am going to show that this work will positively change the lives of your grandkids’ grandkids. That is how big it is. It is time for you to pursue a relational life.
Marriage is Calling You. Simmer In It.
This is a book about how our relationships are asking and calling us to cross the gap between our powerful adult sensibilities that are impelled by logic and reason — and our even more dominant and ineluctable emotions stored in the ten-year-old children inside of us.
After twenty-three years of marriage, 7,000 hours of sitting quietly in meditation, fourteen years as a practicing therapist, and paying for five different marriage counselors myself, I know how marriages work, why they fail, and what it takes to succeed in them. You must carry your anger and frustration-filled reactions away from your spouse and into your cave, into your therapist’s office, and to the chair where you sit alone. Your reactions store old wounds and misgivings. Your spouse just woke them up. If you are brave enough to own these reactions, your marriage will grow. If not, it will wither or languish at best.
The stories here have passed through my wife’s scrutiny. When she read the pages of this book, she loved the vignettes about those crossroad moments, especially when she threw the plate at my head. Every marriage has four or five critical battles that help you to either turn inward to self-assess, or leave dents too big to undo. I am hunting for those moments with and for you.
If you are not willing to take the time and muster fortitude and courage to simmer in the feeling- experiences that arise in you in response to marital friction, you and marriage will not work. You will be a fifty percenter. Half of all marriages fail. Moreover, if you are not willing to sit quietly by yourself and allow your feelings to slowly rise up into your belly, heart, neck and forehead, over and over again, then this book is not for you.
One of Western civilization’s greatest minds agrees that sitting alone will alter your life. Blaise Pascal, who in 1642 was not only one of the first inventors of the calculator, but who also has a law, theorem, and coefficient named after him, was adamant about why humans struggled and how to address our challenges. His advice and solution are unequivocal. They form the basis of this book and my life’s work. He said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
Relationships fail, according to less conscious observers, for reasons like trust, money, infidelity, and irreconcilability. Those are excuses, though— labels for an unwillingness to sit alone to know the roots of why you are so uncomfortable and unhappy. Your unhappiness is much older than your marriage. Lack of money and trust are symptoms, not reasons.
When you boil it down, there is one universal, ever- present, overriding reason why a marriage fails: you have not done any work on yourself. If you fail to know yourself, you have no clue what you are bringing to the altar of marriage. Even if you do not want to be in this relationship, it is worth doing this work. Like Pascal says, it will change everything. The work has nothing to do with the other person. It certainly looks and smells and tastes like the other, but it is you.
Relatus and Your Cave
Do you actually know what the word “relationship” means? Here we are, immersed every minute of the day engaging, interacting, aching, laughing and crying in and through all these exchanges with friends, family members, colleagues and strangers, in relationships with all of them, and we do not know what the word actually means. Until death do us part, and yet you probably never asked the question of what a relationship means or does.
Marriage is a verb. The word relationship comes from Latin relatus, which means “to carry or bring back.” Your deep-seated feeling-reactions, born in childhood and absorbed bio-electrically from your parents and theirs, all buried in your midbrain and heart, get kicked up and dislodged in the natural heat of marriage. Every day, living within the same walls with our spouse, currents of anguish and joy alight. We care about the other and our marriage, which means there is anger. A comment your spouse made about you is really a flashlight being pointed at a hurt inside your belly, a wound from comments your mom, dad, or town bully made when you were ten.
This is where marriage becomes a verb. Relatus means you take this awakened feeling of hurt today, at the altar and kitchen of your marriage, and bring it to your cave and simmer in it. Where is it from? What is this old hurt telling me of my current sense of self, my insecurities around money, self-image, or abilities to relate to others in general? Go find a quiet place, sit in your closet or bedroom, or outside by yourself. Then go to your therapist, find a good one. Both therapy and sitting alone are your cave.
Joseph Campbell said, “The cave your fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” Let’s enter together.
Close your eyes with your back straight right now, please, while sitting in a chair, both feet firmly on the ground. We like to say, “Keep you back straight but soft, your shoulders square but relaxed.” Lightly stomp your feet on the floor a few times, just to remind you they are there.
This is it. This is the pole position. Anything else is fluff.
Here are the fundamentals of sitting, what I call Listening by Yourself (LBY):
- As you sit in this simple position, back straight and eyes closed, please now take your attention, take your closed eyes and lower their focus onto and into your heart and chest
- This is where all the action is
- Imagine right now that instead of using your
- head and brain to think your thoughts and ruminate on your plans, regrets and pangs of resentment, that you now do all this thinking inside your chest and heart
- In other words, imagine your brain is actually in your chest for the next few minutes
- So, here you are, just sitting quietly with your eyes closed. Well done. If you did just this for the next fifteen minutes, you would have done a lot
- But let’s do a bit more 35
- Now that your brain is quietly sitting in your chest next to your heart, see and imagine that all your thoughts are rubbing against and being heard and felt by your heart. It is as if your thoughts are being poured and filtered by your heart
- Now imagine that each time you take a normal breath in through your nose, this inhaled air now travels into your chest, heart, and brain, filling them to capacity with air
- It is as if your heart and brain, bedfellows right now, are balloons and with each inhale they expand, and as you exhale through the mouth, they contract
- Keep inhaling into the nose slow and steadily, holding the breath at the top of the inhale, and then blow out the breath through the mouth upon exhalation. Long breath out like blowing out a candle, as long as possible
- You could count these breaths and do ten to fifteen, or not count them. Does not matter
- After a minute or two simply forget about your breath, let it go. You found it, now let it go
- Now, with the breath left behind, just keep sitting and do one more thing: Simply listen to your heart and the back of your neck
- Sounds weird I know, but simply keep listening to the front and back of your heart, and the front and back of your neck
- Imagine you took speakers from your car or computer and attached them to the front of your heart and back of your neck
- This will help you listen better. Just listen for as long as you can
This is the oldest exercise known to man. No need to clear the mind, escape or avoid thoughts, chant, focus on breath or a mantra, become one, find or look for a divinity. Just listen and wait. Wait for what? Just keep going, you’ll find out.
This is all there is to it. I wish it was more complicated. What you are doing is putting your adult attention into the warehouse of your original, child- world created emotions. This ancient exercise, the adult returning to the child, creates a profound bio- electromagnetic, neuro-chemical, psychological, and emotional shift in the body. This is how you leave the great unconscious, the active, rational, adult-thoughts world and enter the kingdom of your intuition and your deepest longings, regrets and joys.
These regrets and fears will eventually reveal themselves as much older uncomfortable experiences that existed long before your marriage, long before you knew your partner. Your parents are the key players at the base of these old joys and pockets of anger, but again are just players in your inner-life soliloquy. Insights and understanding will awaken from your sitting. You will intuit the ancientness of these feelings and know that your partner’s behavior is the catalyst for all this stuff you thought was everyone else’s.
After you sit, you carry this wisdom about yourself back to your wife, boss, and children. Relatus is at work. Carry back a more uncovered and self-revealed you. Your thirty-year-old feelings of sadness about your father’s indifference and your stepmother’s insensitivity, buried in your stomach, can now counsel your adult, rational perspective.
You start to take ownership of your anger, which allows you to bring a much more composed dialogue with your partner. Relatus is the action of marriage, you knowing yourself better and sharing these revealed parts with your spouse. So many of us are not willing to take all this action. Waves of sadness and glee of the ten-year- old inside, cascading from events that seem like someone else’s life, arise. Twenty-two years into my own marriage, I now understand. Everything will change when you take this action.
“And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves.”
To Love is to Destroy
How can something so commonplace like a marriage, a thing that begins so reasonably, comfortably, passionately, and innocently, become so unruly and disruptive? What did we miss early on that could have prevented it from unraveling? Nothing. You had no way of knowing. That is one of the key points of this book. It is impossible to know.
The muscles of your marriage are supposed to break so that they can build back up. That is how we gain insight and emotional intelligence, uprooting everything that lives inside. The discourse of relating with another creates raw vulnerability that reveals all your latent, immature perceptions and reactions.
Novelist Cassandra Clare said in her book City of Bones, “To love is to destroy, and that to be loved is to be the one destroyed.” Carl Jung agreed when he said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” A relationship is the most beautiful destructive force in nature, not designed to be rational and sensible.
I have wished for an easier way to work on marriage besides opening myself up. But marriage, and the work we do on it, always comes back to self. “There’s no coming to consciousness without pain,” Jung said. And even if the priest or person who conducted your wedding told you that your marriage was designed to break you open and undo your sense of self, you would not have understood.
Through the exercise of marriage, our feelings are supposed to unravel, unfortunately often within the belittling and disagreeing stare of our partner. But at some point, we realize that our marriage will evolve because the dynamics and our feelings towards it will change. We will learn what it means to embrace, celebrate, and exercise the behaviors and the forces around us that create change and growth.
The secret to a successful, healthy relationship is not a secret. It is messy hard work. It is the understanding and accepting of every emotion that is unearthed in you in the friction of marriage, and then re-engaging (relating) with your spouse with a new perspective.
You and your marriage are in the universe, a basic fact. What we forget is that because we are things in the world, we and our marriage are subject to all the same forces that press against every other object in the universe, “both violent and creative, destructive and cooperative,” Swimme writes in The Universe Story. We are going to learn about your spouse and the Second Law of Thermodynamics in the next few chapters. Just remember, though, the sinews of your marriage, like the universe, the weather, the birthing process, and old tree limbs, are supposed to break, be undone, to create anew into time.
The vessel called relationship seeks and is designed, just like all universal forces, to break each person down in order to teach them. All the painful reactions within you and your spouse are part of the path and process of being in union. Things break in order to grow. Swimme further explains that these challenges are just part of living, that “these obstacles, these boundaries, these limitations are essential for the journey of the universe itself.” Everything must undergo this process.
How serious are you? It will not be easy. It is OK not to be ready, though, not to be serious. You can come back to the work later, in another lifetime or marriage. Not my recommendation, but I want to give you an out.
At some point, whether we believe it or not, this lifetime or another one, we will have to jump into the fire of our inner world. Why do so many marriages fail? It is because this leap is so difficult. So many would rather avoid it. Leaping in means owning everything that is yours in the relationship, everything that we have said, done, not done, forgot and are afraid to do.
All You Can Do is Your 50%
Every relationship is 50/50. Whether you want to or not, you must learn how to own all of your 50% of your marriage. You can ask your spouse to wake up to an old anger towards a parent, for instance, one that he or she just keeps throwing into the current discussions, but there is nothing more you can do. You can demand that your spouse do more, but the only thing you can truly work on is your 50%. That is why so many spouses are so pissed at each other, because they are focused on the other and taking stock of their reactions.
This is not easy; it demands a willingness to admit mistakes and misperceptions. It is so hard to say sorry. Owning all of our 50% is called maturing, and maturing is painful.
The great physicist Niels Bohr hints that the solution and answers to the challenges in our marriage are in the marriage. “Every great and deep difficulty bears in itself its own solution. It forces us to change our thinking in order to find it,” he said. The only way I could change how my words and behavior at parties impacted my wife, using the above example, is to understand that my boyish insecurity about getting others to like me was alive and well. My inner fourteen-year-old was oblivious to how delicate the bonds of an adult relationship are. In my cave of long hours of sitting alone, I found him and have been a caretaker of sacred marital information since.
Changing your thinking and looking in a different direction, at yourself, holds the answers. That is what Bohr recommends and what good therapy will do. That is also what sitting alone will do.
Men need to learn what a relationship actually is and how it works. We all need to learn what is underneath the hood of our marriage. When we are ready, the relationship and all the friction and revelry become the teacher. A relationship is an endless series of events and exchanges that activate intense emotions, in turn inciting action and reactions that are seeking resolution.
DLATM and Why We are Here
According to the great Hindu culture, we are here on Earth and come back during many lifetimes for three main reasons: consciousness, awareness, and bliss. The only reason we continue to come back and wend our way through this sticky, fatiguing, joyous, and often achy emotional human life is to fully understand everything that lives in our inner, non-physical world — our emotional, right-brain, intuitive, and desire-filled self — and to express it in the material world.
Would you believe me if I told you the meaning of life is to understand (gain awareness) and then bring everything stored in your right brain, your intuition, memories, reactions, perceptions, etc. into the physical world? That is called creating. In short, we are here to create. Drop the mic, that is it.
The reason so many people are lost is because there is only one singular way to know what your unique memories, experiences, feelings, longings and perceptions are trying to tell you about your life and what to do with them. The only way to learn is to listen to them, listen to your feelings, have your left, rational brain simmer in them by sitting quietly.
The key to creating your life, to completing it here on Earth, is to use your left brain’s reasoning and organizing skills to make conscious and real on the physical plane everything that lives in your feeling- and desire-based world, the realm called your heart and right brain.
You must first soak your left, rational, adult attention in your right brain’s feelings by sitting alone. “In moments of solitude you may become aware of some of the other streams of consciousness... hear words, see images that appear out of context with your own thoughts,” Jane Roberts writes in Seth Speaks. Soak and simmer your rational mind with these sensations and images for many hours so that these two worlds integrate. That is emotional intelligence, that is waking up to self.
Oh, the sweet naiveté of our powerful intellect. This rational part of us, our executive function, has so much to learn about our marriage. It is part of the problem with our relationship until it learns more about its right half brethren. Our youngest part of the brain that rules our adult thoughts is just needs to meet the feelings burrowed in our reptilian brain center that currently haunt and unnerve it out.
A big part of this challenge, as we will see, is that the archeology and roots of all the behavior, thoughts, feelings, and reactions within your marriage are old, the neocortex. As mammals and humans go, it is a couple of million years old, but in its exact and current size and state, only about 200,000 years old. It organizes and analyzes Our right brain, often referred to as our limbic brain or system, behaves completely differently. It has not and never will build a computer or design a spaceship, even though it wants to. It needs the left brain to sort all that ancient actually, and almost incomprehensible to your rational mind. “Where the hell did that comment come from?” says that analytical part of our brain, the further it travels upstream into the heart of the marriage. What an escape, release, and sanctuary for our adult attention when we work on spreadsheets and scheduling our month, just fixing problems. We get to avoid the butterflies in the stomach, pangs of regret, and the soft winds of uncertainty and doubt that creep into our reactions.
Sam Keen in Inward Bound: Exploring the Geography of Your Emotions reminds us, “We can only choose whether we will feel, and not what we will feel.” It is time to choose to feel. I am going to show you the way.
Consciousness is just a fancy word for knowing the original roots and historical life events that created every feeling you have, and why you react, love, hate, and want the things you do. Seeking consciousness and awareness is the act of waking up to every single inner child fear and joy that is driving your current life and behaviors. This in turn begets the ability to understand that everything that occurs in your marriage and life was created by you. Because of what you are putting out into the world, from your inner world’s frustration, longing for dad’s attention, and anger at mom’s belittling, these experiences are coming back at you. The outer world is giving you what you are putting out.
“Our feelings began in our reptilian brain, millions of years ago.”
—Emily A. Sterrett
Awareness is maturity. Eventually I will own every last drop of anger, sadness, and insecurity around being a man. If I get it this lifetime, I might be able to take a break from cycling back to Earth again, at least for a spell. This is the power of what the Hindus are teaching. Wake up to self, nothing more.
Marriage is the greatest mechanism for your waking up because it creates the most discomfort, the most dislodging of emotions. Run to the fire of marriage, I say, and stand in it. That is what I am selling. The fire is your current sadness whose root lives deep below, from never being hugged, held, or recognized enough when you were eight or ten years old. That old sadness is coming out today as hurt and anger towards your spouse and his comments.
Unfortunately, the maturity level of your marriage — the ability for the marriage to grow, expand, and eventually become the team and bond with the other that you want — is limited to the least mature of the two of you. Your marriage can only succeed and develop as far as the developmental age or dominant limbic age of you two.
I call this your Dominant Limbic Age (DLA), a measure of how aware you are of your childlike reactions. The limbic system is the tissues, glands, neurons, and hormones in the body-brain that regulate feelings, thoughts, and all behaviors. The bulk of all our current feelings and reactions formed before you were twelve years old. Many men, for instance, do not mature beyond the emotional awareness and capacity of a teenager. When I got married at thirty-two, developmentally I was about fourteen. My wife would kiddingly say age ten, especially when I was wrong but struggled to apologize. My DLA in the early years of marriage was fourteen. If I had not started doing something to wake me from this adolescent slumber, the maturity level of our marriage was doomed to be stuck at fourteen.
We all need to go back inside and discover what our DLA is, that root age and point in our life when our left and right brains stopped cooperating with each other, stopped dialoguing. This discovery routine will be outlined in the pages and chapters to come. For many men, we begin shutting down our feelings in our teens, which in turn shuts down the capacity to understand why we react to women, for instance. I carried such ignorance, awe, and resentment towards the feminine energy for so long before I intuited that the fourteen- year-old inside of me was confused and angry, not the thirty-three-year-old me.
Because my DLA was fourteen, the psycho-emotional construct of my marriage and how I engaged my wife was never going to get beyond a high school dynamic. Not a great model for my daughters.
The Least Mature
Least mature means the person in a relationship who takes least responsibility, least ownership, and who is the least aware of how they respond to the world. You must be able to hate loudly in your world, relationship, and with your partner in order to love quietly and patiently. Men must grow up enough to learn being as comfortable as the woman hates during their war-like moments in marriage. Men cower from and rebel from this hate. The longings from the past haunt an afternoon debate about money or holiday plans. Add in fatigue from sleepless nights with children, and a battle ensues.
The cheap laughs men get, using marital content as a punch line, leave their emotional residue as well. Maybe she calls you a jerk or you call her a bitch or just think those words, and tiny dents are created in each other’s experience of the marriage. David Deida writes in The Way of the Superior Man, “The feminine always seems chaotic and complicated from the perspective of the masculine...Nobody will press your buttons or reflect your asshole to you better than your woman.”
Regardless if you are both correct or accurate with your comments, the actions and words create feeling responses in the other. That is the basic dynamic of relating. When I am careless and flippant, small dents arise in my wife’s experience of trust in me and my ability to know and hold the sacred boundaries of the relationship.
In the early years, I did not know that I was generating that response in her. We do not know until we feel and know our own hurt and joy. We do not know the feelings, longings, and frustrations in our spouse that we unconsciously jab and poke at with our words because we do not understand the emotions that live inside ourselves.
Married to Self, Shadow Boxing
Marriage is a relationship with self. Back in the kitchen with my wife in those early years, on the morning after a night out with friends, it was like trying to kiss her while she was getting a basketball rebound.
As the marriage unfolds, you wonder how all the emotion-infused debates and disagreements got started. The feelings and reactions and words get so big and intense over issues that seem small. What you are going to see, though, is that there is a whole other world, a literal kingdom of experiences and feelings breathing inside of you and your partner, just below the surface of interaction in every kitchen and every other room.
Studying Self in Arena of Marriage
I have spent the last twenty-three years studying, watching, and counseling men and women through relationships. I have danced, cried, laughed, and been burned at the stake of my marriage, have had a successful private counseling practice, and have gathered insights that I believe will change your perception of how to relate. Carl Jung reminds us that “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.”
My wife and I have argued and uncovered truths with five different marriage counselors over our twenty-three years. We have laughed and cried with three teenage daughters, two sets of in-laws, four dogs, sixty foster dogs inside four houses in two countries, through my nine jobs, three totaled cars and fourteen years of graduate school loan payments. If I had a dollar for every time my wife asked for the big D, a divorce, all my debt would be gone. Carl Jung reminds us that “there’s no coming to consciousness without pain.”
But my marriage flourishes. It has been intense. We have survived and found a camaraderie because I realized early on that not only was I the problem and the solution, but much more importantly, the friction of marriage was kicking up an ancient well of imbedded emotions living just below my thoughts.
Marriage Full of Kitchen
“Stand in the fire of my own feelings” became my motto. It became my life’s mission, especially after an exchange with my wife in the shadow of GM Betty.
So often our most intense marital arguments occur in the middle of the kitchen. Maybe the laws of the hearth are different than those of other rooms. Perhaps it is the food, one of our basic mammalian needs, that throws everything off. I am not sure this makes sense, but I have seen dogs and kids bathing in the same kitchen sink that hours before held a soaking, day-old oatmeal pot. The sacred marital altar is within the kitchen walls.
In-laws are excellent at burning toast and then mindlessly stuffing clean forks in the napkin drawer. Boyfriends’ advances are continually rebuffed the next morning in front of the coffee machine, and teenagers and husbands continually glance at over-stuffed garbage bins but never take them out. Glasses and cups break, dogs urinate, and knives slice fingers all in the reflection of smeared counter tops and refrigerator doors. It is like the high seas of yore in kitchens everywhere, without the scurvy.
As the father of three teenage daughters, I have seen pouting, shirts ripped, and morale battered all for the last piece of French toast. It seems logic and reason need not apply when it comes to this hallowed ground of bread, butter, and broken hearts and glasses. How do these rational discussions so quickly devolve, and why are they always about the same three or four topics? John Gottman says in Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work that research supports this cycling of relational disputes, with 69% of couples fighting over the exact same topic every time they battle.
It is impossible to know what is going to unfold over time in either of you as the relationship travels further in time and into each other’s hearts, taking on more and more, heading upstream. The energies, awareness, and behavior involved in getting into a relationship are completely different than those used to sustain a relationship. What happens in year one of your marriage is nothing like what happens in year eight.
On the brighter side, kitchen hugs are the best, especially when you come home and get to share great news immediately. So often your partner is in there. You got a raise, or your mother-in-law decided to cancel her trip in the spring. Those congratulatory kisses seem even sweeter when they are in front of the steaming, overstuffed dishwasher. So many of the pleasures and battles of relationships start, end, or are transported over these cluttered countertops.
I am fixated on the kitchen because it is where the idea and theme of this book emerged. When my wife punctuated one of our early marital discussions with a plate thrown at my head, demanding that I call the divorce lawyer in London, poor GM Betty caught some cheap Chinese plate porcelain in her grill. Betty was big but not very quick. To this day my wife remembers the fight but not the throw. I remember the throw but am unsure sure how I ducked. Keanu Reeves in his final scene of the Matrix had nothing on me that morning as I avoided that plate.
Right here is where it all begins, where all the work on relationship starts. Stand in the fire of your marriage. You are being called to celebrate and dance and cry and laugh in and through everything that occurs between you and your partner. Duck, yes, but do not run from the plates. They do not need to hit you for you to feel them, but you need to stand in the fire of the feelings that arise in response to every emotion, every plate that flies, throughout the unfolding story of your marriage. The work of relationship is in you, catalyzed by the other.
The energy, the hate, longings, and love that caused my wife to release that plate had been simmering and boiling years. Turns out that her relationship with me, and mine with her, started when we were eight years old. Crazy, right? Those feelings in her at that moment had been brewing for twenty-six years. I had known her for two.
Feelings Started Decades Ago
How can that be? It makes no sense. If I told you that the story of that plate at my head in Nineties suburbia started in 1970 at a kitchen table 2,600 miles away, would you close this book?
In the following chapters I am going to take you even further upstream, further in time before 1970 to where and when all our marriage stories began. In A General Theory of Love, the authors Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon write that “early emotional experiences knit long lasting patterns into the very fabric of brains neural networks.” The experiences behind the emotions that incited my wife’s Roger Clemens-like throw occurred decades earlier.
This probably does not make sense, but it will. If you learn to sit quietly and do therapy, you will change generations to come, because the nature and reality of an emotion is stored as an electronic charge within the body of your midbrain and heart. These electromagnetic particles are swirling electrical currents, as measured by an electroencephalogram. They dusted and filled the seemingly empty space of your kitchen, your Frosted Flakes, and your grandparents’ hallways during the seventies. The electricity of your emotions and those of your ancestors are consuming your kids. That is why knowing, accepting, and altering the curvature of your anger and doubt will travel down generations, changing the lives of great grandkids you might never meet. But those youngsters will smile because of the inner work you do.
Kitchen Table Massacre
Maybe my wife, with her sacrificial plate release on that fateful evening, was not ready to settle into the suburban life and let go of the city environment we had recently left. Maybe she did not love me, or love where she was at that moment in time, saddled with a newborn, a husband, a dented, five-year-old minivan, and lousy local Chinese food. I am sure I had made some callous, presumptuous comment that put a finishing touch on her deep-seated frustration.
All the questions and subsequent answers to why she threw the plate and the emotions that led to that action are important. Those questions are where all of her own psycho-emotional growth and understanding begins. But for me, for the partner on the other side of the allegorical plate, I need to stand in the fire of my emotions and reactions and experience in those moments, not hers.
On that night when that plate flew, while dining with my wife and two young daughters, my perception of the reality of marriage changed forever. I would never look at a relationship the same way. During that meal at the chipped wooden table that had survived two basement floods, my quest began to learn and understand how a marriage works and succeeds. In front of Betty as my wife erupted in reaction to how I was correcting my daughter’s table manners, my experience of and respect for marriage, and how I responded and worked at being a husband, changed forever.
I felt like the physicists Planck and Einstein when they were probing the elusive atom. Einstein expressed his awe at the mystery of how matter and the universe behave when he said, “All my attempts to adapt the theoretical foundation of physics to this new knowledge failed. It was as if the ground had been pulled out with no firm foundation.” He went on to say, “Whenever the essential nature of things is analyzed by the intellect, it must seem absurd or paradoxical.”
In that moment twenty years ago, and in the couples counseling that followed, I saw why relationships fail. I could see, like Planck, that when your rational mind watches how you and your spouse behave vehemently to each other, it does not add up. “When we are rational, using abstractions, we cannot take all features into account,” said Fritjof Capra in The Tao of Physics. “We have to elect a few. We construct a map of reality which is linear.” To the logical part of us, the math of marriage is off.
“A kind of sub war between left and right brainers has been going on for centuries. The right brain has not changed for thousands of years. It has not evolved,” writes Robert Monroe, in Ultimate Journey. It is like two different dimensions side by side, never speaking to each other except maybe when dreaming.
Post-Plate Couples Counseling: Where it all Began
Within a week of that great porcelain launch, we went to counseling. Within fifteen-minutes of the start of our session, my wife expressed the feelings that incited her reaction at the table that night. As she was describing her frustration toward me while I was correcting my daughter’s table manners, my wife started to close her eyes. As she sat on the couch, talking through her heart about her anger, her shoulders were relaxing and opening, so that suddenly there was what I call a hole in her neck for her head and thoughts to drop into. Her rational, adult attention softened and entered into her feelings via that hole.
As if returning into a dreamscape, she slowed her words as the counselor and I just watched and listened. There was a hush. She held the space silently, and I remember hearing the desk clock hum. Almost startled, she opened her eyes and said, “He used to come to the table a little drunk. He was so grouchy, telling me what I should be doing in gymnastics. I hated that; I was nine years old for God’s sake. What an asshole!”
My autocratic tone with our daughter that night awoke the stored anger and frustration with her father’s behavior thirty years earlier. It was the exact same setting. She was almost the same age as our oldest. Eureka! My presence, actions, and especially my reactions, the ones I imbibed and learned unconsciously from my home, woke up her nine-year-old’s hurt. That is how and why our marriage to each other started when we were both in fourth grade.
Every single unruly reaction in marriage has roots that go far back to who and how our parents and grandparents were and felt. This is why it is impossible to know if your marriage will work and what will emerge. It is impossible to comprehend because we both did not know the reactionary sets living in us. Only in the discourse of your relationship and the replaying in therapy do these old, forgotten, and somehow displaced parts of us show up.
This initial session set off a series of tectonic breaks and openings in our marriage. No fairy tale stuff, just us getting much better at watching what was lurking emotionally inside ourselves when we started to collide and the debates fired up. As life started showing up, as in-laws judged our choices of furniture and friends bought bigger houses, we tried to feel the pits in our own stomachs about our ancient regrets before lashing out at each other.
Does this sound dramatic? Am I bating you to read a few more pages because the magic pill of marital joy is there? One image of a kitchen table long ago, and everything just changes like that? If you have the courage to stay with it, to keep going back to this deep well of the inner life, then yes, your life will become your own personal “greatest story ever told.”
“Truth is no match for emotions.”
My First Therapy Session
A year and a half before I got married, pre-plate launch, I skeptically and begrudgingly scheduled time with a therapist. I was single and living in London. It went something like this:
After twenty minutes of her questions and my answers, Dr. Moore sat up, took her glasses off in a classic therapeutic if not autocratic pose, and asked, “Have you ever seen that Harrison Ford movie, the one where he’s standing on the edge of a cliff leaning out, looking into the abyss?”
“Raiders of the Lost Ark, one of those... yes.”
She took a long, well-timed clinical pause. “Well, that is where you are right now. In the third movie he ends up stepping into the abyss and when he does, something appears, catching him, a beam of light. That is where you are right now with these bigger life questions you’re asking.”
Nothing like a casual, Tuesday afternoon chat about the abyss and my personal void. Sounded like my love life at the time.
If I knew in that moment what was about to unfold over the coming weeks and months, as I sat in that overpriced psychologist’s office in Chelsea, weighed down by a gray and gnawing wistfulness and discontent, I think I would have frozen time and walked out.
It was not the words in my conversation; it was the lumps of feelings stirring. This was the first time in my adult life that I had slowed down enough to just sit and try talking about my life. It was the first time that I had tried putting words to the dull ache: a kind of billowy sadness, not too heavy, that had followed me for years, underneath my affableness, the pleasantries, and the buoyant, often boyish exuberance. I had run out of room in my life, though, the one understood and crafted by my rational brain, the one that quells memories, tries to still the ache in the knees, shoulders, and belly with work, sex, drink or exercise.
Surprised by Empty
Writing these words now, twenty-two years later, it is easy to feel my way back into that chair in front of her desk. That thirty-one-year-old me had a heavy heart. It seemed like it was about to spill. It was not heavy or broken from anything I could touch or explain.
I was living a young man’s life coded with material ease, working hard during the day but fluid with travel, dinners, ski trips, and general first world facility. It was my next ex-girlfriend, after the one with the visa issues, who had urged me to go see a therapist. “You are insecure and defensive, and still tied to your mother,” was one of her most poignant refrains. How hard did I resist that one? “No, I’m not. You’re insecure,” was one of my favorite replies. Pretty original and mature, right? Little boys do not like being critiqued or told the truth, especially by the feminine. It makes me, I mean them, feel small. So often they just want to show mom, the feminine, how good and powerful they are, to be that hero-to-the-death boy-man, and to assert their independence from their need for mom’s approval. I guess I ended up believing her. I was insecure, even though I was not really sure what that meant. But there I was in that chair within weeks after she dropped me like a hot rock.
It was quiet when Dr. Moore took notes. I guess she was expecting me to come back. My shoulders were heavy as I slumped in the chair, cradled in that stately Victorian- era office, surrounded by those rows of wood-paneled bookshelves. Like in the movies, the office had the dusty, weathered green and burgundy hardcovers. It was like she had put the dust back on them to make me feel even more forlorn and distant from all that was familiar, established, secure, and historically right.
The office had three walls lined with those books, those great accounts of deaths and even bigger rebirths, staring down at us. I was just a thirty-something kid from New Jersey, a part of me thinking, How the @#%! did I get here?
Been Here Before
I heard an echo as she spoke, a hollowness that I had felt back in third grade. I had moved across town in the middle of that year, and my new school had bigger class sizes, so the atmosphere was less friendly and more chaotic. I would stare out the window, sad, as if my heart had no home. Not feeling a part of anything or anyone, it felt like a dreamscape sitting in that classroom.
A tear or two would fall while gazing through those cathedral-like windows, wishing I was somewhere else, someone else, the mailman or a lady walking the dog. Heck, I wanted to be the dog. If I could just get lost in or become part of someone else’s life right then, I would not feel as lonely. My heart bubbled to slip into some better time and place.
That was in third grade, and I felt the same way in Dr. Moore’s office. I just wanted to feel less empty. It is a bit cliché these days, the story of the finance guy losing his vim for the game, not caring about winning and making money, then quitting and seeking to make things better somewhere else. But I did not feel like a cliché. I felt small after many years of feeling pretty big in my dry-cleaned suits and polished shoes.
How could I know what was coming as I took this first step in slowing down long enough to allow the vague sensations of longing and unease to fully emerge and release? Slowing down and listening, I realized months later, is where it begins. Tolerating, no, celebrating bodily discomfort is not a popular sport. We all suck at it. But your life and marriage are asking you to do this, now.
None of us give our bodies ample time to speak up, to share the wisdom and knowledge about what we are really want, love, hate, and care about. That hazy, dreamlike, third grade sensation-experience of being separate and lost in my little world did not go away, it just went to sleep.
It was ready to speak up again.
Our heart beats with memories and desires that live outside of the linear, beginning-to-end timeframe of our cogitating, analyzing cortex. The matrix of my inner life at thirty-one, with its malaise and emotional withdrawal, must have stirred up the sediment of my third-grade memories and sensibilities.
Maybe I should have just ignored the call, the pangs. I am sure they would have gone away, right? How are your pangs doing, the ones that are calling you every day? What if you sat down in a chair right now and just let those aches up? It would be easy to name and feel them. There would be some tears. That is what we are about to do.
Counseling Session with John and Amy
A similar moment to when my wife and I went to our first counseling session happened years later when I was counseling John and Amy. Amy, according to John, had this built up rage towards him that he could not understand. She loved John, they loved each other and their two boys, but she admitted that at times she wanted to throttle him. She could not figure it out.
They were both on the couch as she started recounting how angry she was a few weeks before during Thanksgiving at John’s parents’ house. She was sharing more details of the event, her eyes softened. John and I said nothing. They both leaned back on the couch. More silence. Then Amy looked down at her feet and said, “You know that horse was much stronger than me... I couldn’t stay on her. I was scared.” She paused again.
She opened her eyes, glaring fiercely at me and said, “My dad, what a jerk, had no right making me stay on that horse. What the hell was he thinking?”
She had never addressed this issue with her dad, his insistence that she ride the strongest horses when she was young. He wanted to toughen her up. But she was ten, and back then she felt like she was letting him down. Her adult self could now frame and voice the illogic, but as a child it was the fear-disappointment combo.
Now, twenty-eight years later, John’s actions were waking up that fear and disappointment, but it had been alchemized further into sadness and rage that was sleeping quietly in her limbic, emotional body. She had forgotten that those historical dad moments had occurred. She might have never known how deep that echo of “dad is disappointed in me” was buried, entombed in that defeated and empty heart of a woman denied access to her father’s full love.
A woman’s primary need is a fullness of love initially from the father or primary male growing up. For the masculine, it is more an acceptance from his mother that allows him the confidence to the release himself into the world. What her dad was or was not able to express built the foundation of how much she then needed, and so sought unconsciously from John.
Unfortunately, Amy’s deep-seated sense of failure and incompleteness at her parents’ kitchen table was dormant for those years until she got married. John unknowingly woke up her wounds. Watch how the loop of this open wound never shuts, never completes itself until the inner work begins:
- Amy carries around this sense of unworthiness in her father’s eyes.
- Her father has been dead for ten years, so there was never a resolution, a chance for them to at least share their respective experiences of those moments.
- This unworthiness always incited the drive to prove herself, always trying to show the world — which to her is always her father — that she could ride any horse, succeed in business, even though it never fulfilled her.
- When she entered the arena of marriage, the desire to be held and respected and adored by dad is living quietly in her belly and heart. She begins building the family nest, kids arrive, her instincts and creativity are magical. She feels a sense of fullness with the new house, great curtains, some new friends, and the Home Depot kitchen just works well.
- All is quiet and good on the outside. John comments one day, one spouse to another, two adults in relationship, that she is spending a bit too much money and recommends preparing a little less food every evening because they end up throwing it out.
- Here is where the old sadness of disappointment and incompleteness turns to rage. Amy, like all of us, has a soft, child’s heart that does not feel completely full and unconsciously wants to feel whole. In every child heart is a longing for the parents to fill it with wholehearted attention, appreciation, and unconditional approval. This is what human mammals seek and ache for.
For the daughter, much of that ache is for the dad’s love, which comes in gazes and hugs of approval and acknowledgment. If the daughter does not receive enough of these, unconsciously there lives a sense of disappointment, an echo of, “I must not have been good enough, but I will keep trying.”
Amy received some affection from her dad, but not enough to satisfy her child heart. That is normal. When her husband, the main masculine force in her life and the embodiment-replacement of fathering energy, questions her, that chunk of self-doubt and hurt alights. It is subtle. He makes a seemingly innocuous comment, and the longing in her turns into shock, an emotion that releases itself as outright rage. It is the sadness-anger paradigm.
Everything she never said to dad, every feeling of hurt and all the times she wanted to ask for his attention but never could, turned into hate for dad, as well as anger at herself for never asking and receiving.
Marriage is the Best Way to Wake You Up
Here is the beautiful thing. If Amy had never married, those unconscious scars that form the foundation of how she reacts toher husband would most likely never have surfaced. They would have continued to gnaw away at her sense of self and the relational bond. Each time John would question her choice of wallpaper color or the state of her messy closet, it would set off this “dad is disappointed” button.
Notice how the work for Amy is not around John. John is a character who opens the scar of “letting dad down.” This is so pervasive in relationships, a relatively innocuous comment by your partner lights up an unconscious self-dent. My unconscious anger towards my wife, that has nothing to do with her, builds up a callus of resentment, confusion, and disgust in her. The space between us, the psycho-emotional, bio-magnetic space that holds us, gets wider and heavier. And this is where our kids play, live and breathe, in this space. A light, ill wind through this space of marriage ends up thickening so much that many relationships never recover. Time to change it.
After Endless Hours of Sitting, What I Learned
My wife had major surgery on her foot years back, and during the worst of it, I had to continue working and commuting. I was out of town for weeks, leaving her to fend for her foot, three dogs and three girls. Suburbia never stops arriving. It was one of the toughest spells of our marriage.
One night, as she was laid out on the couch exhausted, with the IV drip in her arm, I sat down next to her. My heart was sad for where we were, that I could not help her more. I leaned over and said, “Sweetie, you and me ‘till the end, all the way, you’re my life, nothing else matters.” I remember that moment, but two years later she was recounting the vignette to a friend. She said that in that moment, lying on the couch and hearing those feeling- words from me, unwound so much of her discomfort. Something bigger than us, a union and team of two could and would somehow hold and carry her downstream.
The more I sat and meditated throughout our marriage, the more my thoughts cracked in half. I realized that her feminine beauty, the organizing and overwhelming force that ridiculed and cut my boyish reactions, was the ancient mothering, teaching, and embracing energy men unknowingly seek. She had a belief in the masculine that was still trying to emerge in me, that fully released itself in the boy-man sharing of vulnerability during that night when she was on the couch. The belief released a love from her that she did not know was there. My spilled heart catalyzed her essential feminine love and trust. Our marriage changed that night on that couch.
“To take the risk of loving, we must become vulnerable enough to test the radical proposition that knowledge of another and self-revelation will ultimately increase rather than decrease love. It is an awe-ful risk.”
The Power of the Feminine
It took eleven years of marriage, well into my mid-forties, to really sense and feel this kind of bond. I was banging away at the material world, often staring out my Manhattan office window, wondering where the years would lead. Gnashing and dialing phones, wallowing away as my heart held its breath until that evening’s sit. The sitting opened everything up. My heart had been rendered, wrenched, opened and seasoned with the sweetness of my wife-princess, a woman who knew me, who knew my deep boyish faults and the warrior shaman I often became.
Women create the circle space. Men live in it, move through it, and go out into the world filled with what women put into that circle, whether men want to believe that or not.
All around us, the malaise of others’ eroding relationships, couples weighed down by the heavy and steady resentment, were like icebergs crashing and crumbling, never fitting, never able to move together. We kept doing the work, though, and I kept sitting.
Waking Up to the Real Dance of Opposites
This is the portrait of our lives in a universe that is governed by opposites. Ying-yang, light-dark, proton- neutron, profit-loss, and more. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is all about two opposing things interacting until their differences get evened out. Hungarian biochemist Albert Szent-Györgyi said, “To regulate something always requires two opposite factors.” The world of feelings, sensations, and hunches that are not exact or logical mist up and introduce themselves to us, to those sitting alone for long hours.
I see so many business and finance men and women believing so much in the logic of numbers and spreadsheets that move through their work. But their memories are just waiting for the right time to come out. The friction of marriage releases them. Marriage is two people moving in a confined space together, naturally and ineluctably following the same principles as all other things: colliding, breaking, dying to the big moments, then being recreated.
Imagine this. There is only one thing, one thing in the entire universe that you can control: how you feel. You cannot control your boss’s insecurity, your mother’s disagreeableness, or your husband’s short temper. The only experience that you have any domain over is the endless stream of feelings and emotions living, breathing, and circulating inside your body. And it is the one place we spend the least amount of time focusing on. Feelings are the only tool we need for waking up.
Anatomy of Why Relationships Fail
Patterns of discontent travel down generations. The lives of our grandparents are repeating in us, stuck in the bones of your soul. The world of my ancestors is for me to learn and understand. “Go into your grief,” said Carl Jung, “for there, your soul will grow.”
You were a good student, went to a good school. You have had a couple well-paying jobs since college, took your time to meet the right person, get married, bought the house, moved to the suburbs, had kids. I am right there with you. But a relationship is nothing that you have ever encountered. It is the hardest thing you will ever do, ever.
At parties, the easy and common question pops up, “How are you doing?” There is often a subtle pause. We all know that despite the words “things are good” coming out of our mouths, if you follow those vowels further down the throat to the heart, that is not always the case.
When I am asked, “What can I do to feel more content? I have tried a few things, like getting more exercise,” the answer I have is simple, and I pose it in a question: “Have you ever just sat quietly, back straight, in a chair or on acushion?” The discussion either ends there or it alights curiosity.
We crossed the marital threshold slightly deaf, dumb, and blind to the emotional rigors it would demand. Many of us have a natural, inexperienced and unseasoned perspective about friction. We also have a normal lack of understanding, and a rational, almost innocent and puerile fear and uncertainty around what self-reflection, spirituality, maturity, growth, and self-awareness really are and how they can change our lives. The state of our marriage, then, is a reflection of this fear and uncertainty.
How deep are our unconscious drives and obstacles? Some of us will not get to what we want in this lifetime. Others will get shards of their desire. But for so many of us, we do not even know what we desire and that is the hardest road to travel. We do not even know what we want. And the arguments and friction of marriage end up killing us. So we shut it down, shop closed, call the lawyer and say, “I cannot take this anymore.” Divorce 1, Self- Awareness 0.
I get it. Trust me, I do. We push it away, shut ourselves down, and go back to our ice cream, chips, and Friends re- runs. More than a few of my NFL Sunday afternoons have been undone by the emotional weight of serious kitchen battles. I have plenty of battle fatigue. Potato chips and reruns sound awesome right now.
But when you boil down the fancy physicists’ wording of this critical Second Law of Thermodynamics, it states that two opposing things will continue to interact until their differences get evened out. You came into your relationship an emotional teenager and will leave it a teenager as well if you do not allow this friction to wake you up. You are just putting off the inevitable, your inability to own up to everything that is yours in the war of relationship.
Listening to and sharing these feelings is extremely tough medicine, kind of like gulping a jar of aspirin. The bitterness is almost unbearable, but man do the muscles of your marriage feel better over time. There is a new kind of love and companionship.
Being in a relationship is supposed to get lonely. The teenager in you is still alive and trying to figure out his way through life.
“And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves,” Joseph Campbell said. “Where we had thought to travel outwards, we shall come to the center of our own existence.”
Time to wake up.