The truth is we are all looking for role models for the happily ever after, for marriages that not only last but do so happily.
Lasting and happy marriages are hard to find. Most trade one for the other. The world has followed Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck's story of a fairytale marriage and family, continuing more recently into marriage counseling, separation and ultimately the decision to divorce amicably.
I was recently interviewed by Fox2 News to discuss the Hollywood breakup for their story "Give your marriage the chance it deserves with these tips":
While we may not be able to identify with living the life of a movie star, this couple’s relationship journey has awakened deep questions we can all relate to — about one's own relationships, how and if we can sustain a happy marriage and how to save one that is dying.
The following are some answers to what many couples have consistently asked me over the past 21 years from "across the couch."
Why is marriage absolutely known to be the most difficult relationship? (I hear all the time, "I promise I don't have these same problems at work.")
If you have true unity between two souls (more than rings and a kiss), this is a very powerful thing, the ultimate. Anything real that we desire, for it to LAST, it has to come with great effort and growth. We are here to grow and change, and marriage is one of the greatest ways to activate this growth process. On some level, our beloved is supposed to push our buttons, to bring to the surface our blind spots, to show us where we don’t believe in or love ourselves, to help us see our insecurities and fears, and especially to unearth where we need to heal old pain and where our ego defense mechanisms are craftily keeping us selfish and limited. Ideally with a foundation of love, trust and personal responsibility, these challenges in our relationship, albeit often tumultuous, can be just what our inner physician ordered to help us heal, diminish our egos and connect to our true and best self - a perfect platform to reach our potential in life and from which love can grow and grow.
Are some marriages better off ending?
While not all marriages are meant to be saved - and it can take great courage to end an unhappy or unhealthy marriage - a majority of marriages that end in divorce do so prematurely, no matter how long they have been married or how long they have been enduring the same problems. Here are two main reasons:
- Most couples lack the understanding and tools for creating lasting and fulfilling relationships. Most couples keep repeating the same ineffective approaches to trying work things out and lack foundational knowledge for what it takes to make love last. It’s not luck or hit or miss. The misguided information on marriage in our society is a corruption. Though not widely known, marriage wisdom does exist that gives love the best chance to not only last but grow.
- Partners attribute the pain or lack they feel in the marriage to one's spouse or marriage itself. Though there are exceptions, for the most part, the pain we experience in our relationship is our own pain. This is not obvious to the eye or the emotions felt. Yet the negative relationship issues we face -- e.g., the lack or emptiness, needs not met, feeling unwanted, anger/resentment, feeling unappreciated or disrespected, the boredom or frustration, insecurity or jealousy, the loneliness or not feeling heard -- these offer a window into seeing where we have pain we have been running from, where we need to heal, to overcome our fear, to grow. It's very difficult to see it that way because, with our five senses, we find plenty of evidence to blame. One's partner might very well be critical or have anger issues, but if we have low self-esteem and feel that we are never good enough, we tend to attract a reality in which that low self-worth button will continually be pushed — SO WE CAN GROW AND CHANGE.
Can marriage counseling mend all marriages? How do I know when or if to call it quits?
It’s always recommended that each partner (or sometimes one) do everything they possibly can, particularly in the area of changing oneself. It’s also best to avoid making any decisions in an emotionally reactive place. Our issues travel with us, so the more reactive we are, the more likely we will have to repeat the same issues no matter who we leave or find new. Sometimes a separation can create new energy, as long as the goals and boundaries are clear and there is a willingness to change.
The ancient wisdom of Kabbalah has greatly enhanced my own marriage of 29 years. Blending these insights into my marriage counseling approach has provided me with a beautiful and potent roadmap for helping couples to give their marriages the best chance. Here are 10 Tips and Truths I've learned:
- You need to fight for the marriage - not just in the beginning, but every day! The amount of effort translates directly into the love that grows. It is not recommended to prioritize even your children over your marriage. You need to be the most important person in each other’s lives.
- See your marriage as an opportunity for you to grow, and to help your spouse grow - viewing marriage this way, the sky is the limit. How our partners want us to change is typically the very thing that will help us become a better person in every other area, even if we decide to end the relationship. Friction is not a bad sign. It means your soul wants to grow.
- Seek marriage counseling on the front end, not just when you’re bad off. Research shows that many couples come to counseling 6 years too late. Be proactive and ignore the outdated stigma that counseling is a bad sign. Premarital counseling would be highly suggested.
- Focus on what you Give To the marriage, not what you are getting from it. Realize that marriage is a commitment to share and overcome selfish desires. Your fulfillment will come in large part from the person you become; what you receive from your partner will only be a manifestation of that inner fulfillment, not the source of it. Be a better friend. Look for the good in your partner! Care more. Make yourself likable. This will help you like your spouse more.
- Learn effective ways to deal with conflict. We know we have handled conflict well when we feel closer not farther away. Proactive confrontation is an art and takes desire and practice.
- We must realize that we create our own happiness. Our spouses are not responsible for our happiness. No relationship can make your life make sense to you. You need to make your life make sense to you. Resist the urge to view your partner as the bringer of pleasure, to fix your life, fill you up, or meet your needs and expectations. Once the honeymoon phase ends, the human ego projects our negative issues onto our partner and we blame them for our unhappiness. It’s hard to see it, but the lack we feel is most often first within ourselves. Many marriages improve greatly when partner(s) commit to their own personal growth and healing with individual counseling.
- Laughter is key, especially at tense times, to prevent small things from becoming huge very quickly. Laughter keeps the bond strong and the joy flowing.
- Be vulnerable, and create a safe environment for the other to be vulnerable. Feeling safe with our intimate partners cannot be emphasized enough to allow love to grow. When we feel safe, we can be more real and authentic which allows us to peel away the masks we wear and express our true essence. Couples should share regularly how they can help the other feel safe to be vulnerable. For example, refrain from using intimate information about your partner against them when you are angry.
- Let go of expectations of perfection and right versus wrong. We are not here to be perfect, but better, to love ourselves and each other through it. We are not here to be right but to reveal Light and in so doing create an environment of mutual respect. We don't need to be the perfect person to grow personally, for the love to grow and grow. We can look at a magazine for that. We also don't need to be perfect ourselves. Even if the relationship doesn't last a lifetime, it's all part of a growth process on which there are no detours. On some level, there are no mistakes and we are already perfect - for what we came here to accomplish. This accepting paradigm allows for flexibility, to enjoy the journey. It opens us up to forgiveness and mercy toward ourselves and the soul we have chosen to join and care for. Life is difficult enough, we want to add tenderness and joy as best we can to those around us and within ourselves.
- Nurture the spiritual aspect of your lives, grow your spiritual connection whatever that means to you. This creates a binding and often invites a greater purpose together. Seek and follow a path - a spiritual organization, a book, a teacher, counselor or mentor - who inspires you both, and can provide a life GPS to guide you and stretch you to learn and grow. Couples who walk together through life side by side, yet facing out to share with the world, this is the seed of a great relationship.