Thursday, January 20, 2011

The hardest question of all

Few couples who are in a good, committed relationship, who are seriously contemplating marriage or who are in the midst of planning a wedding ever consider the possibility of facing a problem in their relationship that they can't resolve. Even fewer couples ever TALK about that possibility. When it's good, it's good. Commitments, and especially weddings, are in service to romance, to promises of spending the rest of your lives together, to feeling as if together you can tackle anything. And I happen to believe you can...I just don't believe it happens magically or naturally. 

Building a marital partnership (whether or not you are legally married) which is, to use one couple's description, sustainable - one which will endure all the tests and all the changes that life brings - takes hard work and endless practice. The love that makes us want to marry, as wonderful as it feels, is not in itself sufficient. A sustainable partnership requires a level of authenticity, honesty, persistence, self-reflection and vulnerability which most of us have little experience with and have absolutely no desire to cultivate. It's too hard and too risky, because (and don't you know this already, on some level?) you can't wait for your partner to be the first to start. It's up to YOU to be "transparent" in your marital relationship, and to continually work towards creating an environment in which your partner can do the same.

It's natural always to want to bring the best of yourself to your partner, and a strong relationship will make your "best" even better. BUT - paradoxically, the only way to be that "best" is to allow yourself to share your self-judgments about your "worst" with your mate. So here's the hardest question of all about your marital relationship: Are you willing and able to share the "worst" and "weakest" of yourself with your partner?  Can you bring your shame, doubts and fears and lay them before your spouse, without expecting her or him to fix them, but trusting that she or he will see you compassionately and support you lovingly? Before you answer that tough question, take a look at some specific examples of the kind of thing you might someday have to be willing to say to your mate. Could you say, for instance:
  • "I think I'm addicted to gambling (or pornography, or alcohol), and I need help. I don't know what to do."
  • "I've been having suicidal thoughts, and I think I may be clinically depressed. I'm scared."
  • "I've done something I'm deeply ashamed of and I'm afraid that if I tell you about it, you won't love me any more."
  • "This job I've taken to support the lifestyle I thought we wanted is killing me. I feel like I have to make changes but I don't want to disappoint your expectations."
If your answer is, "Yes, I could say that," congratulations on building a powerful foundation for a lasting marriage. But if you can't imagine ever revealing any of these things to the person you believe you want to spend the rest of your days with, I urge you to reexamine the reasons you think you want to commit a lifetime to this relationship. If you aren't yet married, don't get married until you are ready to confront this issue. If you are already married, it's never too late to begin this exploration. 

If you cannot share with your spouse or life partner what you consider to be the least of yourself, you'll be condemned to a life of wearing masks, in the one relationship above all where you should feel free to be ALL of who you really are. Unmask yourself with your partner. Get help doing it if you feel it's too difficult to tackle on your own. You will never be sorry you did, and your relationship can be forever stronger, fuller, more joyful and more interesting because of your efforts.


gary.parks said...

Wow! What a great insight. So simple, so true, so hard to confront.
Thank you.

Grandpa said...

Interesting points Diane. I have come to understand over the years that many of the emotional requirements for a strong and vital relationship (i.e., authenticity, honesty, persistence, self-reflection and vulnerability) actually require one to be in a relationship in order to achieve these growth hallmarks. It would be extremely rare for those entering into marraige for the first time to have these qualities already, especially since most of us learn how to be "in relationship" from our parents - many of whom lived for years in a range of disfunctional relationships as our role model.

Grandpa said...

:Grandpa" is Bill Leach. Apparently my Google account was set up to communicate with my grandkids and I just haven't taken the time to change it said...

Thank you, Diane.

I remember committing myself to these principals , long before the marriage ceremony took place. When the work presented itself, the fears did as well.

Neither of us remained true to the commitment. Instead, we saw only the ghosts of our pasts. Eventually, we only saw the past, and lost sight of ourselves and each other.

Given the opportunity to love again, I am committed to living in the present.

Thank you for all your insight, and the willingness to share it.