HOW TO LOVE YOUR MARRIAGE Making Your Closest Relationship Work
By Eve Eschner Hogan
Hunter House Inc., Publishers Copyright © 2006 Eve Hogan
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-0-89793-457-2
Chapter One The Relationship Principles
Love one another and you will be happy. It's as simple and as difficult as that. Michael Leunig
My goal in writing this book is to help you achieve your goals as they relate to living joyfully and lovingly. In this case, I'm making the assumption that you are reading this book because you think (or at least hope) that your marriage has a chance of being loving and joyful. This book is about taking a realistic look at where your marriage is now and where you want it to be, and about doing everything you can to bring out the elation, or joy, at the heart of your relationship. This book is not titled Why to Stay in a Marriage That Makes You Miserable or How to Leave an Abusive Spouse. Those are different topics. Rather, loving your marriage involves loving yourself, loving your mate, and treating your marriage as an entity (almost like a child) that needs protection, attention, and nurturing in order to grow strong and thrive.
To love your marriage you are going to have to want to loveyour marriage. You have to want to love it enough to read this book, do the exercises, practice the principles, and apply the skills. When things are going reasonably well and the marriage just needs some extra oomph, the task is not so tough. However, some of you are dealing with recovery from infidelity in your marriage. Some of you are managing with limited time, little or no money, children who demand your energy, or ill health-challenges that make everything difficult. Some of you are dealing with partners or children who have terminal or chronic illnesses, or with other circumstances that test your strength and all you believe in at every turn. Some of you are dealing with spouses who are abusive or who are totally "emotionally unavailable." Some of you are dealing with low self-esteem and are abusive or emotionally unavailable yourselves. Some of you feel trapped. Some of you are jealous and possessive or have partners who are control freaks. Some of you have relatives or friends who are meddling in your marriage. Some of you are abusing mind-altering substances that interfere with your perspective or have a spouse who is doing so. Some of you are at your wits' end, reading this book as a last-ditch effort with only a glimmer of hope in your heart. If any of these scenarios are true for you, you definitely have some work to do and some hard decisions to make. And yet, here you are reading this book, which means to me that you want to make your marriage work.
If you are in a marriage that you are honestly not sure you want to stay in (or are sure you don't want to stay in) or that your partner doesn't want to stay in, this book will still help you. As I discovered in my own marriage and as I shared in the Introduction, one partner has the power to save a marriage. However, one partner can also end it, so this work may not save your marriage. But it will save you by strengthening you, teaching you skills, and providing you with tools that you will be able to apply during the upcoming changes in your marriage and beyond. If the relationship does stand a chance, this material will definitely give it that chance. If getting out of the marriage is what is next for you, this material will help you gain clarity and will fortify you for that next step.
If you are in an abusive marriage or one in which your (or your children's) safety and well-being are in jeopardy, immediately seek support, safety, and shelter, and then read this book. Please do not think that this material is implying that if only you did more, or if only you were better, the marriage would be okay. Abusive partners-whether men or women-need help. There is simply no excuse for inflicting physical or emotional pain on one's family. However, deciding what to do about the situation you are in (and then doing it) is your responsibility. Making sure you protect yourself and your family and fortifying yourself so that you don't allow yourself to get into a situation like this again is also your responsibility. Even though your partner may be or may have a problem, you are the one with the problem since you are the one married to your spouse. Thus, you are the one who needs to do something.
As you read on, you may think that I am implying that everything is your fault because I am telling you that everything you experience is your responsibility. Here is the difference between "fault" and "responsibility." Fault is about who is to blame for the past. Finding fault is useless because there is nothing that can be done about the past. Responsibility is about having the power to change your present moment and your future. Responsibility (response + ability) is about having the ability to respond to life's circumstances in such a way that you are able to transform your life and your marriage. However, if your spouse were the one reading this, I would be telling him or her that everything he or she experiences in the marriage is his or her responsibility and that he or she has the power to change it. Whoever is the one wanting change is the one with the responsibility to change-oneself or the situation.
Responsibility is a beautiful thing because it gives you power; so, yes, I am saying that everything you experience is your responsibility. I am saying that you are powerful, and I want you to know it and feel it, and to use that power to bring more love and joy into your life and your marriage.
The scenarios of what goes on-and what goes wrong-within marriages are too numerous to address individually. Rather than being a manual on "when this happens, do this ...; when that happens, do that ...," How to Love Your Marriage offers principles, tools, and skills that will help you handle any situation, regardless of what it is, in a way that is in alignment with your values, and that leads you toward the goals you desire. That is a big, bold statement about the power of this work, but the truth is that we aren't working on your marriage; we are working on you. As you gain strength, insight, and the ability to respond more effectively to life's circumstances, you will be empowered to tackle any of the myriad variables that come up in a marriage. Let's start with some new principles and a common understanding.
The Ten Relationship Principles
The following relationship principles are the foundation of this material and are recurring themes throughout the book. They are introduced here and are explained more fully in the coming chapters. Whether you want to love your marriage, yourself, your children, your job, your body, or your life, these relationship principles will come into play. However, if this is your first exposure to them, they may be a little daunting. This is usually true whenever you begin to wrap your brain around new concepts.
Since your marriage is in the domain of your heart, it would serve you and your goal of loving your marriage to "listen" with something other than your ego. I encourage you to read through these principles not only with your head but also with your heart and soul. When we read with our intellect alone, we compare what we are reading with what we already know and either agree or disagree based on whether or not there is a match with our existing knowledge. When we do this, we don't learn anything new; we just reinforce what we already believe. We inadvertently block new wisdom from coming in when the new information challenges previous beliefs that may have been ingrained in us since childhood. Since these principles may challenge your ego, it is in your ego's best interest to try to dispute them. However, if your old beliefs and behaviors were adequately serving you, you probably wouldn't be reading this book. In order to learn something new and create something different, you may be called upon to let go of, or challenge, old beliefs-as well as your ego.
Read the principles slowly, hold the possibility that they are true, and try them on to see how they feel. Let the meaning of each one sink in before moving to the next. Hopefully you will begin to adopt them as a foundation for everything you do.
Principle number one: Relationships are a process, not a product
Life is a great big classroom and relationships are our teachers. We are here (in human form) to learn, love, laugh, and serve. Every experience we have is geared to present us with an opportunity to gain more compassion, practice acceptance, transcend our egos, maintain our sense of humor, and expand our wisdom. The goal of marriage is not just about achieving the end result, or "product," of "forever-more," but rather is about improving the "process" of how we are showing up, what we are learning, and how we are growing. It is about the quality, not the quantity. Although we certainly want our marriage to last, more importantly we want it to serve each partner's personal and spiritual growth.
Principle number two: Every effort you make will benefit you
If you practice and master the skills presented here, you may save your marriage and make it healthier, stronger, and more enjoyable. It is also possible that you or your spouse will decide to get out. You need to do the work either way. The benefit of gaining these essential life skills is that you will achieve greater self-mastery and will be healthier and happier-even if your relationship doesn't continue. These skills will follow you into every situation and will serve you in every relationship throughout your life.
Principle number three: Your values act as guideposts for your decisions
Every problem can be solved by more than one solution. However, not all solutions will be in alignment with your authentic self. For example, if your goal is to have lots of money, you could take up robbing banks. However, for most people this is not an option because it is out of alignment with their values. To be in integrity with who you really are and what you really want to create, you will need to consciously make choices that are guided by your values. To allow your values to guide you, you will need to determine exactly what they are. In a relationship it is not necessary that your values be exactly the same as your partner's, but it is important that your values be complementary and supportive of one another's and that you respect each other's priorities. If your goal is to love your marriage, identifying and operating within your values will guide you with integrity.
Principle number four: Ego is always what blocks love and joy
True love does not go away-ever. It just gets blocked from flowing (by ego). An active ego shows up in the need to control and in the need for approval. It materializes in relationships through nagging, sarcasm, judgment, disappointment, jealousy, possessiveness, hurt, and fear. When you dislike what you are experiencing in yourself, in your marriage, or in your life, this state of mind blocks the flow of love and joy. As you learn to transcend your ego, you can restore the flow of love in all of your relationships. Your job, if you want to restore a loving marriage, is to remove the obstacles that dam the flow of love between you and your partner.
Love Tip: You always have a choice: to honor ego or to honor love.
Principle number five: You are the common denominator in all of your relationships
You are a primary ingredient in every relationship you're in. How you handle things-what you say and what you do-enhances or destroys the quality of those relationships. If you lack a strong sense of your worth, you will find ways to sabotage your relationships. So if you want to have healthy, loving relationships with others, including your spouse, you need to start by building a healthy, loving relationship with yourself.
A big part of building a strong relationship with yourself is the discovery (or rediscovery) of your authentic self, what I refer to as your soul essence. Our souls are love; they are loving, lovable, and joyful. At the soul level we are creative, funny, honest, wise, intuitive, and spiritual. These are critical qualities for successful relationships. The more in touch you are with your soul essence, the healthier your relationships will be. The more you know yourself and love yourself, the more authentic you will be in your self-expression. The more authentically you show up, the more authentically someone can love you (because they will actually know who you are).
Principle number six: You can only change yourself, but doing so influences others
You cannot change your spouse (or your kids, boss, parents ...). You can, however, change the way you relate to your spouse, which will in turn trigger a new response from him or her. Your spouse will change in relationship to how you treat him or her. Whenever you are faced with a difficult situation, instead of pondering how your partner needs to change, ask yourself what you can do differently to change the situation.
Principle number seven: You are responsible for your experience in your relationships
It is our natural inclination-especially in relationships-to blame the other person when we are not feeling loving, loved, or joyful. However, as I've mentioned, ego is always what blocks love, and transcending the ego to restore the flow of love and joy is our personal responsibility. In fact, it is not something our partners can do for us. We have to do the work ourselves. The work may come in the form of negotiation, communication, acceptance, or forgiveness, but the job is our own. Although you cannot directly change your partner, you can change your relationship by changing the way you show up in it.
Principle number eight: Self-observation is the key to change
By observing yourself (noticing what you are doing, thinking, saying, and feeling in any given moment),you will become aware. When you are aware, you are given the golden opportunity to determine whether or not you like what you are aware of, and whether it is serving you. If you do not like what you are thinking, doing, or feeling, your awareness allows you to make a new choice-one that is in alignment with your goals and values. Choice makes you powerful. When you are powerful, you can transform your relationships rather than being a victim of them.
Part of the self-observation process is self-inquiry. When you observe an emotion that is impacting you, taking yourself through a series of questions to better understand what is triggering the emotion will help lead you to the limiting or even false belief that is causing you pain. Self-observation and self-inquiry are essential skills for understanding yourself and relating more effectively with others.
Principle number nine: Change can (only) happen in a moment
When you want to change something-your fitness level, your organizational skills, the quality of your relationship-it is overwhelming and self-defeating to try to change the entirety of the situation at once. You cannot improve your fitness from this day forward, but you can, in any given moment, change how you care for your fitness in that moment. While you cannot change the entire quality of your marriage from this day forward, you can change how you care for and handle any given moment in your marriage. Each transformed moment connects to the next moment and the next. By simply paying attention to how you are handling each individual moment, you can change the quality of the whole relationship.
Principle number ten: Relationships are a spiritual journey
Regardless of your religion, or even if you don't subscribe to any particular set of religious beliefs, the qualities generally called upon to live a spiritual life-honesty, compassion, forgiveness, service, devotion, dedication, intention, trust, unconditional love-are the very same qualities needed to have a healthy relationship. At the same time, relationships are the perfect place to develop these qualities. In fact, relationships are the only way we can practice and master these qualities, because by their very nature they are applied and experienced with someone else-whether that be God, your spouse, your friends, your family, or strangers.
Excerpted from HOW TO LOVE YOUR MARRIAGE by Eve Eschner Hogan Copyright © 2006 by Eve Hogan. Excerpted by permission.
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