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Purpose of Marriage
The Spiritual Relationship Versus
the Ego-Based Relationship
True Love and Its Mysterious Ways
Marriage has served many different purposes throughout recorded history, ranging from procreation, companionship, convenience, status, need, and sometimes love. Yet, at the present time in America, I think we can all agree that our system of marriage has largely failed based on the simple fact that half of our marriages end in divorce and a significant percentage of those remaining together are not very happyómany being quite miserable. This fact is an unfortunate but very true testament to something not working. And if something is not working, especially to such a large degree, it seems only logical that we should examine what we are doing wrong. Is it not true that to persist in doing something that has been proven not to work while expecting a different outcome is a form of insanity? How could so many of us behave so insanely when it comes to creating relationships and choosing mates for marriage?
And even more distressing for me as a psychotherapist devoted to helping couples solve their problems and find peace and happiness in their relationships is the fact that many couples who are having difficulty and who genuinely want help are more often than not dissatisfied with the marriage counseling or couplesí therapy they receive. In fact, many ouples have reported that their marriages are much worse following their marriage counseling. How could that be so? What is not working in our marriages and what is not working in couples counseling?
Several studies actually show that only 30ñ35 percent of people in traditional marriage counseling find it helpful in the long run, in contrast to 70ñ85 percent of people who engage in individual therapy. Why the difference? In individual therapy, people go seeking help for themselves and are usually highly motivated to examine their own lives and psyches to identify the sources of their suffering with a desire to change and grow. On the other hand, those seeking marriage counseling most often see their partners as the cause of their unhappiness. They hope that the therapy or therapist will fix their partner, and make him or her into more of who they want them to be so they can be happy. And frequently, the marriage counselor will unwittingly collude in the process of getting one partner to agree to make changes for the other, which only adds to the personís sense of powerlessness to make a difference in himself or herself.
After many years working as a psychologist with men, women, and couples, I began to realize that a solution to a relationship problem that is based on getting the other person to change his or her behavior would only last a short time, and often add to the original problem. Why? Because asking or demanding one person in a couple to change usually means that the person demanding change is both shirking their part in the problems and blaming the other for their unhappiness. Again and again in my practice, I would observe how when one person would try to get the other to change, the asker was most often not seeing how he or she was contributing to the problem. And by shifting this responsibility from the self to the other person, they unwittingly reinforced an insidious cycle of blame that prevented true healing.
Sir Gawain and Ragnelló
A True Love Story
I am very fond of the stories of King Arthur and his knights, and one of my favorites is about Sir Gawain, a knight of the Round Table. In his story, Sir Gawain agrees to marry Ragnellóa grotesquely ugly womanóin exchange for information that will spare King Arthurís life. Instead of any sense of celebration, his wedding day brought the town a great sense of mourning because King Arthurís handsome and gallant knight was being married to a monstrous hag. On his wedding night, Sir Gawain waited in bed while Ragnell prepared herself for their first night together. When the door opened, Ragnell lay down beside him and said, ìYou have kept your promise and much more. You have never shown me pity nor revulsion. All I will ask of you is one kiss.î
Gawain immediately leaned over and kissed her, closing his eyes. When he opened them, he discovered he was lying beside a beautiful woman. Startled, he leapt from bed and asked, ìWho are you? And where is my wife? Is this some kind of sorcery?î ìGawain, I am your wife, Ragnell. It is time to tell you my story.î And so she began her tale about how her stepbrother, Sir Gromer, had hated her because of her beauty and because she did not fear him or follow his commands. In his jealousy and resentment, Gromer went to his motheróan evil sorceressówho turned Ragnell into one of the ugliest women ever.
Ragnell then paused and said to Gawain, ìThere is a second part of the curse I must share with you. Since you have treated me with love and not resentment or pity, I am allowed to give you a choice. I can be a beautiful woman by day, so that all may admire me and consider you a lucky man, but I would become once more the ugly Ragnell by night, when we lie with each other. Or else I could be the ugly Ragnell by day, only to once again become the beautiful woman you see before you at night. Which would you prefer?î
Without hesitation, Gawain answered her. ìThis should not be my choice but yours. You must choose for yourself. I will accept either decision as long as it is your will.î
With his response the rest of the curse was lifted, and Ragnell could now be beautiful both day and night. Sir Gawainís love was not concerned with his personal needs; he saw beyond them and was concerned only with his partnerís happiness and well-being. His desire to empower her is what healed each of them and brought them both real joy.
This story captures the essence of what I call Empowering Love, the ability to love unconditionally, which forms the basis of the spiritual marriage or relationship. But we often lose sight of this way of viewing love, and believe that love is not inside of us, but outside of us, separate. This is much like we think of Godóthat flat-earth medieval sky God who is far removed from our lives here on Earth. When we think of love (or ìGodî as the word for pure love) as separate from us, we create a never-ceasing need to seek love outside of ourselves. This is indeed what we are all searching forówe wish to know we are loved, approved ofóand yet we so often deny it, reject it, push love awayówhich ironically keeps us in a state of seeking love. Is this not the main motivation for our relationships? A quest to find love, secure it, and thereby ensure our happiness? But how do we avoid the temptations of the ego and instead create a relationship based on unconditional, empowering love? Some of our problems begin when we ìfall in love.î
The Falling-in-Love Syndrome
The kind of love that characterizes what we feel when we fall in love is not Empowering Love; itís not unconditional; indeed, it is based failingly on need and powerlessness. Just think of the familiar colloquial phrases to describe this feeling of falling in love: ìFalling head over heelsî; ìbeing swept awayî; ìIím crazy about you.î All of them indicate a state of ungroundedness, as if a force has taken us away from our sanity. And a marriage that begins with our need for the other personís love is doomed to fail so long as it stays on that track. It seems that much of this ìloveî is what Eric Fromm, in his classic work The Art of Loving, called immature love. Immature love says, ìI love you because I need you,î while mature love says: ìI need you because I love you.î He goes further and gives a more detailed definition of this kind of mature love: ìMature love is a state of productiveness which implies care, respect, responsibility, and knowledge. . . . It is an active striving for the growth and happiness of the loved person, rooted in oneís own capacity to love.î His definition says nothing about barter, conditions, seeking, or expectations, but focuses solely on caring for the other person.
When need is dominant, we are ultimately weakenedówe see ourselves as dependent on other people as the source of love we need, and anytime others do not meet our needs in the time, place, or manner we desire, we are set up for disappointment and suffering. At this point we often try to seduce, cajole, manipulate, control, attack, or even kill that person. Hence the murders in families and between lovers.
A marriage that is based on the belief that love is a commodity that can be given and received cannot make people happy. By believing that love exists outside of ourselves, we think that other people hold the power of giving and withholding the love we need, and thus we experience ourselves as at their mercy. And when one relationship after another proves unsatisfactory, we still believe that the only solution is to fall in love with someone else. And our suffering continues. Sarah, for example, was unhappy in her marriage, and it was quite clear to her that her husband, David, was the cause. She told me that he did not listen to her, that he did not communicate with her, that he was frequently critical, and that they had not made love in over two years. In addition to his hourís commute to his job in New Jersey, he worked late into the night at home. Often their only contact would be a little hello kiss when he walked through the door on his way upstairs to his home office. Sarah craved nurturing and complained that sheíd married a man who was just not a nurturing person. Not only did she feel depressed and in fear that her marriage might not work out, but she was also plagued with a plethora of physical symptoms that were very debilitating.
Sarah, like many of us, believed that the cause of her unhappiness was that she had married the wrong person, someone who could not meet her needs. It probably comes as no surprise that David held an almost identical perspective. Each was certain their unhappiness (and possible happiness) depended upon the behavior of the other person, and each was convinced that the other was at fault! If only David became more attentive and less critical of her, Sarah would be happy and the marriage could be saved. David felt similarly: If only Sarah werenít so needy and became more independent, then he wouldnít feel so suffocated and might want to spend more time together as a couple. They were in a vicious cycle, each reacting to the otherís behavior as well as their own thoughts about the other person. Does this situation seem familiar to you? Do you believe that your happiness always seems contingent upon someone elseís behavior, thinking that if only they would do what we expected of them, then we would be happy? The person we blame for causing our unhappiness could be our mate, parent, or child. But it could also be a boss, an employee, an obnoxious store clerk, or even a rude and thoughtless driveróin fact, our happiness most often seems dependent on everyone we interact with on any given day. ìIf only my husband would listen to me . . .î, ìIf only my wife were more loving . . .î, ìIf only my boss was more helpful . . .î, ìIf only my kids would do what I ask them to do . . .î, ìIf only my friend wouldnít make promises that she canít keep, then I would be happy.î
When weíre unhappy, we usually see others as either doing something hurtful to us or withholding something desirable from us. In essence, we experience ourselves as at the effect of others, not in charge of our own reactions and moods; and we also tend to blame others for our unhappiness. But people rarely do what we expect them to do; in fact, their complaint is often the same of usóif only we did what they expected us to do, then they could be happy, and then they would make us happy as well. And so when we decide that our partner will never wise up, we often exchange that person for another, and the cycle repeats. Why does it seem so impossible to have happy relationships?
—from Mindful Loving: The New Physics of Love by Henry Grayson, Copyright © 2003 by Henry Grayson, Published by Gotham Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.
Posted January 5, 2011
This book really makes you think and increases your awareness of every interaction you have with people. This is a refreshing book that is a wonderful tool to use on your journey to enlightenment.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
As a professional psychotherapist, I have been looking for avenues to offer clients to attain deeper levels of self appreciation and self responsibility which will result in easier, more loving and more spiritual relationships. I like that this is a resource that general readers with a curiosity and motivation to break out of painful, conflictual relationship patterns, can use independently or with the guidance of a professional. As well as, easy-to-follow theoretical concepts, it includes exercises for day-to-day practice.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 6, 2006
I checked this book out at my local library and now I own it. This book has been so helpful with my relationships!! This book made me see things in a completely new light. I have been on a spiritual journey for quite some time, meditating, chakras, etc. This book just put everything else into perspective. It helped me be more understanding, unconditional, less judgemental, and more loving. If you are in a troubled relationship, want more spiritual advice, or need another viewpoint buy this book. You will not be disappointed.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 5, 2004
I am a divorcee who is presently working on a new relationship. I recently picked up this book and finally began understanding why I had such difficulties in my former marriage and how I can change myself to develop a deeper meaningful relationship with my partner. Until reading this book, I only saw what was on the surface and was blind to all of the hidden feelings, insecurities and intentions that we both had. After reading this book as well as another really fantastic book called 'The Ever-Transcending Spirit' by Toru Sato, I finally am beginning to see these things. They are both terrific books! I am extremely thankful to these authors who have helped me see myself and the world so much clearer than before. I will try to use this new knowledge to grow together with my new partner in a positive way.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 28, 2011
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