In our marriage ceremony we often use the term “spirit” to refer to the essence or heart of the bride and groom and to the core of their relationship. We talk about the “particular personality and spirit” that each person brings to the marriage. We remind them that the rings they are about to exchange represent “the endless spiritual love “ that links them as a couple. These words sound nice and true in the wedding ceremony, but what do they mean in the actual, everyday life of a marriage? How do you balance individuality, coupleship , and growth in a relationship?
The model that most marriages followed through the 1970s (and perhaps for some until very recently) was one of imbalance in which the wife was in charge at home while the husband worked outside the home and was in charge of the finances. Convention dictated a co-dependency based on unequal power, unspoken feelings, and unresolved conflict. You followed what had been done in the past, with no more wisdom about how to nurture a marriage than your parents possessed. That world has passed. While higher divorce rates may have resulted, and lamented by many commentators, divorce also reflected a more honest and forthright response to the effort required to sustain a loving and creative coupleship. Co-commitment has become the key to a successful relationship. The conscious marriage is full of honesty, trust, and harmony. How do these qualities sustain our earnest commitment to each other in everyday life?
A good marriage is an open marriage , one in which honesty with oneself and with one’s partner is paramount. Honesty builds trust; trust ensures harmony. But how does a couple foster a spirit of honesty from the beginning of their relationship? Many of us have been hurt in previous relationships and may be reluctant to open up too soon in a new one. Internet contacts have become an increasingly common way of starting a romantic connection. It is easier to “protect your past” initially on e-mail or text messages than in face-to-face contact. But sooner or later, if the positive feelings are there, a meeting is scheduled and you can discern whether the initial impressions hold up. Being comfortable with someone and enjoying their company encourages us to “open up” to that person.
Being honest with our own feelings, and being confident sharing these feelings with our intended mate, are the foundation of a healthy relationship. It is not healthy to avoid “touchy topics” that might upset your partner, because by remaining unexplored they remain unresolved and subject to conflict the first time they are mentioned. Every couple has disagreements from time to time, but if the issues have been discussed before there are fewer surprises than if the issues have been allowed to fester unexamined. This is more likely to lead to expressions of sorrow, fear, or anger which can make a serious emotional dent in the relationship.
Honesty fosters trust by encouraging confidence that you are appreciated, you are respected, and that you will be heard in this relationship. Then you can approach your partner with such questions as: “Tell me more about this concern you have,” or “What’s the feeling you have about this issue?” Your ability to discuss the issue at length will go a long way to reducing potential conflict. Your ability “to speak and to listen”, as we introduce in our vow exchange during the marriage ceremony is critical to maintaining a spirit of coupleship. Trust means an implicit respect for the feelings of one’s partner. An open marriage is one in which each partner is encouraged to express their thought, feelings, and opinions without recrimination or with-held love. A spirit of coupleship fosters unconditional love without resentment, without threat, and without withdrawal. Both partners face an issue that they are convinced can be resolved. Egos give way to togetherness; judgment gives way to understanding; and anger gives way to acceptance. In the great emotional triad of “fight, flee, or forgive”, only the latter can function in a long-term relationship.
Harmony in such a relationship, therefore, comes from the supportive spirit of each partner. By allowing each other to become whole, complete, and growing individuals, we become fully responsible for the spirit of coupleship in which both people feel free to express their creativity in the relationship and their joy in the partnership.