At some point, life throws down the gauntlet and forces us to take up the challenge: we must begin to unravel the subconscious beliefs and needs that have led to the relationships we have. That's the moment we also wonder whether all that falling in love and getting hurt was ”worth it”. The answer is yes.
Without experience, there can be no understanding of relationships in general and our own way of being in them in particular. Without experience, there is none of the practice that is necessary to become a whole human being and a good spouse, the kind who cares without losing him- or herself in the process.
I believe that the root cause of many divorces is the unconscious wish to find a new partner who will better fulfil expectations we are barely aware of. Equally, many remain in unhappy marriages because they do not believe themselves capable of reaching even the present level of satisfaction without a partner – a sort of “better the devil you know” approach.
Perhaps for women and men the causes can be a bit different: men are often more romantic, and will stay in unhappy marriages for longer. Men are supposed to “carry responsibility”, and some never expected anything very sublime from marriage anyway, just a happy home to come to. When a woman begins to look at the possibility of a divorce from the corner of her eye, she often does so because she is hoping to find a better anchor, someone whose dreams and wishes are better aligned with hers, and who will take over the responsibility for making them true. We live in a society which has many layers to it: women have hard-won independence, but in our relationships with our parents, children and lovers we are sometimes still bound by old dreams.
Having a career and children of one’s own in no way diminishes these patterns of thought – on the contrary: we believe we are modern, independent people steering the ships of our lives very competently. We are rather good at convincing ourselves that our expectations and beliefs are healthy even when they are not. Movies, literature and music don’t help either: “love conquers all”, “I cannot live without you, I need you”, “my life is worth nothing without you”, “I only found happiness when I met you”. At the end of the day, there is no way any one of us can, in a healthy way, take over responsibility for another person’s fulfilment.
Unnoticed, we give over responsibility for our own emotional responses, and particularly our happiness, to our spouses. At worst, this leads to a folie à deux, where both spouses have over-developed certain, accepted parts of their personalities, and other parts remain hidden and disparaged.
The trouble is that we take these expectations and ways of behaving into our new lives. We often imagine that being single is an exciting, lonely, temporary state of affairs, a sort of gap year, before the actual, happily-ever-after spouse shows up, and we can get back to the real business of living, with the majority of responsibility for making us happy and making our dreams come true heaved on the spouse’s shoulders again.
Fulfilment in this visible world, and the dreams we hold for our lives are certainly built with other people, but they are not dependent on the proverbial ”suitable man” of, say, wealth, connections and gentle understanding, or the “girl of our dreams” of beauty, lightness of heart and domestic talents.
What we slowly understand is that the path of spiritual liberation begins at home: how aware we are of our emotions, how great a weight we place on those shifting things, and what role we give them in our lives. We also must own up to the great, pulsating wounds inside us, think over who we expect to heal them, at what rate, and at what price. Our emotions are our own volatile treasure. It is part of the art of living to take ownership of all of them, savour them, and modulate them.
Taking our own dreams and turning them into plans is an exhilarating journey, the beginning of self-generated happiness. And without the ability to provide for ourselves our daily bread, both literally and figuratively, we leave ourselves in a very vulnerable position. If we are constantly dependent on the other partner, it brings into the relationship an imbalance in power, and the very base begins to tilt.
Sometimes we really need to live alone for extended periods of time. Relationships are the real test of whether we have found ourselves or not. If we have a lot of work to do, then we are likely to pick a spouse who also has a lot of work to do. This makes the work more difficult for both, and brings a lot of baggage into the relationship as well. Self-knowledge is the prerequisite of a happy relationship, and sometimes that is better developed in the privacy of being single. If we aren't aware of our size and capacities, we may well stunt ourselves and the other person automatically.
Getting divorced in order to meet a better match is unlikely to work out. Getting divorced in order to learn to stand on your own two feet might. In the words of Shakti Gawain: “Just treat yourself exactly the way you would want to be treated by a man!” Don’t wait, don’t imagine that you need a relationship to build the route to your dreams – they are your dreams, after all.
In our secular society, much of our God-relationship has been shifted into the love relationship. We expect another human being to nurture us and bring us blessings, make it all well again. In my case, self-understanding grew as my eyes began to turn more and more towards the unseen, the holy in our lives. The more I was aware of the greater music of the universe inside and around us, the more room there was in my visible life for emotions, for dreams, for stamina, for fulfilment.
It is a cyclical process: as we gradually begin to extend to ourselves, to our histories and to the people close to us, the love and acceptance that we have gained through awareness of the Spirit, the presence of the Spirit, too, is fortified in our lives. Searching for that awareness will shape everything: what we look for and appreciate in others, what we will no longer sacrifice in ourselves in order to find and keep a spouse, what instead we will put our efforts into, so that we may grow ever more into ourselves.
When two people attempt to become conscious together, the state of the world is vastly improved. The efforts of two complementary persons are directed towards the good of others, towards a better society, a greater wellbeing. Whatever form it takes, it will take naturally, because with a freeing of the will the spirit is self-directed to actions that improve and cleanse and heal. There is more energy available, since it is no longer directed to roundabout attempts at filling the inner void – food, sex, drink, shopping, emotional manipulation.
Once the weight of expectations has been taken from the shoulders of those who share our lives, and placed squarely on our own, with eyes turned to the true Master Architect for help and strength in carrying it, our relationships can really blossom, help both partners to grow and go on adventures together. What better way to live than share, dream, build together, give of your mutual bounty to others, and explore the nether regions of the mind and heart too, together? Perhaps we cannot thoroughly know ourselves and our spouses, but we can sense how we all are One.
For more on the subject of the links between spiritual growth and relationships, see On Marriage Island.
Couples balance each other: we are drawn to people who are our matches – in Finnish there is a saying: the box will find its lid. The central tenet of Dr. Hendrix is that we fall in love with people who are similarly wounded in childhood, but have developed a coping mechanism opposite to our own. When we heal ourselves, we lessen the chances of falling in love with someone who can damage us further – we pick ”lids” who are healthier – and thus better equipped to join us in our quest for a more alive life. There can be no better guide to join us in our search for fulfilment and more harmonious relationships: Keeping the Love You Find; A Guide for Singles and Getting the Love You Want; A Guide for Couples