“The purpose of a relationship is not to have another who might complete you, but to have another with whom you might share your completeness”
– Neal Donald Walsch
My husband, Mark and I just celebrated 33 years of marriage. We met each other when we were teenagers and have shared many of life’s ups and downs over the years. Although we’ve been together for many years, it’s been in the past year that my traditional beliefs about our relationship were turned upside down.
To be perfectly honest, I spent the first 32 years of marriage not really giving a lot of thought to my marriage other than trying to be a “good” wife and go with the natural flow of the ups and downs of any relationship.
It’s been in the past year, that my worldview about relationships has changed dramatically and it’s no coincidence that this shift happened after spending a few years getting to know myself and who I am.
As I began to ask myself “what is the purpose of my life” I also began to ask the question, “what is the purpose of my relationship?” I had never really asked that question. I guess I had bought into the traditional view of marriage and was so busy with kids, jobs, and life in general; I never paused long enough to ask the question.
Then we found ourselves in a place where our kids were grown and we were spending more time together. This was also around the time that through meditation and mindfulness, I got to know myself better. I became more aware of who I was and as I began to reconnect with that lost part of myself, I had a desire to connect with my husband on a deeper level.
So one Saturday morning over breakfast I said, “What would you think about going on a marriage retreat?” You can imagine that he wasn’t jumping up and down with excitement as he said, “Why would we want to do that since there’s nothing wrong with our marriage?” I explained that it would mean a lot to me if he would join me and that it wasn’t because there was something wrong. I had gone through a period of inner growth and wanted to also grow in terms of our relationship and our connection.
A friend of mine told me about Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt’s work and I began reading the book, Making Marriage Simple: Ten Truths for Changing the Relationship You Have into the One You Want. Harville and his wife Helen developed the Imago Theory that challenges us to think about marriage and relationships differently.
“The basic concept of Imago is that our primary relationship with our partner- can with the right tools- be a safe and sacred space. If we do the work of creating this kind of space, we not only build the relationship of our dreams but grow as individuals into a fuller, healthier, more fulfilled version of ourselves.” Everything about this as it related to my marriage resonated with me and aligned with what I had come to believe.
And although I am no marriage or relationship “expert”, as a result of my experiences, lot’s of reading and the privilege of working with many people as a mindfulness-based life coach, I have come to believe that there are 7 signs that you’re in a soul-nourishing relationship:
1. You are able to share your feelings and that part of yourself that is hard to share.
You are willing to do it even though it feels uncomfortable and may cause some discomfort in you and/or your partner. Just like personal growth is often painful, so too is relationship growth.
John Powell, in the powerful little book, Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am, wrote “If you and I can honestly tell each other who we are, that is, what we think, judge, feel, value, love, honor and esteem, hate fear, desire, hope for, believe in and are committed to, then and then only can each of us grow.”
2. You realize that to grow together you need to be able to grow apart.
This means that you need to have enough space in the relationship to grow as individuals and not lose yourself in the other person’s interests and passions. You maintain the “I” while being aware of the “we.”
This goes for our relationships with our children, our parents, and our siblings. It is so common to hear people say that they are so busy focused on other people and their needs and lives that they lose touch with themselves and don’t know who they are anymore.
3. You understand that whether you’re happy or unhappy in your relationship is never about the other person.
It is always about you. When you are unhappy in a relationship it’s always about something that you need to heal within yourself.
The root of most challenges in relationships is a lack of self-love and self-respect. When you begin to love yourself fully you will know that you either need to change yourself within the relationship or that the relationship isn’t what you need to grow and evolve into the person you were meant to be.
4. You realize that not all relationships are meant to last forever.
Relationships are meant to last as long as both people are growing and healing themselves within the relationship.
Relationships have evolved from people coming together to meet their basic needs for survival, having children and feeling secure to growing spiritually and raising your level of awareness and consciousness. Gary Zukav, who wrote The Seat of the Soul, describes a spiritual partnership as a “partnership between equals for the purpose of spiritual growth.
5. Your relationship isn’t about two half people coming together to create a whole.
It’s about 2 whole people creating opportunities and challenging each other to grow and evolve into the complete and whole individuals we were meant to be.
A book by Hal Edward Runkel, The Self-Centred Marriage: Rebuilding Your “We” by Reclaiming Your “I”, challenged many of my beliefs about marriage. It made sense to me that self-centred does not mean self- absorbed. The book explained that: “Every great marriage is a self-centred marriage, because a great marriage takes two-centred selves, working to develop themselves as individuals capable of living up to their vows and sharing of themselves for the other’s benefit, without needing the other partner to return the favor.” Makes sense to me!
6. You accept that creating a relationship that feels connected takes courage and commitment.
Some experts say that one person can change the whole relationship and while I agree with that theoretically, the change is turbo-charged when both people are on board. I had been trying to change myself within my marriage for years and one weekend at a marriage retreat that we did together, resulted in more change than we had in 33 years.
I love what John Powell said about this, “I must be able to tell you who I am before I can know who I am.” He proposes that all personal growth and healing happens through our relationships with others.
7. You understand that “if it’s hysterical, it’s historical,”
This phrase from Melody Beattie’s book, The Language of Letting Go explains that experiences that cause you to react severely are linked to historical life experiences. As soon as you notice yourself “reacting” and your buttons being pushed it’s something from your past that has triggered you. By understanding this in yourself and your partner you can take a step back and transform the experience by understanding where the reaction is coming from. It is through the pushing of our buttons that we heal. That is IF we come aware of it and have the tools to work through it together.
This poem written by Kahlil Gibran speaks to what I believe are the most important things to remember about our relationships:
“But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love;
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cups but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let
each one of you be alone,
even as the strings of a lute are alone though they
quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in
each other’s shadow.”
Allow yourself to just sit for a few moments as these words penetrate into your soul. I have a deep belief that to grow into the fullest expressions of ourselves, we must not be in the shadows of others.
I’m so grateful that Mark agreed to attend an Imago workshop, as it was a life changing experience for both of us. We learned about ourselves as individuals as well as each other and why we are the way we are. We developed an understanding of why our buttons get pushed and tools to help us grow together as a result of that. We solidified the foundation for our relationship that is based on awareness, growth and a deeper connection rather than convenience, comfort, and routine.
What qualities have you found nourish your soul in your relationship?