Marriage can be both the greatest challenge and the biggest opportunity we have for healing. No relationship or situation demands more of us. Without a fierce practice of awareness we can be doomed to years of resentment or even divorce. Staying awake inside every interaction with my spouse is the practice I’ve committed to, and it’s what might save your relationship too.
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I credit the longevity of my marriage to many things but the most important is awareness. Without it, nothing else matters. Not love, not trust, not passion, not kids…not anything survives without you being awake for it.
The intelligent, honest, hard-working, loving man I married chose a woman who needed to wake up in a big way. Over the last twenty five years we’ve managed to juggle the challenges, work through the disappointments and heal the pain of what each of us brought to the table by continuing to stay awake and choose love.
Staying awake in a relationship might be the most intensely difficult thing you ever do. Why? In my case it’s old baggage related to men and love. I’ve worked hard to unwind and unravel the bits of complex ties, triggers, and pain. He stands by and watches while I sort it out, some days awake, and some asleep.
I dream of what we could have if the two of us fought to stay awake and journeyed together on the path that I chose years ago. Some days I drag him down that path and see if he minds the mud stains.
Lately I’ve wondered what holds us and others who have come unraveled, together. It’s easy to remember when I look at our kids, our home, and the bond we’ve formed with love and perseverance. But we’re opposites, mostly repelling not attracting and I wonder how we ever met in the first place. What good plan of The Universe would include putting two people with such obvious and opposite ideas about life together?
Wondering, analyzing, wishing and hoping doesn’t do me any good and I know as soon as my mind wanders into those waters I’m lost. I fight to stay here, now, in this moment when he’s at work and I’m driving my son to baseball. What’s here now isn’t all that stuff in my head. The only place we can maneuver well from, the place we have the best chance in, is the now.
But even the most disciplined practice fails me sometimes and before I know it I’m defending myself and instigating an hours-long argument that leaves us both drained and resentful. “Not again!” I think, suffocating in thoughts about how many times we’ve re-hashed the same point over the years.
I hear Dr. Phil in my head, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” I want to be happy. I already know I’m right. (smirk) I try to find a mix of vulnerable and warrior that I can live with and still be married. I’m not great at finding that magic combination. I’m more warrior. The wall I’ve built is strong. The door labeled Compromise is heavy and hard for me to open.
Right in the middle of this is opportunity for magic. I know what’s happening, I’m listening to the voices in my head. I’m observing myself, feeling the way my body tightens in response to attack, and totally aware of my defensive maneuvers. Because I’m awake and aware inside of it, I get to choose what I say or do.
Here’s where my psychology 101 training helps. The voice says, “Mirror what he says and say how you feel.” I try. Sometimes it works. I remember it’s not about winning. He says, “Yes, that’s how I feel,” and something sparkles inside of me – hope?
We do this dance in cycles. Air our complaints, wait for the other to take responsibility and change, then get really upset when that doesn’t happen. “Stay awake,” I tell myself. “Honey, here we are again, caught in this cycle of arguments. I wonder how we can do this differently. I love you. You matter to me. I realize sometimes I make poor decisions. You are probably right about this. How can we move on?”
“Who was that?” I think, not recognizing my own voice. That’s the woman who loves this man, who cares about their future together and who is willing to risk feeling the pain of vulnerability in hopes for more joy and love. That’s the warrior. Inside of that fierce awareness is where different choices about how to think, believe and act can be made.
Once more I choose to wake up, be brave, heal my issues and pick love.
Here are 4 steps to help you stay awake in your relationships and keep them healthy and happy:
- Practice awareness – it’s the key to life and healing. Every single moment, even the really, really difficult ones is an opportunity for the practice. Feel and respond from the sensations in you body, rather than the thoughts in your head.
- Be brave – you have to have courage to feel vulnerable and not have to be right all the time. In a loving, healthy relationship there should be room for vulnerability without feeling like you’ll be eaten alive.
- Realize you have baggage – everyone has it. The person in front of you is dealing with theirs while you are dealing with yours. It’s complicated. Be easy on yourself and them. Use your awareness to point this out when things get sticky. Be willing to work on healing your own issues.
- Choose love – whenever things are really out of hand, choose love. Stop, breathe. Get out of your head and take a step back and observe. Watch yourself like a movie. Through this awareness you will be able to choose a better way to think, believe, act and speak. Choose love, every time. It’s what you would want the other person to do for you.