Doing this one thing will make your marriage even better.
One of the misnomers about marriage is that your spouse or the relationship itself will complete you in some way. When we look to something outside ourselves to fill something missing within us, we hand our power over and forgo our responsibility to create our own experience, love ourselves, and make ourselves whole.
One powerful way to improve your marriage is to shift the mindset from your spouse and marriage being the solution to your “problem,” to marriage being the path toward loving yourself.
It is a basic shift from seeing your spouse as your hero, which implies you need to be rescued, to instead seeing them as your ally.
Why would we want to make this shift to conscious leadership?
It feels good to feel filled up by another person, particularly our spouse, and it sure is easier to think that they are the solution to all of our problems — rather than us needing to do some work of our own and learn to love ourselves. Doing so will help save your marriage.
Looking outside of ourselves is futile, because your spouse and your relationship don’t actually have the power to fill your gaps.
They certainly can help alleviate our angst at times, but it is not their job to “fix” us.
Putting that kind of pressure on a spouse can strain the relationship and lead to resentment when they do not accomplish the impossible task of filling our holes or healing our wounds. Looking to our spouse as a hero forces them to take more responsibility than is theirs. Plus, it allows us to shirk our own responsibility for how we think, feel and behave.
Doing so creates an endless cycle of expectation and dissatisfaction.
Why would we choose to perpetuate that kind of painful experience?
One reason is that it is familiar and comfortable and probably satisfies some expectation we have about marriage and happiness in general, like: Marriage is hard, I have to compromise in order to be happy; or, the right person/relationship can make me happy; and so on.
The truth is that we are 100 percent responsible for our own experience of happiness.
And when we make our spouse responsible, we make ourselves powerless AND fail to see the beauty and full gift of our partner, because we are seeing through the filter of hero. When we shackle them with that role, we give them no room to fully feel and express in our presence, because they have to make sure we are happy rather than make sure they are authentic.
Not only do we not see our spouse in this dynamic, we also do not see ourselves and how we are creating our own unhappiness.
In his book, The Way To Love, Anthony DeMello presents the case for why we would want to shift this paradigm. He explains that love really “means to see a person, a thing, a situation, as it really is and not as you imagine it to be, and to give it the response it deserves … And what prevents you from seeing? Your concepts, your categories, your prejudices and projections, your needs and attachments, the labels you have drawn from your conditioning and from past experiences.”
DeMello makes a case for dropping the filter, in order to see our spouse as they are in each moment and to identify how we limit ourselves with predisposed beliefs, describing it as an “arduous thing.” While it is true that reshaping your beliefs about love and marriage takes intention and commitment, what he doesn’t highlight is how fun and exciting this process can be.
I often hear the complaint from couples that they are in a rut, that they are bored because their spouse is boring and always the same. But that is only if we are wearing our special filter glasses of “you need to be my hero and be exciting so I can feel excited.”
What if, rather than seeing our spouse as we have always seen them, we instead looked for something new and different in our spouse? What if we really listened to what they were saying in the present moment, rather than what we think they are saying? If we do this, we get to see something new in them and something new (or old that we can make new) in ourselves, too.
The best way to drop the filter and shift into seeing clearly is through conscious listening.
Begin by noticing the times when you interpret what your spouse is saying rather than listening to the actual words. It is important to recognize that when you interpret, you are projecting your own beliefs and stories onto them; you are believing your internal thoughts, and then reacting to your spouse as if they are the cause of how you feel in response to that thought.
The moment you notice that you are interpreting, reacting or seeing yourself at the effect of your spouse’s words, just stop. Take a few connected breaths — breathing in for 4-5 counts and then out for 4-5 counts. This slows down your reactive limbic system and brings you back to the present moment.
Once you have interrupted your reactivity, give yourself some loving compassion for being reactive. It is what we humans do.
Then, take responsibility by sharing what you noticed with your spouse and ask for clarification.
It might sound like this:
- Responsibility: “When I heard you say that Brenda looks great, I made up the story that you meant I don’t look great and that you wished I dressed more like her.”
- Clarification: “Is that what you meant?”
- Listening: Allow your spouse the chance to respond and clarify what he meant, while you actively listen — without applying judgment.
Likely, you will see someone totally different standing in front of you when you look at your spouse. They might be amused, surprised or even sad.
For instance, his response could be, “Actually, I was thinking that I am glad she looks so good because she had looked so stressed and worn out when her mom was sick, and I was glad not to feel worried anymore.”
The guy who thinks that is much more attractive than the one who wishes you were different. Just look at what you would have missed if you decided your story was true, without asking for clarification!
Follow up this process with a moment of self-reflection. What was I thinking about myself or my husband or Brenda that led me to hear his words as having anything to do with me? Do I have a pattern of thinking this way? How do I show up as a listener such that I didn’t even know he was worried about Brenda?
The possible questions are infinite and an incredible opportunity to learn how you make yourself unhappy and block yourself from seeing your spouse.
In fact, you can even choose to see EVERYTHING your spouse says and does as an invitation to examine your own reactivity. In this way, your spouse becomes your infinite ally.
Gary Zukav, author of Spiritual Partnership, describes this type of relationship as a spiritual partnership. He explains, “Spiritual partners are interested in one another more than the common objectives. The goal they share is spiritual growth, and each knows that he or she must reach it himself or herself … Spiritual partners journey into their deepest fears — their experiences of powerlessness — with the intention to heal completely.“
In this type of dynamic, we learn to see our spouse as our ally.
We stop assuming that they are the cause of our discomfort, take responsibility for what we are thinking, and become open to our own growth. When we open to our own growth, we also become more open to the growth of our spouses.
We stop trying to control them in order for us to feel better, thereby allowing them to do their own work on their thoughts and whatever pain they are creating for themselves.
What an exciting and connection-building experience, to join as allies in the journey to becoming the fullest expression of ourselves! When we stop holding our spouse hostage as our hero, we strengthen our relationship, so that empowerment and freedom can abound for us both.
By practicing conscious listening with your spouse, you two can become stronger spiritual partners — growing yourselves and improving your relationship, in the process.
This post was originally posted on YourTango.com