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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Marriage in the 21st Century: Could Cutting-Edge Spiritual Psychology Make it Viable Again?

Who isn’t familiar with the continually escalating statistics about marriages going sour? They seem to last less and less time, and families appear destined to suffer the trauma and pain of break ups and divorce. Obviously we are concerned about the effect of this on our children, but the original partners of the relationship clearly bear many painful consequences as well. And as we see the numbers rise, and watch our friends and family go through the depressingly familiar process of splitting in two, the question whether anything can be done about it makes itself heard more and more loudly.

History, Religion, Sex and Money

Historically, and particularly in the 1960’s, as society moved gradually from a patriarchal position to one that we might call slightly more egalitarian, divorce figures began to creep up as more and more women found themselves being able to get an education and have careers, or even just “jobs” outside of the home.

Along with patriarchy, organized religion suffered a blow as well, particularly in the western world, as growing numbers of people began rejecting the norms that had once held them safely within the confines of holy matrimony.

In addition, as the women’s movement gained momentum, biologically, and hence, sexually, women were further freed up from remaining with only one man with the advent of the pill during approximately the same timeframe. The double standard began declining in power, and with it, women took off on a run, intent on proving to the world that they could live as freely as men.

In the mid- to late 1970’s women also slowly began earning salaries that made it feasible for them to care for themselves and their children if need be without necessarily requiring the help of a male. (Before you send off indignant emails, please bear in mind that I am merely sketching in the broad outlines of a painting here…clearly, many women are still not in such a position, because salaries are still not balanced on the scale that lies between the genders, but for the purpose of this article, let us say that for some women it has become possible.)

Mass Media

Mass media played along as well in the two decades spanning the 70’s and 80’s, by showing us Sex and the City, rather than the home-spun down to earth sitcoms of the 50’s. In cinema Kramer vs. Kramer moved us to tears, quite removed from familiar, old standards such as High Society. Glossy magazines such as Cosmopolitan advised young women how to have orgasms in one night stands rather than how to organize a wedding reception, and books were published by the dozen with the central theme of women free from the constraints of a male-dominated society. And later, in the film When a Man Loves a Woman Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia showed us co-dependence, and the recent film Closer with Julia Roberts and Nathalie Portman made us look more closely at relationship triangles.

Finally, we were shown on a large scale that among prominent people, whether politicians, or celebrities from the world of cinema, art and high finance, women could marry and re-marry, or not marry at all and have children on their own, with one or several men, or even adopt children without the benefit of marriage.

Old Marriage – New Marriage

In a word: the old idea of marriage clearly no longer works, mainly because it no longer fits into the manner in which the world has changed and evolved, but no new ideas for marriage have emerged, at least, not any that show any real signs of working.

Gary Zukav (The Seat of the Soul), a proponent of spiritual psychology, suggests that one of the main reasons relationships, partnerships, and marriages are no longer working, is that although we try to put our new-found ideas into them, in the hopes that with these ideas, relationships will once again work, the minute we actually marry again, we fall back into our old patriarchal patterns in an almost undermining fashion, as though these patterns were inherent to the very institution of marriage. How many couples have not expressed the sentiment that their relationship was fine while they were living together, and only went down the hill when they decided to get married?

Zukav is not facetiously recommending that we do not marry, and hope that by just living together all will be well. Far from it. He is suggesting however, that the old institution of marriage is invested with some very profound patterns, and that in order to remove these patterns and put others in their place, we have to look to the very foundations of what we believe a marriage to be.

Partnership for the Purpose of Growth

Partnership for the purpose of survival in which the two parties do not necessarily see themselves as equals is a way of describing the old pattern. Partnership for the purpose of getting love and being happy is another way of describing the old pattern. The great mythologist Joseph Campbell (An Open Life) said that people think that relationships are about happiness. But they're not. They're about transformation. “It’s through the relationship that the development of each is taking place”. (The Hero’s Journey).

Gary Zukav suggests that the new pattern be partnership between equals for the purpose of spiritual growth. What this really means is that you start realizing that what is important to the well-being of your relationship is exactly the same as what is needed for your own spiritual growth. Each partner holds the pieces that the other is missing. If you are angry, suspicious, or jealous, for example, then these feelings bring up something in your partner that needs to be healed, and it is precisely that which is being mirrored in you. So you begin to see the importance of your partner’s interaction with you for your development (and vice versa).

So spiritual growth does not mean going to church or praying (although you can certainly do that, if you wish), nor does it mean that the importance of physical togetherness and contact is minimized. Quite the contrary. It enhances it. (See my article Sexual Energy). Spiritual growth does mean, however, that the common denominator of the relationship becomes the idea that both partners are in the relationship to grow (and love, and trust, and enjoy, etc., but with a continuous eye towards growth).

Eckhard Tolle (The Power of Now) puts it in slightly different terms. He says that when a relationship is not working, what was not conscious in each of the partners is being brought out into the light. He essentially means that by knowing (being consciously aware of) what is when things are difficult, the relationship becomes your “spiritual” practice, and through your knowing, you begin to react differently (i.e., consciously), and therein lies growth.

From Conflict to Transformation

Nick Duffel and Helena Lovendal (Sex, Love and the Dangers of Intimacy) and Eva Pierrakos (The Pathwork of Self-Transformation) make similar suggestions. They refer to the somewhat esoteric concept of relationship as teacher, or spiritual path which eventually leads to a process of transformation for both people. This gives the relationship a sense of purpose that differs immeasurably from the patriarchal or organized religion model. Duffel and Lovendal believe that a couple comes apart (with conflict) for a very specific purpose, so that they can build up a strong charge for the alchemical coming together again, physically, psychologically, and on all levels, as the relationship grows.

Can you do this in one day? Of course not. First you have to be willing to even look at a relationship as something more than a way to have another person so you can be happy (see my article Committed Relationships..). Then you would need to have a conversation with your partner to see what they feel about some of the ideas expressed herein. Then you can get to work. You might start by reading some of these or similar books, attending some workshops, seeing a therapist, learning how to become aware, and learning that you always have choices (see my article: Making Choices: Taking Responsibility for Our Lives).

What if you are young, have never been married, and dislike what you’ve seen out there? Your parents, your friends’ parents, you see so many other people who are in unhappy marriages or divorced. You may find that the ideas expressed here give you new insights. Marriage isn’t just to be happy, have the house, 1.85 kids, and live together happily ever after. There is a so much farther reaching purpose. Clients who come to my private practice and tell me they are not in a relationship, but are considering one, because they have met someone, only get encouragement from me. Why? Because being in a relationship is the second quickest way to grow. Being in a committed relationship is the quickest way.

Inner Life in Constant Flux

If you are in a marriage that is floundering, you might want to consider the ideas pointed out in this article. Don’t forget that your inner life is continually in flux, including the way you think about relationships. People don’t mature once, and then remain that way the rest of their lives. Likewise, they do not get married or get into a committed relationship and then maintain it exactly the way it was the day of the wedding or the commitment. Therefore, there is no reason why you can’t evolve your ideas of partnerships and look in new directions within the parameters of your current relationship along with your partner. Imagine getting a new set of stronger contact lenses or glasses. Imagine how they help you see the world more sharply, more clearly. So too, can you get another perspective on the real purpose of your marriage by considering the material in this article. The deep intrinsic satisfaction and happiness that come from psychological, emotional, and spiritual growth have few parallels.

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