Linda: When I got married, I was young, weak, wimpy, unconscious, and inexperienced. I had no idea what I was getting into and was filled with unrealistic fantasies. I had swallowed Hollywood’s romantic myths, whole. Over time, my life experience helped me to awaken from this trance. It wasn’t always fun or easy. Myths do die hard, but eventually, I wised up. In the early seventies, I remember seeing a life-sized poster of Swami Satchidananda in a loincloth, crouched down on a surfboard. The caption read, “You can’t stop the waves from coming, but you can learn to surf.” Marriage, I learned, is like that. Even when you are a skilled surfer, you still get knocked around by the waves. The challenges just keep coming. I got tossed around plenty while I was learning. Everyone does. Eventually it got easier, especially when I realized that marriage can be a path, a practice for becoming a stronger, more whole person. Then the questions became: “What am I supposed to be learning here? How can I develop myself more fully? What are the gifts that I can give?”
One of the things that it took me a while to learn was that focusing on what Charlie was doing and trying to change him was not a good strategy to bring fulfillment into my life. It was one of those habits that I had learned as a kid that really wasn’t serving either of us. As I became more able to get my attention off of Charlie and onto myself, I began to experience a greater return on my investment of energy output. Rather than trying to influence Charlie into taking better care of me, I focused more on doing that myself. It was a much more efficient way of doing things, like taking out the middleman.
In addition, it had the effect of helping me to develop in ways that I really wanted to. I grew in courage, self-discipline, honesty, patience, self-trust, forgiveness, and compassion. The marriage served up lots of growth opportunities. I experienced anxiety about money, conflict over child-rearing concerns, loneliness that resulted from physical or emotional separation, anger over feeling unappreciated, disappointed expectations (too many to list), and frustration about not having enough time for all the pieces of my life. The acceptance of what my marriage has handed me as grist for the mill, has powerfully catalyzed my growth in becoming a more conscious, and loving person.
In addressing the Explorer Club, the organization that funded his first unsuccessful trip to the summit of Mt. Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary turned to a projected photo of the mountain, shook his fist, and shouted, “You can’t get any bigger, but I can.” As everyone knows, Hillary eventually went back and conquered that mountain. He got bigger. For him, that meant developing, to a greater degree, the qualities that would be necessary to meet the challenge of Everest. Marriage invites us to do the same. It challenges us to get bigger. Marriage may not always provide us with the partner of our dreams; but if we open fully to what it calls forth from us, we can become the partner of our dreams.
We’ve all known couples that have been married for years, but haven’t seemed to learn much about life and loving. They may still be closed, fearful, resentful, or negative. These marriages may endure, but they fail to take advantage of life’s teachable moments. All they have to show for their marriage is the time they have logged together. Other couples have wisdom far beyond their years. They’ve used the challenges of their individual lives, as well as those served up by the marriage, as opportunities to learn and grow. Anyone, at any time, can choose to accept the challenges that continually present themselves, rather than avoid them. In accepting them there can be a bonanza of benefits including compassion, wisdom, and love mature.