My wife and I are celebrating our 29th wedding anniversary this year. We were high school sweethearts and dated for several years before marrying in our early twenties, so essentially we have shared our lives since adolescence. That time has been filled with incredible joy, adventure, beautiful children, mistakes, crisis, pride and elation.
When I reflect on how we’ve managed to stay together during these ups and downs I think of the hardest times we’ve experienced together and my first thought was love, it was love that held us together. But what exactly is that?
In the middle of our marriage crisis a decade ago our relationship didn’t ‘feel’ loving, I wasn’t ‘acting’ loving or really doing anything demonstrably that would fit a greeting card definition of love. We said words we didn’t mean and came to regret, I blamed her and myself and circumstances, I sacrificed my integrity in order to avoid conflict. So how did we move through that?
In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey’s mother describes intimate relationship as a union with someone who “will help you find the answers.” I always have known this about Katrina, that she has incredible gifts to point me toward finding new meanings not only in our lives together, but for my life as a man. And ultimately, she just offered me a choice to begin to see in myself what she sees in me, and even in our darkest moments together I have been able to trust her there, there at that raw moment of doubt, of shame or guilt. I could trust her there beyond my fears of loss, of embarrassment, or loneliness, and while not easy, this touched on my greatest personal dilemma of having faith in this world, and my purpose on the planet.
And in those moments I knew I wanted to do the same for her, to reflect back her magnitude and beauty and celebrate her unique power and infinitely huge heart. She reminds me who I am under all my defenses and masks. And for me to surrender those timeworn defenses and to listen even for a moment takes great trust and faith, and that is what she teaches me, what I am trying to teach myself: that it’s ok to slow down and look deeply inside my own emotional architecture to see who is there, to take a sobering look at the extent to which I truly value myself.
That process required real openness and vulnerability, not my strong suits! So, we got help – someone outside our respective systems of influence from whom we could get some new information, in our case individual group therapy.
We are both therapists now but we were not then. We had to communicate from those raw places of fear, of loneliness, of desperation. We wanted peace more than to be right, we trusted in a deep knowing that there is nothing to lose in being vulnerable. Love is the act of faith that lets our partner into that deep place of longing in us; love is the invitation to know and to be known. She helps me find the answers.
Nope, not easy; it’s still a struggle and will never be easy! But, you know, it’s getting easier, and that ease builds on itself too, and feels like returning by degrees to a safe haven, returning home to that place, at once remote, but if we choose to stop for a moment and listen, sings undying in the heart.