Susan Dixon is a co-director of Omega Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the distribution of transformational writings. She lives in Denver and is the editor of Denver Magazine and Denver Business. This article is excerpted from Choice magazine.
WHEN ALL IS SAID and done, a lot of people get married for no reason at all.
Of course that’s not what they’d say if you asked them. They’d say, "Well, we’ve been seeing each other for a long time, and it just seems silly not to." Or they might tell you they love each other so much that they can’t bear being apart.
But when you really get down to it, most people don’t have the foggiest notion of what they are doing when they enter the state of holy matrimony. I know I didn’t.
I remember that day in June – a year after high school graduation – when I stood in front of God and all my friends and said, "I do."
"I do" what? Take this man as my lawfully wedded husband? Promise to love and obey? What does that mean?
To me, a bride of the 50s, it meant "social" security. When all your friends are getting married, furnishing homes and having babies, it’s easy to believe that marriage is a natural stage of life, something that just happens, like puberty and pimples, wrinkles and grey hair.
So there I stood in my beautiful white gown saying "I do" without the slightest notion of what I was doing. It took nearly 25 years and a divorce before I began to understand something I should have known before that ceremony ever took place.
When two people come together in marriage they are celebrating the birth of a new creation. This relationship, born of the two of them, is just as vital and important as any child they may later conceive. And even if procreation is neither the result nor the purpose of their union, the joining is still an act of creation. Not only is there "he" and "she," but there is something else, a unique new form which is the combination of both: "he/she."
It is this form – this thing we call "our marriage" or "our relationship" – that all too often suffers from neglect. Whether we know it or not, the relationship – this joint creation sanctified in the exchange of wedding vows – often is forced to play second fiddle to the needs of "he" or "she." And when that happens, it’s easy to see why this shining thing we have created simply withers and dies.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PURPOSE
In the quarter century that has passed since I naively repeated my wedding vows, I have become more and more aware that relationships die from lack of purpose. If there is no valid, defined and acknowledged purpose for our relationship – if we don’t even know why we’ve created it – chances are we’ll have trouble keeping it alive.
Marriages are created for a variety of reasons. The ones that endure, however, do so because they have come into being for something more significant than satisfying personal needs.
Ideally, the purpose of creating anything is to serve a higher value than itself. Therefore, if we can see that our relationship has a purpose greater than serving the needs of either partner – if it is more important than either one of us – then it will take precedence over individual needs.
Now this doesn’t mean that we should become martyrs to the relationship. There’s nothing self-sacrificing about this idea at all. It’s just that when our partner drops a nasty bombshell, we will be able to evaluate its impact and validity in terms of the greater good. If our partner’s criticism has less to do with strengthening the relationship than with satisfying his/her personal whims, then we will know that those critical suggestions are inappropriate.
On the other hand, if changing something in our life will serve to enhance the relationship, it might be worth thinking about even if the idea is a blow to our pride. If we choose to make that change we do so for the relationship, not for our partner. And if the relationship is strengthened then it follows that our personal life will be enhanced.
WHAT IS REQUIRED FOR THIS KIND OF RELATIONSHIP?
Conducting a relationship based on a higher purpose, where the "he/she" entity is more important than the individual partners, isn’t necessarily easy. It requires, first of all, a goodly supply of self-esteem on the part of both partners. If we cannot love ourselves it is almost impossible to believe that we are loved by someone else. No matter what our partner does to show that he or she cares, we do not find that devotion convincing because we don’t feel ourselves to be lovable.
Couples who share a common vision of life’s purpose and how to achieve it meet another requirement fundamental to the success of their relationship; they are friends of each other’s excitement. Supporting each other in the low moments is not enough. We should be able to celebrate the high times together as well. What excites one should excite the other.
The ability to develop and hold to certain attitudes is another key factor in creating a purposeful relationship. For example, try coming from gratitude rather than complaints. Criticism erodes love. Even if we don’t like what’s happening, we can accept it, we can change our perception and hold it to be perfect just the way it is. After all, we brought this challenge into our lives so we probably needed or wanted it.
Trust is another important requirement. Most people wait for proof of trustworthiness before bestowing trust. That may be a good practice in business, but not so in love. An alternative is to extend trust, to find the place in the other that is already trustworthy, where we know there are loving intentions. Then trust that. It just might evoke greater trustworthiness from our partner!
Our commitment is to the relationship. For if a relationship has been conceived in love and dedicated to a higher purpose it will take on a form greater than its creators. The focus will be on what is best for both partners, not on who wins or loses.
As we commit to nurturing the relationship we discover there is no room for competition or resentment, fear or blame. Instead we see that here is a place of love, a space of mutual creation where we can remember who we are and why we have come together.
A relationship committed to a higher purpose is sacred. It is, indeed, a state of holy matrimony.