It’s no mystery to any of us married for more than a little while that marriage is both opportunity and challenge. Challenge because you signed on for a personal growth course when you said ‘I do’ and are just now realizing it.
Challenge because the one you chose isn’t at all who you thought they were when the hormones were coursing through your veins like the spring runoff of a mountain stream. You thought you knew exactly who they were and what they were. But you didn’t. None of us really know who we are marrying until after the train has left the station.
That challenge has abundant opportunities within it. The opportunities for discovery are many but here’s some of the most important as I see them.
We get to discover the many dimensions of a person that we are so attracted to that we want to partner for life with them. Are they stubborn? My partner is. Do they surprise you with attitudes you didn’t know they had? Do they like movies that make you wince? Are they sensitive to issues you never realized were important to them? Do they have trouble communicating deep and vulnerable feelings?
These “discoveries” of course can tempt you into an analytical or diagnostic attitude towards your partner. “What’s wrong with them?” You can be tempted to focus on their shortcomings because discoveries often are laced with fear. “Did I make a mistake?” “Should I end it now?”
The truth is this; it’s perfectly natural to experience the slow unfolding of your partner’s wonderfully complex individuality as something to be frightened of. We humans think, erroneously, that we’re in control. We live much of our lives deluding ourselves with that thought. The old joke is correct – ‘if you want to make God laugh, make plans.’
Couples who cling to control miss out on discovery. Listen. For the most part there’s little to be afraid of, much to anticipate with joy. Want sustainable intimate connecting? Discovery is your path. Want days filled with the anticipation of seeing each other again? Embrace the unknown.
The opportunities for learning are practically endless. But here’s the biggest one I’ve found so far. Life long partnership offers the opportunity to grow up with someone who cares about you. You have the opportunity to work out your own loving.
Does that surprise you? I have come to believe that discovering whether I love or can love is bigger by far than whether I am loved. Maybe the drive to partner is founded upon our need to build the muscle of our loving. When you focus on your own loving you have little time or interest in ‘licking your wounds,’ little interest in being right, little attraction toward pulling the mask off your partner’s blind spots.
Instead, focusing on your own loving drives honest introspection, expands your own vision for your life, brings new ‘juice’ to everyday tasks.
I’m no saint in this. I far more easily focus on what’s wrong than I do on ‘what can I do to help?’ But when I do focus on my loving I begin to see the potential impact that loving brings to my partner’s life. When my partner experiences my loving, feels its integrity, senses that my loving is a risk for me and that I’m forging ahead anyway – she literally lives in a different world. That’s good for her, and good for me. Try it.
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