The world turns. Everything changes. Yet some things we cling to, desperately trying to breath into it the last vestiges of life.
This is how I see the institution of marriage in the developed world. It is, in its current form, a dinosaur, already extinct, but wishing and hoping for a resurrection.
Why do I so freely speak thus of an institution that is the background fabric of our postmodern human life?
First of all, it is very hard to argue with the statistics. The majority of marriages do not last. Second marriages fair worse.
Most of our foundational systems are in a state of tremendous flux. Our economic system, nation state system, political and governance system, how we manage community, the environment and land. Why do so few people discuss the system of marriage and raising families, growing old and dying? Stepping on taboo territory? Sacred cows? Too hard? Too dangerous? Too emotional? Or do we not want to break the illusion and fantasy?
I am not a cynic. I am quite a romantic, and like everyone I have ever met, I want to be loved and adored and held fondly by a ‘special’ other. My sense is that we are, as humans, designed for this level of intimacy. But for how long with the same person? That is one of the questions we need to explore, removing all blinkers and veils of illusion when we do so.
With the life span extended beyond what was ‘normal’ when the idea of marriage was designed, and with the accelerated acceleration of technology, and the shift from a world of matter to a world of the invisible, from physical to mystical, all of our foundations are up for redesign, including marriage. No longer do women depend on men for income, so the financial contract of marriage is far less relevant.
In our wealthy developed nations, we also sit in a conversation we have not had the luxury of engaging in till now. What do we want to do with our lives? What is our purpose? We are invited to follow our bliss? We have, for the most part, our survival needs adequately handled, and can choose, like we have never been able to before, a career path, a way of expressing ourselves that nourishes us. Women and men can stay at home, or work, or do both. They can choose to have children, or not. This was not commonly possible 40 years ago.
We are also in a deep inner inquiry that was limited in times past to people living in monasteries. Who am I? Why do I think this, and do that? What is the calling of my heart? What is the meaning of life…of my life? How can I be of service?
And in all of this is an expectation, still deeply held, that we will find the ‘one’ person who will share all of our long adult lives with us, that our united values and beliefs will stay the same, as will our goals, dreams and identity!
In truth, I am not entirely sure that the person who went to bed last night is the same ‘me’ that woke up this morning. And yet I am supposed to find a man who changes and evolves at much the same speed as I, for 20-30-40-50 years? This is like finding the proverbial needle in a very large, and getting larger by the minute, haystack. Sure it could happen, and still does, on occasions, but the truth is that this is the rarity, and yet, like the holy grail, we aspire to reaching only this, and measure anything else against this as a failure.
If not this, then what?
First of all, I am not opposed to ‘marriage’. I am opposed to the assumption and expectation of marriage as a life long commitment. (And many of the other archetypal expectations that come with marriage, creeping into the fabric of relationship like thieves in the night. For anyone who has been married, you know that the dynamic of the relationship does change, for better and for worse, when we say our wedding vows. I now need to ask permission to go out with my girlfriends, or for the men, with the guys, for example.) Not because I am a commitment phobe. But because our expectation of ‘happily ever after’ really is perpetuating the mythology of marriage. And it is the mythology that needs re-calibrating. In truth I am not entirely sure that we can untangle ourselves from the archetypal energy of marriage consciously, without choosing to express our commitment to another in a very different way than the marriage ceremony as it is today, because when we do participate in a marriage ceremony, unless we are very highly developed human beings, we carry with us the energetic history of all the marriages that have proceeded us, as well as our current cultural and familial history, as well as our own almost impossible to separate expectations.
If we go to the essence of partnering in our current world, what are the essential keys? There will be differences for some people, but the keys live in the ball park of the following.
*Shared and mutual love, respect, values.
*That when I am with my partner, I am better than when I am not. And that they also experience this same synergistic effect. In other words, synergy occurs. 1 plus 1 equals much greater than 4. If 1 plus 1 equals 2, then this is probably not worth the investment and heartache. In many cases, 1 plus 1 equals a negative, and often a big negative. No fun, not healthy! Very ugly.
*That we have a healthy attraction to each other physically.
*That each and every day our respect for each other multiplies.
*That there is a deep level of safety within the relationship. I can be fully myself, as can my partner.
*That if we choose to be parents, we agree on how to parent children with dignity and respect, shepherding them through the tricky world of childhood into the even tricky world of adulthood in a way that honours their intrinsic nature.
*And within our values, we have a common agreement around money, finances, value and value exchange.
*That we deeply respect each others spirit and is forever flourishing…
These are keys. There may be a few others.
As we evolve and change, and our dreams and desires change, it is hard to expect an equal match of change with our partner. Yet in our current world, and model, we define any breakdown in this equal match of change as a failure. If my relationship changes form, and we move apart, married or not, then the relationship has failed? Or I have failed? What an extraordinary perspective! Lets say that you spent 4 years in a relationship, or 20 years…the number is arbitrary, and you and your partner held all of the keys mentioned above. And then things started to change. Synergy was no longer occurring. One of you wanted to go off and do ‘x’, and the other did not. Or one of you became too dependent on the other, (synergy no longer present), or the truth was that unless you let your partner go, they would never find their own voice? (allowing for mutual respect) Is this a failure? How can we ever see this as a failure? A failure would be to stick in a marriage or partnership where synergy was not present. Where together we are less than apart. Failure would be to stay together for the kids, with a veil of deep seated resentment brewing. But to really honour the time we have spent together, and the synergy that has occurred, this affirms the relationship as an outstanding success.
We are all caught in the mythology of ‘happily ever after’, male and female alike. And some people are so transfixed in their own determination to make their marriage a ‘success’ (meaning that they want to have their partner stay with them as a ‘marriage unit’ because any less than this would make the marriage a ‘failure’ even if letting their marriage end would mean the more healthy flourishing of one or both parties. Remember that true synergy is mutual. If one party is thriving and the other diminishing, this does not constitute healthy synergy. Our own selfish needs can and often does take precedence over the needs of our partner.)
What if we held, from the beginning, the thought that for as long as our light in the world shines more brilliantly together than it does without this marriage or partnership, then we will stay shining. But the moment one or the other or both become aware that the light is dimming we will trust that the time has come to move on, to explore other synergies? (Or to completely re-calibrate with each other so the light shines again, by mutual agreement and equal commitment.) And in mutual respect and love, we will bring grace to what was, and step into the future apart. This to me is a mature and deeply respectful relationship that honours the best for all. Sure, the timing is not always synchronistic for both parties, and I am speaking of the ideal, where two people, fully awake, step into relationship with each other, and review and renew their relationship frequently.
In the community of Damahur, in Northern Italy, this is how they build relationship. People do make a commitment to each other, but they choose for how long. 3 months, 6 months, a year? Then when the time is up, they have the opportunity to recommit, or not. Damahur is an ideal setting, because the more complex issue of raising children is handled. Children are born into community groups, not always related by blood. They do not rely on the single two parent model, as we do.
Sure it takes two people who have awakened out of their dream of ‘happily ever after’ and hold as sacrosanct the larger context of mutual synergy for this type of relationship to remain healthy and dynamic, whether together or apart. It also takes a tremendous commitment of a very different kind. The commitment to the best in the other, despite ourselves. To hold the truthful nature of the relationship as sacred. To not bend it to our will, to meet our individual needs, with less regard for the other. This type of commitment demands a completely different level of thinking and being. We need to be fully awake, and able to respond from the deepest level of service to the other.
If we do build a relationship on this kind of foundation, then the issue around raising children will also be held in the same light. What is best for them? Not for the father or the mother. While not as ideal as Damahur, it can and does work. In my own family unit, when my daughters father and I ended our intimate relationship, I told my daughter that love only multiplies. Not only would she have the love of her father and mother by biology, she would possibly have the love of her other ‘new’ father and mother. And beyond this, she got the love of extra ‘grandparents’.
If there is any pain, it is because of our societies clinging to the fantasy of marriage as happily ever after and all of the other accoutrements that we bundle under the banner of ‘marriage’. This dinosaur belief has past its use by date. Time to let go and choose instead to honour the very best for the person we fell in love with, as well as the best for us. Make a vow, which is indeed a sacred contract, and thereby more energetically weighty than a promise, but make a vow that speaks to love that is generated each and every day, with no prediction of the future. That today I vow to honour you, respect you, love and care for you. And that in so doing, I will relinquish my attachment to the form of our union. We may be together physically, or we may be apart. The form, in truth, is quite irrelevant. It is the truthful state of our hearts towards each other that matters. Do we generate love for each other, and the deepest desire that I support you, my partner, to fully express your spirit and gifts in the world, with or without me?
Now that is a relationship I hold as possible with intent.