I have spent many years being bemused and amused by the fantasies and nightmares created around marriage.
I am twice divorced.
Which means that on two occasions I vowed to remain committed to my partners and I betrayed these vows, which is one of the reasons why my present partner of 11 years, Suzie – once divorced – and I, have decided not to get married.
We are clearly rather good at betraying marriage vows.
A vow is stronger than a promise, yet worldwide between 50% and 60% of people break their marriage vows.
Of those remaining married, how many of them in actual fact uphold these vows?
Very few I think.
People remain married and disrespect each other monumentally, to the extent that for most, it is two estranged beings doing ‘white knuckle tolerance’ of each other.
How difficult is it for one human being to live with another one and to, just for starters, continuously love and cherish them?
When you come to a Friday afternoon and you both get home from work and you are both stressed out and tired and all you want is to be loved, is there any capacity to cherish this human being who isn’t behaving in any way remotely like you would want them to?
If you want to get married, which I don’t particularly recommend, then how to rewrite these vows?
To be more accurate I don’t recommend vowing at all because you are going to break them. As certainly as the river flows to the sea, your good intentions will dissolve like morning mist in the sun.
I would like to suggest that you make commitments to endeavour to work on the relationship in specific ways, rather than vowing to behave in any particular way.
Not only is this more realistic, it is more likely to help you focus on the mountain you need to climb in order to make your relationship sustainable.
One of the biggest problems with ‘marriage vows’ is that few people have a clue as to how they translate into behaviour. Hopefully, what follows, will assist you.
“I will endeavour to honour you as you are, rather than trying to change you.”
Love is not trying to control your partner.
Human beings are control freaks. We try to control what is happening in our environment between 500 and 1,000 times a day. The temperature is too hot to cold, there’s no reception on the cell phone or it won’t boot up and the kids are driving you nuts and how irritated are you by your work colleagues; their incompetence, their autocratic behaviour, their lack of respect for others. You are enraged and saddened by your autocratic president and with politicians in general, you want a better home and a better car and of course you want to change 10 things about the person with whom you live.
You’re not going to stop your thoughts of wanting to control your partner but you can stop acting out your need for them to be different.
If your partner keeps getting really bad headaches and you suggest a consultation with a neurologist…great.
They don’t make the appointment and then get another headache. Your job is not to admonish them for not making an appointment.
Your job is to give them what they want, which is, get them 2 painkillers!
That is love!
“When I do try to change you, I will know that I am not loving you and honouring you.”
Because you will fail in not trying to control your partner you need to own the fact that when you are trying to get them to be different you’re not loving and honouring them. So you’re taking responsibility for the ‘con job’ that is going on here, which is that you are pretending that the problem is them, while in fact your wanting to change them is saying that the problem is in you.
“When I feel at my worst I will do my best to respect you.”
Respect and admiration are the key elements of a great relationship. Your relationship will test you to the depths of your being when you feel at your worst and your ability to be loving and caring and respectful in these moments is the greatest test.
“I will do my best to forgive you when you do not live up to my expectations.”
If you realise that your expectations are just projection of your need to fill the emptiness on the inside, the lack of love that you have on the inside then you will forgive the judgements that you make that come from this place.
When you partner doesn’t show you enough gratitude for something you have done for them or for the gift you gave them, can you see that your disappointment is based on a fantasy about how you think they should have behaved.
The other really important thing is that most people project their idealised fantasies of how their partner can make them happy and the simple answer is that everyone, everyone will disappoint you
“I will endeavour to love myself as much as I can, rather than trying to manipulate you into loving me.”
Self-Esteem that is externally derived, is never enough. Find it in yourself!
“When you frustrate me I will try to see that the problem is in me, not in you.”
Some years ago I worked with the CEO of media company. We were talking about all of the problems in his executive team. He told me that his wife was a nursery school teacher and that she viewed his team as a bunch of nursery school kids with a veneer of sophistication covering it up. We both laughed at the truth of this.
In actual fact most of us, when we are frustrated by life, experience the emotions of a four-year-old whose toffee apple has been stolen by his brother. Just take a moment to think about it. You have this amazing achievement at work and you come home and you tell your partner about it and they shrug it off as though you’re telling them about the weather report. It’s like they’ve wounded you in the most terrible way.
This simply reflects your need to manipulate them into loving you.
“I will endeavour to be as authentic with you as possible, but only when I can do so lovingly and respectfully.”
This is one of the most difficult and challenging issues. Life in fact is an endless challenge around balancing our authenticity with respect for others.
If we were 100% authentic all of the time we would destroy every relationship we had.
Parents encourage honesty in their children, but all of the time?
This is an impossible goal to achieve because our childlike selfishness, if expressed all of the time, would threaten others beyond belief.
On the other hand, it is very unhealthy for us to suppress our authenticity but in being authentic, we also need to be skillful. So we are endlessly balancing the tension between the real and being kind.
Not an easy task.
“I will do my best to flow in gratitude for you, rather than in resentment.”
I was working with a couple recently. She arrived first and when he walked in, he bent over to kiss her and bashed her head with his glasses as he did so. She flinched and he apologized. Afterwards I asked her which she had felt more, the pain of the bump or the kiss? You know the answer…!
I wrote a blog about gratitude earlier in the year. It’s really worth cultivating. It takes a lot of work. We are so ingrained in our habitual need to notice what’s missing.
The success you have achieved in your career may very well be related to ‘filling this gap.’ Because you want to fill the gap in your life that’s missing career-wise, you drive yourself to greater success. That’s useful, if painful at times.
In a relationship it is a catastrophe.
“I will do my best to come to agreement with you on the important issues and to endeavour to soften my selfishness.”
Is very simple. If you cannot come to agreement on important issues, get divorced or stay miserable for ever. I have seen many couples stay married for over 50 years bickering and fighting about the same issues over and over and over again.
It looks like agony to me.
“I will endeavour to heal the pain I have experienced at your hands.”
Unhealed pain is one of the most problematic issues in relationships.
We all hurt each other.
If you cannot heal this pain then the wounds will continue to cripple you and the relationship will suffer. I have watched couples going to therapy, working with all of the psychodynamics, the issues behind their problems. You can do this into eternity, but if you don’t heal past pain it will infiltrate everything that happens and doesn’t happen between you.
The problem is that for most people this is a very difficult thing to do on their own. Get professional help to heal the wounds.
In addition wounds from past relationships infiltrate our present experience. So heal them too, as best you can.
“I will do my best to not try to fix you and interpret you psychologically.”
Leave the psychologising to the psychologists. When you tell your partner that they’re behaving like their mother or that they have an inferiority issue around their boss, you’re putting yourself into the superior position and they will just feel judged by you.
Stop doing this or inflict pain on your partner.
“I will make a supreme effort to not express contempt toward you.”
Dr. John Gottman’s research on marriage has shown conclusively that contempt is the defining feature of wrecked relationships. My personal and professional experience supports this finding.
Great marriages have an almost complete absence of contempt.
Contempt is scorn and derision. It is the deepest form of criticism imaginable. It is the opposite of respect and admiration, the cornerstone of great intimacy.
“I will do my best to put you first.”
If your partner embarrasses you in front of others and you try to make the ‘others’ feel better at the expense of your partner, you are betraying your partner.
Let’s say your partner makes what you consider to be a stupid joke or they share an opinion you and others don’t like, if you laugh at your partner with the ‘others’ or criticise your partner in front of them so that you look better, or try to shut them down because of your embarrassment, the problem sits with you, not your partner’s behaviour.
You have dishonoured them.
“I will endeavour not to pretend that I love you when I am angry.”
I just love this issue.
Your partner arrives home much later than they promised. You start a fight with them. You yell and judge and blame. You defend your attacks by saying that you are angry because you love them.
Your anger is manipulation and control and an avoidance of your anxiety about some accident they might have had and that they ‘made you anxious,’ or an avoidance of your feelings of abandonment.
There is no love in that moment.
Your anger is for you, not them.
“I will strive to open my heart and love you as you are, rather than using my mind and logic to find fault with you.”
The mind looks for what’s missing, the heart is open to everything. This openness is your gift to your partner. We think that marriage will make us happy. It will make you both happy and sad. The more closed your heart, the sadder you will be.
If you would like to explore any issues that this blog evokes in you in a consultation, please mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org