Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Crises are opportunities for coming together

I am always looking for good news. Not easy when the front pages of the two newspapers I read daily are covered with mostly alarming news. What I've noticed with some of the couples I coach, however, is an increase in creative problem solving, a new commitment to an old idea - 'we can do this,' and a resulting intimacy that comes with sharing challenges.

One of the newly appointed people in the new administration (sorry I can't remember who) said it this way: 'never waste the opportunity in a crisis.' That's good and it's a healthy balancer. We who might have been seduced by a generation of advertisers offering us the perpetual good life are now being reminded that life is ... well, life. Inflations and deflations, recessions and depressions are not new. They have occurred throughout time. So has greed, so has stupidity.

Relationally you might want to take the gift in being challenged economically as an opportunity for moving closer. One couple I know recently started walking to the supermarket which is about a mile from their home instead of driving. They decided to a) save gas, b) enjoy a little family time, c) gain some exercise and d) escape their tv addiction. They also cut down some of their coaching time with me because, they said, "we are now talking more on our walks and trying our hand at some of the issues we brought to you in the first place."

We teach a marriage paradigm that takes advantage of the three journeys within marriage. That first journey is living in this world as "roommates." What they are doing is beginning to use the current economic challenges to 'drive' a deeper friendship (the third journey is the journey into deep friendship or intimacy) within their family.

And, 'we can do this' is really about inviting all family members into shared vision. Once you begin to back away from the drum beat of a marketing culture that shortcuts human activity and promotes spectator living you also begin to rediscover the enormous potential of the individuals within your family for living creatively.

Turn off the tv, walk to the store, make dinners together, plant a miniature herb garden in your kitchen, wash your own cars together, create your own 'fast food' meals, spend some time 'brainstorming' around money - enjoy the people you are connected with, whether you're a couple or a family. See what happens.

As I headed off for bed last night, my honey was sorting through coupons with my ten year old daughter. "We can save hundreds of dollars a month," I heard her say. I slept like a baby.

Coaching: email or phone: Stephen@WithTheseRings.com 805 527 2600

Friday, November 21, 2008

Marriage, Money and Mayhem

A crisis in most cases depends for its severity on your own perception. Some people lose a job and see it as a catastrophe, others might see it as an opportunity. I know a very wealthy man who owns and operates restaurants. I once asked him what he'd do if his (first) restaurant burned down. He said "I'd throw a party! It would give me the freedom to try something new."

The spreading financial crisis we are in today also offers multiple points of view. If you're heavy into stocks, it's pretty serious. If you are a financial crisis counselor, this is your moment. Within marriage, challenges can drive a sense of panic which can drive a couple apart. We forget to hug.

It's important to remember the formula for hysteria: two parts fear, one part anger plus a whole lot of projection (we like to think we know the future). We don't know as much as we think we know and, if you're addicted to media versions of life chances are your fear will be fed until your psyche is obese with it. Relationally, fear plus anger equals distance.

For a moment, turn away from the sources of information you rely on. Turn towards your partner and in the quietest possible way share your fears. Don't try, at that moment, to analyze them, and don't try to solve them. Simply share them with each other. When you're done, repeat this simple sentence to each other: "I do not know what anything (including this current situation) means. And I will not use my past experience to guide me now." (this is from The Course on Miracles and is a good meditative sentence)

Another good meditative sentence comes from the New Testament. I have taken the liberty to write the apostle Paul's words in my own language. Here it is: "There are no challenges confronting you but those that are common to men. God, however, is right here and able to help. He will not challenge you beyond your abilities but will, with the challenge, offer a pathway through that you may be able to succeed." (I Corinthians 10:13)

Money is a 'shape shifter' and can easily seduce us into feeling like we're orphans. When mayhem beckons, move towards each other. Embrace your love. Live in the present and remember 'you are not alone.'

Thursday, November 13, 2008

No Holiday Parties

News item: Thursday, November 13, 2008 CNN

Large companies canceling their Christmas parties. Reason: the tanked economy.

I heard this and thought this: Why have Christmas parties anyway? Many of the employees interviewed were not disappointed at all. Most would prefer a gift of money in place of a lavish party.

Made me think about weddings. Average cost in the U.S. around $60,000. That's a pretty substantial party. But what benefit is it to the young couple starting out? Weddings have morphed from a fairly simply religious ceremony to expensive displays. There has been little evolution in thought or consideration of what a marrying couple needs most.

We think there are a few fundamentals missing. One is the idea of community. A wedding could be the occasion for inviting the various 'sub' communities of a couple (church/synagogue/town/extended family/work friends, etc) to give their gifts of wisdom, advice, stories - enabling the couple to begin with a sense of the deep respect and love of those around them. A wedding could express the generational wisdom, customs and stories of each partner's ancestors.

Weddings could also be an occasion for giving - not only gifts of money to the couple as they launch their life together - but giving to disadvantaged families. It could be an opportunity to express community by sharing the generosity of the celebration with one or two families who struggle.

We think weddings can be an individual and community turning point in which the celebration of new partnership draws the community into deeper commitment to one another, raises awareness of the needs of others and helps communities focus on its own possibilities for service, sharing and growth.

The lavish company Christmas parties being canceled right now might do well to re-evaluate their purpose and to use the opportunity to ask 'what is the most useful way to spend this energy, time and money for the good of all involved?'

For more on how to create a wedding that celebrates the heart, contact Stephen W. Frueh M.Div, PhD at 805 338 4286 or Stephen@WithTheseRings.com

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


I worried all weekend around the fact that my family (of origin) is coming from scattered locations on the East Coast to celebrate my birthday this week. I worried about the unpainted hall doors. . so I painted them. I worried about the yards.. so I groomed them. I worried about.. well you get it. I worried about being OK for all these people that I love so deeply.

I didnt' have to. My worry is pure projection. Are you familiar with that idea? Projection is taking some idea or thought or image - usually a negative one - and "superimposing" it on another person, much like a movie projector does to the blank screen at the front of the theater.

I project because living in the present and actually experiencing another's response is somehow more frightening than creating the outcome before it happens. Projection protects us from disappointment - or we pretend it does. These thoughts led me to ideas about faith.

I've been around long enough to know that I'm not an accident of chemistry and I live in a family that takes their faith in God (you may use "higher power" or "the source" or another word if you like) seriously. My sister will ask me about my faith and I'll tell her this: "God believes in me."

This is simply my admittance that I surrender to the origin of all being, trust in the profound love I experience every single day, and am in awe at the wonder of creation. My projection is not aimed there. It's a personal thing, and this is what it has to do with faith.

When I am able to relax and accept the profound gifts of this life - the gift of living, the presence of children, the amazing brainstorming processes around global challenges, the privilege of work, the idealism of friends, the presence of conflict - when I can embrace these and other aspects of living, then I can (I call it faith) accept that my life is happening exactly like it's happening. I get to live it.

When I can't I immediately begin projecting my fears onto any available loved one in a desperate attempt to protect myself from the truth. What is the truth? God believes in me. And, if that is so, perhaps I better get busy doing the same.

And, my family? They're all simple good loving people who love me whether I show up in rags with an unmowed lawn, or entertain them with shrimp scampi. Shrimp scampi? Maybe I'll try that. It couldn't hurt....

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Growing into your life

This morning I read a short article by a positive thinker person. A good and uplifting piece. But one thing he said caught me. It was this: "you can't change the past. You can only come to terms with it. You can change the future."

I was taken back to a conversation with an old friend of mine, Paul Fairweather. Paul was a fighter pilot in the second world war flying more than 80 missions in a P51. He was wise, generous, and full of a kind of spiritual energy that was magnetic. One day we were talking about the issue of change and what we do with past wounds.

"There are those who say you can't change the past" he said, "but I disagree. I change the past every day." He went on to explain that the past is carried in our imaginations. Those who study the philosophy of history have noticed that history has no absolute truth or absolute reality but what we understand of history is a joint product of many 'imaginations' recreating stories told by other 'imaginations.' We create the past just as we do the present.

Changing the past is necessary to living your life fully. Relationally, if you are 'locked' into one version of past experience every day is going to look a lot like yesterday. In workshop settings we frequently teach couples how to 're-imagine' past wounds, how to integrate the wisdom inherent in every challenging experience, how to reframe issues that they have chronically and negatively repeated.

Change the past and you'll change the present. In fact, changing the way you relate to the past is the only way you can fully live in the present and living in the present opens the door to loving in a way that is true.

For more on this check out www.marriageconversation.com

Monday, May 05, 2008

Walking in the Dark: Why Modern Marriages Struggle

Walking in the Dark : why modern marriages struggle.

What we carry within us – a true image of relationship possibility – has long ago been obscured by the noise of commerce, the seductions of culture and the demands of living.

Our instinctual knowledge of partnering, our need to love, our aspirations of creating a family with longevity, all suffer from inattention. We could say we are pressured to focus on what we want and increasingly ignorant of what we need.

Here are a few distractions – bite sized ‘news,’ the call to instant gratification of needs, the absence of meaningful conversations, life style impermanence and the loss of community, and the omnipresence of television.

Forgive please the rant in this. I wondered if I should even have ‘gone there’ again. I do so because I coach – couples who want to bring life back into relationships that have flat lined and leaders who’ve lost their tether to their own instincts and their own wisdom.

The two, marriage competency and leadership competency, have a great deal in common. They both require certain skills and talents and, far more important, require a continuous deepening of connection to your self, your own center – the cauldron of meaning, values, love energy and genius with which each of us has been blessed but from which many have become disconnected.

This inner world can lose its vividness, fecundity, energy as well as the power to guide us if we ignore it. You can tell if you are ignoring it by a simple test.

Does the word marriage awaken a sense of awe, deep possibility, a longing for community and a sense of belonging in you? If not, your inner world is neglected.
Does the word divorce roll off your tongue as easily as, say, vacation, going shopping or the time of day? If it does you’ve lost contact with your own deep values.

These are powerful words. They offer deep meaning and point to relationship possibilities and relationship fractures. They describe common human experiences – the need for partnering, the sorrow of failure.

The ‘dark’ we walk in, is the forgetfulness with which we treat these two ideas. When powerful ideas lose their connection to powerful events, we lose their substance. Think ‘democracy,’ ‘loyalty,’ ‘sacrifice,’ and ‘commitment.’

We are meant to mate. We are meant to share ourselves intimately with another. We long to be known and we need to love. These define us and shape the quality of our everyday lives.

How is that like leadership? Someone said this to me recently: ‘Leaders aren’t appointed, leaders volunteer.’ She meant, I think, to remind me of something often overlooked – that leadership is a quality we all have. What we don’t do, probably because we aren’t able to be conscious of our gift, is volunteer it.

This is a big idea. It’s an idea that can change how you relate to your work in this world, your partner, your community, and your children. Without connection to the gift you bring, you will relate to yourself and therefore to others as if you have nothing special to offer. You might even have been educated to call that humility.

This loss – the unawareness of who you are and what you bring – causes a dumbing down of attitude about marriage and similarly about leadership. If you’re leading but not aware of who you are and what you bring your leadership will look more like management.

If you’re married and unaware of yourself, every day will look a lot like yesterday. There will not be any new ideas introduced, relational energy will be low, and emotional vitality will flat line.

Underneath this it is time for a new paradigm – for marriage as well as for leadership. Paradigms which don’t so much describe the idea by what they do – leaders create shared vision, establish goals, set parameters of responsibility; marriage is a romance, party (the wedding), and a commitment to stay together, but create an invitation to what they may become.
Paradigms shape our expectations. Consider JFK’s famous “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” He was inviting a paradigm shift. A new paradigm for marriage is available in the recently published, With These Rings, Vol. I.

A new paradigm for leadership is currently in development. We hope to have it published by early next year.

In other words darkness is itself a paradigm also a metaphor. Challenge it and the light will flood in.

Friday, May 02, 2008


The fire we carry within doesn’t thrive without attentiveness. You must tend it. Tending means adding fuel, providing plenty of oxygen, occasional stirring and always honoring it.

My own view is that as we age many things distract us from adding fuel. Fuel might be a night or a full day alone. It might be taking two hours or so at a bookstore to browse, take notes, learn. This is part of my routine at least two times a month.

Alone time for some might be a weekend camping or renting a cabin in the mountains. No booze, no family, just you, your notebook, and a few good books. Hiking helps.

Other distractions are television, overeating, busywork, conversations with people who do not honor what you bring or who you are. Pay attention to your own natural genius and your dreams – write about it, think on it, meditate.

To give oxygen to your fire you’ll need to take risks, do something outlandish, be bold, throw the dice. Love someone you find unloveable, tell your spouse something you usually avoid talking about, take a child to church. To church?

Children are spiritually alive and are available to mentor us if we allow them to.

Go to see a play or movie that isn’t so much entertaining as mind blowing. Take a walk in a non suburban environment. Roller skate in a park.

The fire, your fire, needs your attentiveness and your love. Embrace it.

I invite your thoughts on tending the fire within.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


I failed to acknowledge the source of the image I used yesterday regarding fear. It comes from a wonderful book by Michael Meade, The World Behind the World. Michael is a well known storyteller, scholar of mythology, antropology and psychology, a true world citizen and one of my teachers. Thanks Michael for all you contribute. You can learn more about his work at www.mosaicvoices.org

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

To my son on his wedding day

April 30, 2008

On the day you are wed:

You both know that I have worked hard to understand what it is that marriage adds to life. I have listened to hundreds of couples talk of their marriage as if it were a disposable toy. I have also met couples who see that marriage itself broadens and deepens not only their own life but creates a sanctuary that is indispensable for the children.

Of course there is fear: can we do it? Is he the right one? Is she too much trouble? There is fear of abandonment, fear of not being understood, fear of changing conditions. You’ll have your own serving of fears.

There is an old tale told about the lions in the vast savannahs of Africa. When the herds are coming, and therefore food, they pick the oldest lion one who is toothless and no longer good for the hunt. They send him to the opposite side of the savannah and as the herds approach he roars his terrible roar.

The young lions, positioned on the opposite side, wait. The herd runs away from the roar and toward what they think is safety… where a great many are caught and eaten.

The story tells us to “run towards the roar.” It is another way of saying “run toward your fear.” If you are stuck, if you think you are being misunderstood, if you think the other person is a jerk… run toward not away from your fear.
Embracing the fear (and the conflict) is a way of embracing your intention in marrying one another. There is no greater insurance to birthing a good marriage than daily embracing your love for one another.

You are in my arms, in my thoughts and in my prayers. God’s blessing on you both and on your children.
I love you,

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Authenticity in Leadership

Many people think leadership and marriage are two separate conversations. We see them as intertwined - You're as good a partner as you are a leader, as effective a leader as you are a partner. Here's a little piece on authentic leadership.

There's a lot of talk out there around developing the leadership of a company. What does that mean? There is of course, the need for a leader to be focused. That means he or she knows and understands the company vision as well as their own vision for the company. Focus is also about developing the capacity to stay on track, to drive goals and anticipate challenges.
We think leaders are people who know how to listen. Old idea? Yes. And brand new. We've learned a lot about listening in the past few years. Competency here means that a leader can 'tune in' to whoever is in front of them, can suspend their own assumptions while listening, can ask the speaker if they believe they are heard, and can use their talent to reframe the conversation in a positive proactive way. Listening is more than being respectful of the other. It's active. It's leading.
Leaders are people who have integrity and who know the difference between 'acting like a leader' and being a leader. A good concept here that many are talking about is the 'servant leader.' He or she is one who isn't focused on applause, approval or their own ego. They see the good of the shared mission of the company or organization as more important than than anything they are worried about.
When teaching leadership we use the twin ideas of legitimacy and the orphan. Legitimate leaders are centered, have a clear sense of who they are and what they're doing, are deeply respectful of others and believe in their own choice to lead. "Orphans" used in this context, doubt themselves and therefore ask others to prop them up. Orphans dramatize set backs and often blame others for their challenges. Orphan leaders really do not believe they belong in the position they themselves have volunteered for.
A good consultant will tune in to the real challenges of the leaders who hire them. We don't believe much in 'templates' for consultation, not because many templates aren't good, but because every leadership challenge is unique and therefore there is the need to listen in, articulate the challenges, create a language for reframing what's needed and finally, create a pathway that will grow the company.
Stephen Frueh PhD
805 338 4286

Monday, April 14, 2008

There are many fathers out there with young daughters. Most of you who emailed are in awe of them. I am too. But there's another thing to remember. Though leaving childhood, they are still children. Though growing in competence and independence, they are still needy of your love and healthy authority. Though experimenting with ideas, style and increasing freedom, they are still in need of boundaries.

Many daughters have told me this: "my father disappeared when I hit puberty." It's true. Many fathers are very uncomfortable with their daughter's emerging sexual presence. You'll have to overcome your fear and stand firm in your love and tenderness.

Daughters are a treasure, an ongoing learning community, a gift, and a source of continual nourishment. Enjoy the multi faceted richness they offer.


Saturday, April 12, 2008


My ten year old daughter, savy, energetic and tuned in has just turned the corner from sweet five year old who adores daddy to pre teen queen for whom daddy is a servant leader. She interrupts my sentences with "I know Dad!" and has ramped up her self definition to include "I'm not going there!" (as in not going to somewhere her mother and I are going).

She spends more time in front of a mirror, takes more care with choice of clothes, hangs out more with friends and is more curious about just about everything. She is, in short, a phenom.

This morning we flared at each other. That's what it was because it wasn't really a fight as much as a flare. Old school daddy doesn't adapt well to this sudden certainty she brings to about everything I talk about. There's some fear here for me. Am I already losing my importance in her life? Will she accelerate her embrace of her own individuality and fly out of our love and our life? Is this all I get of her childhood?

I have to stop, look and listen to get regrounded in what's happening. She is in a developmental swing. Going from the love of gnomes and fairies to the ever expanding world of friends, ideas and experiences - all new, all interesting, all exciting. She has a strong base in her mother's love and guidance and she is sure of my love for her and hers for me. That's not on the screen for her. That it is on the screen for me has a lot more to do with parts of my painful childhood than with anything she does.

She is growing up. I signed up for this. On good days I rejoice in it. This morning I had to find my feet, remember her deep love and acknowledge mine for her. As she was running out the door, backpack over her shoulder, dressed in her green soccer uniform, cleats clanking on the tile she shouted "I love you Papa..." Yeah, me too.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tuesday morning
A CEO called me early this morning. He was frustrated. His VP of sales 'wasn't getting it done.' She spent too much time on 'housekeeping' items - things that needed to be done around the office but that took her time away from selling product.

He said 'I tried to explain to her that her numbers were what kept us alive. Without her meeting her numbers the best run office in the world would be out of business.'

I coached him this way: she reads your mood before she hears your words. Your mood is angry and defeatist. Your words though rational can't be heard within the context of your angry mood.'

I thought of marriage, mine and others. Communication that is based in judgment, demands, diagnosis or theories about the other is communication destined for failure. When I take 100% responsibility for my own feelings and move toward changing an angry mood to a proposal for positive action I have increased my chances of being heard and my partners chances of being in relationship with me.

The CEO did this: he worked on solving the issues that got the attention of his VP of sales. He proactively set in motion specific ways to consistently address those issues. He removed her from 'the loop' of maintaining order at the office. Then he coached her in focusing on their agreed upon goals showing her a pathway in which she could succeed.

Leadership works in relationship. If you abandon your own self indulgence, and focus on what your partner needs you can create a situation in which you get what you need and they do as well.

"I saw a boy standing in a field of grass, late spring with a warm breeze and a horse feeding a short distance off. Warm sun, occassional flowers among the grass."

Friday, March 07, 2008

Curiosity, Pathway to Intimate Conversation

Curiosity, Pathway to Intimate Conversation

Many of us assume we know our partners – a lot of comedy is built around that premise – but we really don’t. Some of us say that our partners are unknowable, a line frequently spoken by men gathered, say, at a social event.

But what if you changed the assumption? What if you got that you don’t know this person you’re partnering with. What if you looked at them with new eyes saying to yourself ‘who is she?’ What if you began a conversation with him knowing that you don’t know who he is, what he is going to say, how he is going to react to what you are saying – what if you surrendered to the fact that there’s a lot to be discovered?

It would change your world. Assumptions are a firewall to intimate conversation. Assumptions keep every day looking a lot like yesterday. Assumptions are self reinforcing and, they tend to be self fulfilling prophecies.

Here’s a little story about assumptions. Within the New York City school system, some years ago, a research project was created to test the power of assumptions. A grade school class of low achievers and a grade school class of high achievers was chosen. The records of the low achievers were switched with the records of the high achievers at the end of the school year and given to their new teachers.

Guess what happened. The low achievers began to achieve more and the high achievers declined. The teacher’s expectations were driving student performance.

In any relationship assumptions and expectations are far more powerful than we imagine. Many assumptions we carry about our partners were learned long before we met our partners. Also we have ‘grafted’ on many relationship expectations from others that are not really our own. Our marriages stagnate and die because of this. We get weary trying to convince our partners we are not who they think we are.

I coach executives and executive teams. Recently an executive blamed the low performance of his company on ‘the business climate.’ I asked him why several other companies I knew that were in the same business and therefore in the same ‘climate’ were thriving. He looked at me and paused, then laughed. “Got me,” he said.

His assumptions were blinding him to the real issues in his company as well as the blind spots in his leadership.

Here’s a deadly relational sequence for you that will demonstrate the lethality of assumptions. If you want to see it graphically, rent the (now old) movie “Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolf?”

First make your assumptions about your partner.
Then criticize your partner for what you believe to be true about him/her.
Following your criticism you’ll probably be attacked. Defend yourself.
After your defense fails, shut down.
Within the shut down you can now show contempt for your partner.
Stonewall against any and all vulnerability.

This is called the cascading effects of making assumptions. It is a demonstration, a workshop, in the remarkable consequences of choosing to be unconscious in a relationship.

What’s the cure?
1. Admit that you do not know what you think you know about who your partner is.
2. Take 100% responsibility for your own attitudes, feelings and theories about your marriage.
3. Invite your partner into an “assumption free zone” conversation where you intentionally ask each other about values, beliefs, challenges, feelings etc.
4. Stop. Look. and Listen to what they say. Make no judgments. Decide to believe them. Use words like “really?” and “wow” and “tell me more.”

Curiosity is an attitude of love. Done right it is respectful, engaging, tender and sexy. Try it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tuesday afternoon Gratitude

Real Live Preacher of www.HighCallingBlog.com has encouraged us to keep writing about marriage. Their blog is a blog worth visiting since it is not positional nor is it exclusionary. It could perhaps best be described as exploratory, inspirational and welcoming. It and its readers take the Christian faith seriously enough to welcome hard questions.
We do the same with marriage. We do not see marriage as a canned program, no doubts allowed, matching sweatshirts kind of thing. My wife and I are always embracing conflict, exploring our own and each others attitudes, and challenging beliefs and practices.
"Doesn't that wear you out?" a friend recently asked. No, I said, in fact we believe marriages are meant to be living wonders, always evolving, hardly ever static. Yes there's comfort, friendship, companionship - and all that requires a sense of stability, but we believe in change. Growing individually, exposing new ideas, thoughts, fears and hopes feeds this garden of ours and we are grateful for each other's willingness to engage.
HighCalling is doing the same thing regarding faith. We are grateful for their work.

Tuesday morning No Coffee

The Beatles sang it this way "woke up, got out of bed, ran a comb across my head..." Early morning here in So.Cal. I'm padding down to the kitchen in the still too cool morning my wife already up and walking the dogs. I decide against coffee because the last three mornings it only made me sleepy.
"I grow old, I grow old. I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.." T.S. Eliot wrote. But I'm not so much old this morning as tuning in to limitations. What's love about if it's not about energy. Love energy.
I look out the window and see her coming down our long driveway swinging her arms our two dogs almost prancing beside her, adoring her and happy in the crisp morning air. She is new england, she is Sarah Lawrence, she is earth. My energy picks up. My heart starts - having been on idle until this moment.
Love is energy plus seeing. I notice her smiling as she sees me looking out the window at her. I like her seeing me seeing her. I smile too.
In the front door and I am glad to have this woman as my partner. Glad that she's glad to be mine. It's Tuesday morning. No coffee. Lots of energy.

Monday, February 11, 2008



Some say there are three kinds of love. Agape, which carries the meaning ‘to treat with affection,’ philia a kind of brotherly love, and eros the love that drives us to procreate. These three we all recognize but we think we could coin a term for a fourth kind of love.

Healthy marriages require a love that is sustaining and sustainable. Eros of course, is important to that kind of love, but eros will not fully carry it. Loving based on eros tends to have a short shelf life.

There is companionship – agape – in marriage. We all know though that good companionship while a necessary part of a good marriage is not itself enough to sustain deep commitment.

To love one another as a sister would a brother or a brother a sister, philia, is a beautiful description of caring yet we all want that and much more in our relationships.

Loving fully within marriage contains these three and requires more. I want to suggest that to grasp the fullest possibilities of loving within marriage we need a kind of ‘sustaining belief’ love. This love would include the willingness to embrace conflict, the seriousness of a well considered philosophy of marriage and the capacity to return to the garden that birthed our love in the first place.

What’s needed is a reservoir of energy for loving. It would show up as curiosity, attraction for the other, a certain kind of lightness of being, passionate commitment, deep belief and/ or wonder. It would look like continued and sustainable interest in our partner’s life, their challenges, their discoveries as well as a natural willingness to share our own.

I coach couples. Many have stopped growing and are recycling old wounds. Many hang around the water cooler of complaints, analyses or diagnosis of their partners. Some live with one foot out the door. They live in the fantasy of an ‘exit strategy’ not allowing the belief which originated with their love, to inform their daily interactions with their partners.

We might consider coining a new term for the kind of love needed – a love that is willing to contain all the necessary qualities of loving that not only hold a couple in deep relationship but that also drive the desire to mine the gold hidden within that relationship. Such a love has no time for analysis, complaints or diagnosis of a partner.
I’ve considered the root word for enthusiasm, entheos, because that word carries the idea of a god within. Certainly there is something majestic and awesome about an individual’s conscious choice to love deeply. There is also something holy about our decision to not indulge our petty diagnoses of one another but instead to take full responsibility for loving. We grow best by loving. It is fundamental to achieving a high quality of life. I’d welcome your suggestions for naming this more inclusive loving so necessary to reaping the possibilities within long term partnering.

St. Valentine’s Day is an artificial creation mainly designed for merchandising product. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use it for higher purposes. Use it to remind us that loving is a choice, that we all want to be special, considered, seen. That the love that got us started in the first place wasn’t an illusion, a ‘mistake,’ or merely the result of a hormone rush.
Healthy people choose partners for more reasons than they know. Marriage is about discovering the full range of possibilities within that choice. Embrace it with enthusiasm.