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.


Real Live Preacher said...

Wow, lots of deep thoughts here. Does it boil down to this: Having a good, emotionally meaningful marriage is hard work.

Stephen Frueh PhD said...

Yes but more than hard work. Having a good marriage requires a great deal of honest self reflection. We see that diagnosis of your partner is useless and when you are diagnosing, analyzing, theorizing.. about your partner is when you really are working hard.
Taking full responsibility for what I bring into the relationship lightens our time together, frees her to love me and drives me toward what I most need and that is to love.
I work diligently to be a conscious and loving partner because, at the end of the day, it is in my best interests to do so. And... I love loving her.

Darya said...

Dear Stephen,
Thanks for an insightful analysis of the reality you deal with in helping couples dealing with marriage.
I know I risk a "subject leap" to one of the "third rails" of marriage by bringing this up,but I find it ironic that so many of my Gay and Lesbian friends (self-disclosure for other readers: I'm Transgendered) are so in love and so hungry to be married to one another and face so much resistance based on the idea of the institution of marriage being corrupted by their mere presence in it. Ironic too, at a time when there are record numbers of divorces and the institution seems to be on the ropes.
I think that actually points to what you are saying; we are so busy talking about the ideas or expectations we have of our world we've lost our ability to successfully live within it.