Jesse, our first born, was three years old before I was willing to leave him for a vacation with my husband, Charlie. To say that I had been an obsessed, overprotective, neurotic, overwhelmed mother was... well, just about right. My parents, who lived more than 400 miles away, were the only other people with whom I would entrust my baby. I wasn't totally wacko, but pretty close.
Our destination was Martha's Vineyard. On our first night, we stayed in a bed-and-breakfast inn by the beach that had an antique claw-foot bathtub. I filled it with the hottest water we could stand, and we both got in. After relaxing for several minutes in the steaming heat, Charlie silently picked up a soft washcloth and began gently washing my face with a sweet-smelling soap. I suddenly found myself beginning to weep. I was the baby now, being nurtured by someone who dearly loved me. Ours had been a difficult transition into parenthood, with both of us working, earning graduate degrees and having a baby who had been more demanding than I had expected him to be. I was bone tired. We knew that our honeymoon was over and that we were much more overdue for some serious R&R than either of us realized.
Spending time together in a bathtub may seem like an ordinary experience, but it was a pivotal communion for Charlie and me, a sharing of deep understanding, appreciation, connection and peace. Finally, in that bathtub, we cherished one another in a simple sharing of ordinary magic. I was crying for joy for having made it to that exquisite moment. There had been so many times in the past three years when I didn't know whether our marriage would be an embodiment of my heart's deepest longings or simply an arrangement designed to keep the family intact. In this moment, I knew that we had indeed triumphed, and were finally enjoying freedom from our struggle. It was blissful! Today, 35 years later, I still count that experience in the claw-foot tub among the most precious of my life.
The more of our own internal house cleaning we have done, the less time it takes to establish an open-hearted connection with our partner. Taking care of business, however, generally requires more time and effort than we think it should. There's a fine line between clearing upsets internally and repressing them in denial and allowing resentments to fester and accumulate. We know that we have more work to do if we find ourselves trying to fix, blame or fault the other person, rather than looking at what we can do to create a safer, more loving environment in our relationship. This of course is easier said than done, but possible, and worth the time and effort that it takes to do it.
Doing our own work means not being preoccupied with our partner's perceived flaws, deficiencies, shortcomings or foibles, no matter how obvious they may be, and directing responsible and conscious concern instead to our own feelings, reactions and responses. In this way, we are able to prevent the accumulation of unacknowledged grievances and maintain a clean playing field that will promote greater honesty and trust between us. These practices neutralize the conditioned patterns that otherwise tend to diminish the trust level of the relationship. Staying current with regard to our unmet needs, unexpressed feelings and unfulfilled desires and frustrations, without holding our partner responsible for fulfilling them is as important a practice as that of giving love and appreciation to each other. Interrupting the daily routine with a getaway, whether it's to a beautiful vacation destination or an afternoon that we have carved out of our busy schedule isn't a luxury, it's a necessity. And for us and many others, these breaks have meant the difference between having a thriving relationship and getting a divorce.
A wise sage of our time, Woody Allen, once said, "A relationship is like a shark, if it doesn't keep moving, it dies." Because we tend to underestimate the complexity of human relations, we may expect deep fulfillment to come quickly and easily. This belief inevitably sets us up for great disappointment, as well as the likelihood of feeling either resentment (toward our partner) or inadequacy (toward ourselves). In a world that promotes the expectation of immediate gratification, it's easy to forget that most of us enter marriage not yet having fully mastered the art of being a loving and authentic human being. The many facets of marriage furnish us with the experiences necessary to complete the job.
This is the work of a lifetime. But when both partners are willing to share fully in this process, concern about time fades into the background, and we become entranced by the thrill of the process. Well, maybe it's not always joyous. But it is what is necessary to grow us into the wise, loving and lovable beings we are at our core. You get what you're willing to pay for, and in this case, the value of the benefit far outweighs the cost of the effort.
For more by Linda Bloom LCSW and Charlie Bloom MSW, click here.
For more on conscious relationships, click here.