07/25/2013 11:47 am ET Updated Sep 24, 2013

For Better or Worse Until...

"And they lived happily ever after."

Who would have ever thought that six harmless words could lead to so much disappointment? Just think of the number of times that you were told stories that involved two lovers, who after rising above many hardships and ordeals, finally merged their hearts as one and rode off into the sunset together to live in the splendor of love's eternal bliss.

Yeah, right.

Time and experience makes us all wiser, or hopefully at least less naïve, and it doesn't take too long to realize that the stuff that constitutes fairy tales is not necessarily that which makes up our daily lives. The "real world" comes crashing down on all of us sooner or later, and when it does, it often leaves us disillusioned. The process of dissolving illusions is never much fun, but it seems to be an inherent aspect of the process of growing up. Some illusions dissolve more easily than others, but whether it is the shock of finding daddy dressing up as Santa Claus or the death of our pet kitten who was supposed to live forever, the process of letting go of erroneous beliefs always contains some degree of suffering.

It might be said that a valid indicator of maturity could be the number of illusions about the world that one has given up. This is never easy to gauge since much of what we hold as "reality" is nothing more than beliefs for which we have gotten some agreement from others. It was once "reality" that the earth was flat, that the sun revolved around it and that it was the center of the universe.

It may be hard to imagine a majority of the world's population believing such nonsense, but in the scope of human history, it was just a moment ago that this was the case. What we call reality is constantly changing, continuously influenced by events and circumstances that may be quite unfathomable to most of us. We live in times in which such change occurs at rates that are staggeringly rapid, not only in our material technological world, but also in our internal thought structures and perceptual systems. Complicating this situation is the inherent tendency that we humans have to want to solidify our point of view, resisting all influences to the contrary. Add to this a huge number of competing world views, and we can find ourselves swimming in an ocean of insecurity and confusion.

Then in the midst of the rolling seas, our eyes suddenly lock onto an object in the distance moving slowly across the horizon. Squinting we struggle to make out what it is, desperately hoping to be rescued from what looks like a terrifying fate. Getting closer now, we can finally make out what it is. It's a ship, sent to rescue us from the insecurities of our solitary struggles in the middle of the ocean. As it gets closer to us, we can make out the ship's name, written on its side. The name is "Relation." The relationship is going to save our lives and take us to safe shore on the other side, where we will live (how else?) happily ever after.

Now maybe you find this little story corny or amusing, but don't be too surprised if you discover that you've still got an illusion or two that you haven't given up yet -- about what a relationship or a marriage will save you from. Most of us enter into a committed partnership with a belief that it will provide our life with something valuable and necessary, or will save us from some horrible fate. We might be looking for security, fulfillment, acceptance, unconditional love, support, friendship, intimacy, sex or any number of other experiences that people believe will be found in sharing a life together. It's no wonder that when the honeymoon ends (as sooner or later it inevitably does), we experience a let down and perhaps even some real doubt about having chosen the "right" partner.

Most of us believe that marriage will enhance the quality of our lives. Otherwise, why bother? And if it doesn't add what we expect it to or adds something that we don't expect it to, we may think that:

  1. We're not the "marrying type."
  2. We picked the wrong person to marry.
  3. All those people who never married or divorced had the right idea, and marriage is just a bad idea.

These are understandable thoughts if one holds marriage as something that requires people to fit into it.

But consider an alternative view. Consider the possibility that marriage is not a noun or thing, but a verb, a process. Consider the possibility that when we get married, we are sharing an agreement to take on a collection set of commitments, the outcome of which is to enhance the quality and substance of each of our lives. Seeing the hopes, dreams and possibilities that we hold for our marriage in terms of our willingness to honor the commitments that we make -- not just in our wedding vows, but in our day-to-day agreements as well -- we experience a different (some might say "more realistic"), perspective regarding our relationships. Marriage (the verb), then becomes a constantly-shifting dynamic process rather than a fixed model or concept.

Our ability to create intimacy, trust and commitment in relationships will largely determine what we can attain and accomplish together. This raises the question. Why do so many marriages end in divorce? Why do so many people live in unhappy marriages? Why don't we see more examples of truly fulfilling relationships? This is where the part about the dissolution of our illusions comes in. There are several illusions in our culture's version of the mythology of marriage, which most of us have bought (at least partially) into. "Happily ever after," means:

If you love each other you shouldn't fight, things will be consistently blissful forever, you never have to say you're sorry... about anything, you'll never be lonely again and about a thousand other things that will turn out to be untrue. The word for these beliefs is "illusions."

In seeing through these illusions, marriage becomes the place where it is possible to experience one's heart breaking sometimes with joy and sometimes with sorrow and not always being able to tell the difference. It is where I can discover how much more of life becomes available when I become more committed to my partner's well-being than to always trying to get my own desires fulfilled. It is heaven and it is hell. It is, as Zorba the Greek said, "the full catastrophe."

How much can we open? How many of the illusions that keep our hearts closed can we let go of? How many of our fears can we release in learning to trust another? Can we risk giving up the "security" of our beliefs to gain the experience of our heart's deepest desires? When we see that the real question is not "Are we able to?" but, "Are we willing to?" we have accepted responsibility for the direction which our relationship will take. In doing so, we can begin the practice of becoming a loving partner rather than being a critical judge. Like the old saying goes, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

It takes lots of patience to do the work of creating deep and lasting trust in a relationship. It takes time. The third thing it takes is the persistence to persevere, even when we are discouraged and afraid, which from time to time, we probably will be.

If we could see for one moment, what is available to two people who share a pure love for each other, we would gladly undergo any sacrifice that is necessary to achieve it. The Chinese Book of Changes (I Ching) stated over 2,000 years ago, "When two people are at one in their innermost hearts, they shatter even the strength of iron or of bronze. And when two people understand each other in their innermost hearts, their words are sweet and strong like the fragrance of orchids."

Those words are as true today as they were then.

For more by Linda Bloom, LCSW, and Charlie Bloom, MSW, click here.

For more on conscious relationships, click here.