Confluence Ceremonies

Marking Your Life's Important Moments

Tag: marriage

It Is Really That Simple

“The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.” Mahatma Gandhi.

My wedding couples sometimes ask me for referrals to pre-marital counselors. They share their concerns that maybe, no matter how much they love one another, they won’t “do it right.” So they want to learn from someone who can teach them how to succeed. I understand. Marriage is a huge decision, and some of us don’t have inspiring role models to follow in crafting a healthy one. 

 

What do you think is the secret to a successful marriage? Do you know?

Kindness.

That’s it. Just kindness.

Not the presence or absence of children.

Not the couples’ sexual relationship.

Not socio-economic pressures.

And not whether they married earlier or later in life.

But researchers firmly believe, based on peer-reviewed data that has been replicated in numerous studies over the last four decades, that the strongest predictor of a good marriage is the presence of kindness.

“Your own soul is nourished when you are kind; it is destroyed when you are cruel.” (Proverbs)

Kindness toward another involves many, many behaviors: compassion, concern, empathy, respect, care, humor, helpfulness. Partners show kindness by requesting connection with the other. “Would you like a warm-up?” “Thanks for taking the mail with you.” “Enjoy your work-out!” “What would you like to do on Saturday?” Kindness can also include acts of silence and quiet acceptance without judgement.

And partners who receive kind behaviors can also show kindness by gratefully acknowledging the giver: by putting down the smart phone, making eye contact, smiling at the other, and just actively listening. “Oh, Saturday might be a great day to walk together. Maybe we could talk about your frustrating week.” The Gottmans called this responding “turning toward” as opposed to “turning away.”

The kernel of this relationship research comes out of my own state, Washington, where Dr.s Julie Schwarz Gottman and John Gottman have conducted the Gottman Institute for over 40 years now. Their research, combined with that of Robert Levenson and many others, has focused on what behaviors predict that any committed relationship will last.

And researchers have studied loving relationships of all kinds and found similar indicators. For both straight and LGBTQ couples, being treated with kindness and having the kindness you offer your partner accepted and appreciated is central to a relationship’s success.

On the other hand, predictably, behaviors the Gottmans call “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling, will doom a couple to misery. Any of these four weapons can, over time, destroy the atmosphere in which kindness can be offered and received. And of these, contempt is the most damaging.

Moreso, these negative behaviors result in physiological arousal (think “fight or flight”) in most of us. As our heart rate increases we become angry, we yell, we withdraw, and we lose access to our rational mind. When we feel attacked, we will reflexively either respond in kind or retreat to safety. No relationship can thrive in such an environment. And next time, we will behave defensively or with anger even before provoked. And so the spirit falters.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

(Dalai Lama)

In her 2014 article in the Atlantic Monthly about the Gottmans’ research, Emily Esfahani Smith writes of contemporary marital success: “Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity; or contempt, criticism, and hostility?” Research has supported the findings that working hard to treat our partners with kindness is a worthy effort, and will create an environment of safety and understanding, an atmosphere in which love can grow.

Can it be that simple? Perhaps not in every single case. But the facts are strong. Credible research indicates that, when we teach young couples to exercise behaviors positive for kindness, their relationships flourish and the likelihood that they will stay together and continue to report satisfaction with their relationship is greater than for couples who do not learn these behaviors or learn them too late.

When we realize we alone are responsible for what we unpack into our relationships, when we each realize that we help set a tone by the spirit we bring to the table, we can choose whether that tone will tear down or build up.

“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” (Henry James)

 

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Letting the Light In

“Ring the bells that still can ring  Forget your perfect offering  There is a crack in everything  That's how the light gets in.”  ― Leonard Cohen

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
― Leonard Cohen

The days have shortened, the air is chillier than just a few weeks ago, and where I live, the snow is beginning to fall. Yes, you and I will soon be sharing more of our time with family and friends as we celebrate the upcoming winter holidays of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and the New Year. Full of tradition and ritual, these celebrations carry with them the explicit message of gratitude, unity, peace, hope, and rebirth. Each tries to lend light to the darkening times. Each give us courage to face the changes we are undergoing.

But for many of us, this year feels very different. I’ve talked with friends and family who feel like the U.S. election has added a nuanced complexity to their interactions with others, especially with those they are closest to. Some feel unnerved, out-of-balance, and fearful with the results. And knowing that the holidays will soon be upon us just adds stress and dread.

This year, disagreements between couples about fundamental candidates, issues, or policies, can create thick walls of pain and anger. We look at this person we share a bed with and wonder: “How can they make this huge mistake?” “I thought I knew this person, but maybe I don’t.” We see a crack in this relationship that we never noticed before.

In a recent New York Times article “He Likes Trump. She Doesn’t. Can This Marriage Be Saved?” http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/14/fashion/marriage-politics-donald-trump-hillary-clinton.html?_r=0 Sridhar Pappu talks with a handful of couples who found themselves in opposite camps over the presidential elections. And their relationships had clearly hit dark times as a result. Their stories ring with disappointment, shock, and anger, expressed at their partner for supporting “the wrong” candidates. One wife said of her husband’s plan to vote for Donald Trump, “I would just be disgusted on every level . . . And also a little fearful. Disgusted on the marriage level, but fearful for our society.” Some couples Pappu interviewed even talked of divorce.

Even dating couples, Pappu noted, had either parted as a direct result of their political views or declined to begin relationships with those they were otherwise interested in after learning of their support for another candidate for president.

While many couples have found ways, no doubt, to get along regardless of their differing political beliefs, the challenge to some relationships is brought home to me. My sister and her husband voted for different presidential candidates after the exhausting election season brought to light their divergent views on issues that matter greatly to them both. These two are feeling real distance from each other after the election–and real pain as a result. They made a shaky truce: not to talk about their views. But both are suffering a sense of being misunderstood and unappreciated.

So how do we move forward in our relationships when we feel so divided from those we most cherish? How can we gather our tools for the upcoming holidays, and for the long term? I am not a therapist, but I have benefited from couples therapy, and know that we all can afford to learn more about dealing with the challenges, big and small, that every relationship faces. So I went searching for the experts’ advice for couples grappling with the post-election/pre-holiday blues.

Based on his 30 years’ experience as a marriage counselor, Craig Lambert offers his wisdom to couples feeling the strain of the election season. http://craiglamberttherapy.com/how-couples-with-different-political-views-can-survive-an-election-year/ I’ve distilled Craig’s ideas here.

First, think. Recognize that all couples share differences. Our disagreements aren’t in and of themselves warning signs. In fact, you CAN love someone who doesn’t see the world in the same way you do. You both can love each other deeply and still disagree. Truly, sometimes our love is enhanced by the very act of honoring another’s right to his or her own beliefs.

Next, act. Ask your partner to tell you why they feel the way they do. Try to listen without judging. That act of listening to someone else, paying attention, and repeating back to them their thoughts as they have stated them is one of the most powerful ways to express your love. You’re saying: I hear you. Don’t expect your partner to offer you this same opportunity, either. Give freely. Don’t keep score. Marriage is not a football game.

Finally, change. You can’t force a change in another’s viewpoint, but you can change your perspective. Like an eagle, push yourself to rise above the daily struggles and disagreements; just for a moment look at your relationship with new eyes. Does your political disagreement reflect deeper fissures in your relationship? Or does it simply make you feel uncomfortable, challenging your sense of your knowledge of another person? Ultimately, what matters more to you: the next four years of a presidential officeholder or the entire journey of years you have invested in traveling  together with this particular person? Can you see the bigger picture?

These are tough questions that will require time, attention, and hard work to answer.

Meanwhile, you both might be able to agree on a few basic ground rules to reduce the damage either of you can do to your relationship.

  1. Agree to disagree. Remember to also keep in mind what you share in common.
  2. Agree to not talk politics, if talking politics results in hurt feelings.
  3. Try to choose love and respect over judgment and disrespect. You won’t always be able to succeed in doing so, but you will get better at it. And you will be honoring your loved one by trying. And they will feel your love.
  4. Do no harm. Your behavior can communicate clear signals that your partner is not lovable or that your relationship is less important to you than ever. Sending these signals is a choice. Choose, instead, to act in loving ways.

If we are fortunate, we learn that love is not a finite thing. It can’t be measured out or kept back or given in like proportion. Our primary relationships are not tit-for-tat interactions, but full expressions of humans’ deepest and most powerful nature to love and need to feel we are loved. And this beautiful truth is one of the greatest parts of being in a loving  partnership with another person.

For now, let’s all take a deep breath, light the candle, and be inspired by the spirit of the upcoming holidays–gratitude, unity, peace, hope, and rebirth. Let’s “ring the bells that still can ring” and let the light in.

I wish you and yours a loving holiday season.

 

 

 

 

 

Finding a Future

IMG_4535Together, the couple walked slowly, meanderingly along the beach. They held hands, and the warm September sun touched their skin while the cool coastal  breeze played around them. The golden sand glistened under their feet.

At the same moment, they both saw it: a yellow agate much larger even than a walnut lay at their feet, seemingly plopped there for our couple to happen upon.

At that very moment, they were on a journey: dreaming of what might be possible, if they could but take the next big step.

They had met earlier that year on OK Cupid, and now they couldn’t imagine spending another day apart. Each had been married before, and his two near-adult children and her young daughter were in their hearts as they discussed their future together. So, I imagine, were their failed marriages. Dare they try again?

That is when they came upon the stone in the sand. Its golden glow and infinite depth of color reassured them, and felt like a beacon into their future. This beautiful but  irregularly shaped stone seemed to call to them, answering a question they had posed. Could we find happiness together?

He picked it up and held it in his hand. Hers cupped around his and they quietly wrapped their fingers around the warm rock.

What an amazing stone! Agates are frequently found along the Pacific Northwest coast. There were a few smaller ones back at the cabin on the windowsill over the kitchen sink, little treasures other visitors had found while on their beach walks. Each had its own story. Each was precious.

Now our couple had their own treasure to share.

Later that night, seated at the picnic table on the deck of the cabin, they began to speak in certainties, to envision a future . . . together. Between them on the table glowed their agate.

One year later, the cabin was overflowing with laughter, music, flowers, and the loving presence of family and close friends. The warm September evening provided the perfect backdrop to the wedding ceremony, which took place on the very deck where they had dared to dream and imagine this new chapter of their lives.

As they exchanged ring vows, the rings themselves silently stood witness to their love: their one agate had been carefully made into two stones and set onto silver settings. He placed her ring on her finger; she placed his ring on his, encircling the lifeline to the heart, wrapping each other in the warm glow of hope and renewal, strength and beauty.IMG_3914_2

D-I-V-O-R-C-E

Did you hear: Gynneth Paltrow and her husband of ten years, Chris Martin, are ending their marriage? These two people have two families, two large careers, and two real children to sort through, all of which will surely be affected by their split. And for years to come.

Here’s the catch: they are calling their divorce not a divorce—but a “conscious uncoupling.” What’s that about? Can divorce ever be anything but d-i-v-o-r-c-e?

Zosia Bielski of Toronto’s Globe and Mail gives psychotherapist Katharine Woodward Thomas credit for having devised the term “conscious uncoupling” and its unique approach to enlightened divorce as a way to encourage healthier break-ups of couples and their families. As she and her own husband worked “honorably” together to conclude their marriage, Thomas came to see that such amicable endings are unusual. By the time most couples divorce, they may already lack trust, good will, and compassion for each other. Children suffer. Pain and guilt and grief abound.

Thomas’s official process of conscious uncoupling requires one or both parties take a five week online course (~$300) “to Release the Trauma of a Breakup, Reclaim Your Power & Reinvent Your Life.” Each couple or one of a couple works with a coach as the course progresses through subjects such as avoiding pitfalls, crafting contracts to promote positive interactions, and practicing compassion.

While kinder divorce is a laudable goal, it still rarely happens in real life. “[I]t’s time we learned how to do this better” says Thomas.

Hurray! You and I could not agree more! Let’s do divorce better. That’s where celebrancy comes in.

Celebrancy has crafted the “Divorce Ceremony” as a concrete way of addressing the grief which can surround divorce by officially marking the ending of the marriage. Doing so offers an opportunity for recasting the central relationships, transitioning the family and the community into the next stage of these relationships, and imagining a future of transformed roles and purposes. Also, a divorcing couple often wishes to honor their families (children, in-laws, and others), which the Divorce Ceremony provides space to do.

Too, crafting a divorce ceremony can help a couple articulate for themselves and their communities what their own practical vision is: will the couple both support the children? How? Where will each live? What will become of their mutual friendships and professional relationships? Constructing this ceremony with their celebrant can also help them address still deeper questions: What do they want for their own lives? Their children’s lives? What will the end of their marriage enable them to imagine for themselves? Through the ceremony they write together, a couple can effectively envision and then articulate their next chapter.

Celebrants have long been working with couples who want to compose ceremonies to mark their marriages’ endings as meaningfully as they marked their beginnings. We understand the healthful role of ceremony in helping us effectively separate, transition, and incorporate (or as Thomas says, “Release . . . Reclaim . . . [and] Reinvent,”). This three-staged process helps us clarify the present, then step out of our old lives, and into our new ones.

And Divorce Ceremonies aren’t just for those directly involved. Any marriage contains its community of supporters. So when a marriage ends, this larger community doesn’t suddenly stop caring; it is lost, it is concerned, it is grieving. Without its own chance to express and heal, that external group can sometimes turn ugly, spreading rumors, imagining the worst, hurting those already most hurt.

We all need to know how to truly move forward from divorce, and the Divorce Ceremony provides the space to do this in therapeutic ways that honor our humanity.

I’d like to see the “coupling” of Divorce Ceremonies with Conscious Uncoupling’s therapy sessions to best insure that the end of a marriage is truly a marker of healthy transformation, instead of a lifelong source of trauma, for all involved.

Divorce is divorce: a loss of hope and shared vision. But by adding ceremony to conscientious attention, couples can truly transform divorce into healthy transition, instead of the horrible, gut-churning experience many of us think it must always be.

Sources:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/celebrity-news/so-how-do-you-consciously-uncouple/article17682694/

See also:

~~Ben Zimmer’s WSJ online article on the history of the language of divorce.

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304441304579479461454199396?KEYWORDS=zimmer+divorce&mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle