My husband, Angus, and I received a lovely compliment recently. I was asked how long we have been married. When I replied twenty-two years, the person who asked was surprised. She said, “I thought you were newlyweds.” This made me smile. I recognized how much love and appreciation I have for Angus now. Funnily enough, this is not how I felt as a newlywed.
Angus and I did go through our honeymoon phase, but that ended before we got married. When we were first married, and for quite some time after, our relationship was challenging. We were both working in the fashion industry and were frequently apart due to travel demands. We also moved from London to Los Angeles within our first year of marriage, a place neither of us had lived before. However, these circumstances were not the cause of our challenges. The main reason why our relationship is better now than it was then, is because I stopped trying to change Angus. I am better able to love and accept him as he is.
At the beginning of our marriage, I would take all of Angus’s negative behavior personally. I would see his imperfections as something that was being done to me, rather than recognizing he was simply, temporarily, not at his best. I did not realize he would return to normal eventually. Nor did I see this would happen quicker if I left him alone. Instead, I made sure that every time we had an argument, we would talk it through so we could learn from it. Of course, in my reality, it always looked like he was the one needing to learn something. I was the innocent bystander on the receiving end of his insensitivity or temper. I was blind to my attitude and behaviors of impatience, contempt, criticism, and condescension. My conduct always seemed warranted based on what Angus had done. So during, and after, every fight, I would deconstruct what happened so Angus would be able to understand my experience, see the error of his ways, and change.
My expectations of marriage were that we would arrive at a place where we would get along all the time, my feelings wouldn’t get hurt, and I would be unconditionally loved and appreciated. I know this sounds ridiculous, but it seemed like common sense. Just like Angus said to me yesterday, “For someone who is so smart, you have some crazy logic at times.” At the time, these looked like worthwhile goals to strive for. Unfortunately, all of my striving looked like me putting pressure on Angus to be different and left him feeling criticized, judged, unappreciated, and unloved. As you can imagine, this took a toll on the goodwill and warmth in our relationship.
After years of this, the appreciation in our relationship reached a catastrophic low, and I found myself attracted to another man. When I told Angus about this, he didn’t seem that bothered and told me to be friends. This did not help to diminish my feelings of attraction. It was not until, upon a therapist’s recommendation, I asked him, in all seriousness, if he would have an open marriage that all hell broke loose. We ended up separating and going through a very turbulent time. For those of you who read my previous posts, this was the time of me smashing the wedding dishes and crystal in the backyard. I really lost my bearings and found it hard to function on even a basic level. I’m sure the man I was attracted to felt like he switched movies from An Affair to Remember to One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. Angus found his own love interest, a beautiful, dynamic, intelligent woman. It was clear to me he would land on his feet.
However, even though I completely lost my bearings, got caught up in my negative thinking, and kept my negative thoughts alive by focusing on them, at some point, I let go. As soon as I did this, I dropped into a feeling of peace. This happened when I had a conversation with the person I thought I was in love with, and it did not go well. I woke up in that instant and realized it was not going to work. I looked around me at the shambles I had created. I was alone in the world, but instead of falling a part, I felt a deep peace come over me. I knew I would be okay. I knew I was fine, and I would be fine. I didn’t matter that I didn’t know how is was going to look. I just knew in my heart everything would be okay. I finally relaxed and let go after months of turmoil.
As luck, or divine intervention, would have it, that same night, when Angus was driving home from a weekend seminar he called me. He had reached a fork in the freeway and saw one direction would take him to our home and the other direction would take him to where he was staying. So, it was when I was in this state of peace and calm that he asked me if he could come over so we could talk. He had his own realization that weekend.
When he arrived, we had a very easy conversation. I could see and feel him clearly. I was no longer caught up in my distorted thinking. I could see how wonderful he was. Did he still have his frailties and weaknesses? Of course, and so did I, but I had perspective. I could see the full picture. I was not zoomed into one part of his personality. I saw the whole man.
It was during this time that my coach, Steve Chandler, recommended I read The Relationship Handbook by George Pransky. This book opened my mind to a new perspective on relationships. It helped me to shift my focus from the problems in our relationship to appreciating the good. This was the complete opposite of what I had been doing. I had been so hyper-focused on the bad that it took over my view and was all I could see. I no longer saw Angus as a lovable human being with his strengths and weaknesses. He had become a distorted monster in my mind, a one dimensional caricature, not a multidimensional divine being having a human experience. I lost sight of who he was and related to him as if he was the ogre in my mind. This did not bring out the best in him.
Now, I recognize my experience is internally generated. My feelings are my thoughts brought to life via my senses. What I feel has nothing to do with Angus or his behavior. It doesn’t always look this way to me, even now. Sometimes it still appears like his behavior is causing my upset, but I get skeptical of this perspective pretty quickly. I know it is a temporary distortion of my thinking, and I will eventually remember that my experience comes from my thoughts and not what is happening outside of me. This understanding helps me to not fuel, and bring my distorted thoughts to life more fully. As a result, my suffering is reduced because living in the feeling of my negative thinking is painful.
It is such a relief to know I don’t need to do anything about these distorted thoughts. I don’t need to try to understand them, change them, or stop them. They will naturally disappear. By simply allowing myself to have my experience, the negative thinking will dissolve more quickly than if I tried to get rid of it. I will easily return to my natural state of wellbeing. Once I am back to feeling myself, I can see Angus more clearly. His weaknesses shrink down to size. They may even look endearing to me. I am able to see that his good qualities far out weigh his bad, and life goes back to normal. Often, when we are no longer reactive there isn’t even a conversation needed. I am always amazed at how quickly what can look like an irreconcilable difference, when we are in bad mood, can be resolved when we are in a good mood.
I remember having a conversation with a woman who had been married for over forty years, when I had only been married for three. I was curious about what words of wisdom she had to share about having a successful marriage. All I remember her saying was that the first ten years of marriage are the hardest. I was so shocked by this that I couldn’t hear anything else. I was horrified and could not imagine enduring ten hard years. As I look back, her words ring true, not because marriage needs to be hard for ten years, but because it took me that long to get a clue that I create and live in my own reality.
I have the power to conceive an awful husband or a wonderful husband depending on the quality of my thinking and not his behavior. When I saw this, I woke up from victim consciousness. I realized I was empowered, and saw the creative potential that lives inside of me, and inside each one of us.
I want to be clear. I am not condoning bad behavior. However, what I see is that everyone, including Angus and myself, is doing the best they can with the understanding they have, and as understanding changes, we see we have more choices available to us. As a result, the level of reactivity and escalation in my relationship with Angus has significantly reduced. The love, acceptance, compassion, and good humor Angus and I both enjoy more of now, are a result of us seeing the transitory, illusory, nature of thought and how it creates our experience. This allows us to take the content of our thinking much less seriously, and, as a result, we get into less trouble.
The power lies in seeing the miraculous capacity we all have to experience new thought and to see with a fresh perspective. This is our natural state. We do not have to work at it. No matter how often clouds of judgmental thinking obscure my perception, new thought is going to come into my awareness. It is in the design of human beings to have fresh thinking emerge so we can see more clearly with the eyes of the heart.
Recognizing that the only problem I ever have, is the problem of me judging what is, frees me up from expending huge amounts of energy trying to fix issues that really only exist in my mind. Because with a new thought, the problem is either no longer there or able to be solved. This understanding helps me to relax and brings out my best qualities. It fosters more enjoyment of the good times in my relationship and helps me to weather, more gracefully, the stormy moments.
Rohini Ross is a psychotherapist, a leadership consultant, and an executive coach. She helps individuals, couples, and professionals to connect more fully with their true nature so they can experience greater levels of wellbeing, resiliency, and success. Rohini co-facilitates three-day, couple relationship retreats with her husband, Angus Ross. You can find out more about Rohini’s work on her website, rohiniross.com.