Remember the first time you kissed your partner? Or even perhaps the first time you touched hands and came into any kind of contact that electrified your entire being?
A friend of mine said, it was the moment he realized the look. Coming up close, barely containing his breathe. Inhaling the scent of perfume and exhaling the heat from his mouth.
It’s the moment the flame has been ignited.
When it fades, what do you do to spark it? Keep it warm and lit?
When the light goes out (as it will because as fire needs oxygen, too much of it can blow it out), what do you do?
How do you spark the flame?
To be blunt, the flame will weaken, and go out. Maybe once, maybe twice, or maybe a dozen times.
The reconnection, the making up, the reconciliation can make the flame bigger and harder to dye out.
The question isn’t how to make up. I’m sure you know just as well how to do that (wink, wink).
The question is how to prevent it from going out all together. The right amount of oxygen, heat and fuel. Or should I say kindness, compassion, and respect?
Our marriage was like a filthy sock.
Neglected, dark, negative, and stunk with bitterness and resentment.
In our ignorance, we assumed the sock needed to be thrown away. “Let’s go our separate ways,” we said to each other—which was the nicest sentence we had exchanged in recent time.
Like an infant seeing bubbles for the first time, we were baffled to see the lack of socks in trash bins.
In greater pain, letting go of the sock seemed inexplicably difficult. Until we discovered what the sock represented. Affection.
To let go of our affection for each other, buried underneath the grime of dirt, felt like the impossible for us.
To our bewilderment, the discovery of washing the sock released us from future heartache.
Not every marriage has affection. Not every marriage is fit to succeed. Not every marriage is safe. But ours just had filth.
We almost had mistaken our resentment as hate. Our fear as rejection. Our partnership as blinded enemies. Our ignorance to wash the sock as our confident problem-solving.
Yes, we took marriage education classes. Yes, we went to therapy. But something more powerful gave us a lifetime of detergent—to wash the sock for life.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying of real estate and restaurant advice: Location! Location! Location!
For romantic couples, it’s: Compassion! Compassion! Compassion!
During our intense sock washing ordeal, we didn’t just wash one sock, we washed them all. We didn’t just focus on one aspect of our beings, we focused on it all. And we didn’t just wash once, we decided to commit to wash it all consistently.
How did we do that?
Meditation became the power source for therapy or marriage education classes to work.
In a study at Harvard Medical School, fMRI scans revealed meditation lit up parts of the brain that regulate blood pressure and manage stress.
Relationships are stressful. And when it’s covered in resentment, stress is the irritating mosquito bites that itches away at you until you scratch.
We have no control and no remedy. We feel stuck and misguided.
A study published by Psychological Science in 2013 found that 8 weeks of meditation increased compassionate responses.
No matter how much we were told the mechanics of communication, trust, forgiveness, etc., without a bigger sense of compassion, we would fall back into a state of hopelessness and blame those who tried to help us because we would believe their extraction of our vulnerability only made us worse off.
Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship. By this I mean a mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company.” —John Gottman
The beginning felt like brutal discipline and too high a challenge. With time it became a practice and a new standard of living.
We had people surprised to hear that the person we share our troubles and gossip with is each other.
Our socks are clean. Affection doesn’t have to hide underneath fear, anger, or pain. It’s free to express and encouraged to lead because compassion, kindness, and respect is the reliable heat, oxygen, and fuel to keep the flame strong and the space well lit.
No one is blinded to the other person’s actions.
Affection can safely play all day, because compassion creates the boundaries.
You will not feel burned, or deceived.
Your differences aren’t sheltered and disregarded, but accepted and integrated.
Your heart no longer has to fear or shield itself, because you have a friend that has no intention of hurting you. Mistakes might happen, but that will no longer be interpreted as a purposed tactic to get even. Instead a level of understanding is brought, to make the problem easier to handle.
Stress hasn’t left, but it’s no longer in the driver’s seat. Love and affection know how to guide the many feelings that go wild when there’s a storm.
Tomorrow, we celebrate a dozen years married and our message to other couples, happy or unhappy, is to practice compassion with yourself and others. Set the boundaries you need to put in place for you to love more freely, because your value is immeasurable. Don’t ever be too lenient in your boundaries.
October 14, 2017
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