Simi Valley Family Magazine --

Winter 1996 issue


Marriage: Nurturing the Relationship

Deborah Tucker, M.A.

When a young couple gets married, they may naively think that what is happening is simply the joining together of a man and a woman. It may take them years to realize that what they have created, if their union is successful, is a separate but related entity called a "marriage".

A marriage is more than just a relationship, which is another type of entity that exists between two people who have shared a certain amount of time, energy, and emotional investment. Many couples who live together before marriage make the mistake of assuming that nothing much will change between them after the wedding. Couples who wait until after the ceremony to live together may be caught just as much by surprise.

A marriage is similar to a separate creature that is conceived at the time of the wedding, and must be carefully fed, nurtured and protected from that day onward. If not treated properly, it can become malformed or "dysfunctional". If neglected too much for too long, or if mortally wounded, it can even die. However, as many couples can attest to, a marriage is easier killed than buried, and even a dead marriage that has long been abandoned can haunt a person, literally forever.

A marriage can peacefully survive for long periods of time on starvation rations, only to rise up when least expected and assert its rights to time, attention and even money (in the form of entertainment, vacations and even therapy). Unlike a child, it never stops needing nurturing and care, because it is either continually growing and changing, or like its constituents, can become stuck and rather stunted.

A marriage is like a mirror, because at its best, it forces us to look hard at ourselves and the way we relate to those closest to us. It is like a sponge, as it soaks up our projections of old emotional baggage, but like a shield, it also throws those back at us, forcing us to deal with our own issues or risk the marriage reaching an unacceptable level of overload and toxicity.

Perhaps a marriage is most like a garden. Carefully tended, it is thing of beauty and creativity. Neglected, it can become a tangled web that may look hopelessly withered and overgrown with weeds; yet given some attention once more, can spring back to new life with new potential for a richness and variety that may not have been there before.

The tools for tending such a garden are written about and discussed in many arenas -- communication, attending to one's old issues, simply paying attention. A teaching of the Catholic Church reminds us that there is another component available. Marriage is regarded as a sacrament, a living sign of God's love for us. A sacrament provides its own tools, especially that of grace, which can give us the strength to do the work necessary even when it is most difficult. Therapy can help a couple procure and use the tools available; using one's spiritual and religious orientation is just as important to find the endurance.

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The Power to Choose

Phyllis Wilson, M.A.

Each and every day of our lives is filled with choices. Many of them are so routine or seemingly inconsequential that we don't recognize them as such. It's usually the larger ones that capture our attention. And yet, all of the choices we make - big and small - impact the quality of our lives. For that reason I believe it's important to become aware of just what we're choosing day after day. That way we can continue to choose those things which enhance our lives and modify those which we find are not helpful in one way or another.

Listed below is a brief description of some general choices that each of us has the power to make. Rather than being specific to one situation, these choices are more global in nature, affecting a wide variety of life situations in a positive way. I encourage you to mull them over, try them for awhile, and evaluate the results. I think you will find them definitely worth the effort.

  1. Choose to listen to your body's signals. We have a wealth of information and knowledge within us; yet we're usually "too busy" to tune in and listen. Our body tells us if we're hungry, thirsty, tired, worried, stressed, scared, unhappy. It also registers our excitement, joy, sense of fulfillment. The more we practice tuning in and listening to the signals, the sooner we'll be able to use the knowledge our body is providing to make any needed changes.
  2. Choose to be open to feedback. There is a balance between being closed to the input of others and allowing ourselves to be devastated by what someone else says. Strive for middle ground - hearing how others perceive us gives us valuable information as to how we're coming across to others. If we trust the source of the feedback, we can mull it over, see if it fits, and use it as a guide to our future decisions. If we decide that it doesn't fit or that the person giving it has their own agenda which differs from what's best for us, we can discard the feedback. Keeping an open mind allows us opportunities to learn and grow.
  3. Choose to believe in good intentions. Misunderstandings are a part of life. If our spouse does or says something we don't like, it is our choice to assume it was an intentional attempt to hurt us or to choose to believe our partner's good intentions. The difference in our reaction depends on which choice we make, and choosing to believe that he/she means well usually makes it much easier to resolve the issue. This is one of the foundations of a healthy relationship.
  4. Choose to connect. When we're at the end of our lives looking back, what things will stand out? What will really matter? I believe that most of what matters is the relationships we have, the connections we make with other imperfect humans like ourselves. We are social creatures - we all need to love and be loved; to have numerous people in our lives that are important to us. If we find ourselves lonely or cut off from others, we need to take steps to reach out and reconnect, to repair rifts, to build new bridges.
  5. Choose to risk. Any time we make changes, there is some discomfort. We're leaving the familiar and venturing into the unknown, to try something new. And yet if we never allow ourselves to be uncomfortable for awhile, we'll miss out on many opportunities to learn and grow and expand our world. Courage is not about venturing out unafraid; it is feeling the fear and doing it anyway!
  6. . Choose to value yourself. Our beliefs and our behavior go hand in hand. If we think highly of ourselves, we are more likely to take better care of ourselves physically and emotionally, to make positive choices, to choose caring people to be a part of our world. If we're having trouble valuing ourselves, we can start by acting as if we do, and with the actions will come the beliefs and feelings.
  7. Choose to see the opportunity in challenges. In every difficult situation there are lessons to be learned. Sometimes we get bogged down in the problems, stuck in the feeling of "why me?". Certainly we need to put energy into meeting the challenge or solving the problem. If we leave it at that, however, we miss the opportunity to learn about ourselves, to gather skills and awarenesses that will help us with the next challenge we encounter.
  8. Choose to be in the moment. Take a deep breath. Look around at the sights, smell the aromas, hear the sounds. Tune in to the environment, to your inner self, to the person you're with. Give thanks for what is. Life is happening right now - don't let it pass you by.
  9. Choose to play. Of course we have work to do, yet we need to balance accomplishment and achievement with rest and rejuvenation for our mental and physical health. Many of us have forgotten how to let loose, laugh, let our spirits run free. Give yourself opportunities to have fun.
  10. Choose to give. One of the greatest rewards in life is in the giving of ourselves. We're all aware of the larger ways - volunteering for an organization, donating money or goods. Yet there are a myriad of smaller, equally important ways we can give - a smile, a gesture, a few moments of our time. Look for the little ways to give - it will enhance your own life immensely.

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