Learning how to quarrel well—a key to a good marriage

surf swim

Life is unfair for everyone in some way or another, and on this, the 19th anniversary of my wedding, I realize that I have been unfairly fortunate in love.

I first met my wife at a screening of a Fellini film, Fred and Ginger, at The Lincoln Center in New York.  It was a blustery late winter’s day not long after a stay in the hospital due to mysterious heart problems had given me a chance to read Moby Dick for a second and much more appreciated time than in high school, and also to rethink a lot of things about love and despair.

Something like the whisper of fate ran through me when I first saw her, tall, charming and unavailable.  Come summer, however, we both had keys to the apartment of the mutual friend who had introduced us—tasked with taking in the mail on opposite days.  We left notes, became friend, then lovers, then drove to LA together, then moved into Mae West’s old apartment building, then decided to get married. 

We still share a mutual love of cinema, and sometimes I think that the whole point of my film path was to cross her path.  And given that I am not really sure about how luck works, I’ve learned to tip my hat to the trickster when luck goes with me, and also when it goes against me.

And also given that children benefit from their parents having a good relationship (whether they remain together or not), I hope that a few ideas about facilitating successful relationships might be of some use.

Firstly, trust the universe: if you are with someone, strive to learn and grow from the relationship that you have.  Even if it seems miserable, the way in and the way out are via the same route—authentic love.  Sometimes the loving thing to do is to release someone, but this is different than rejecting them.  And if you love someone who doesn’t seem to love you back, it is still possible that you can learn and grow from this—as to what you are supposed to learn, only you can figure this out, perhaps by listening to your heart, your body, the wind and the birds.

Being a single parent is exceptionally difficult, and yet when that is the case you are still in a relationship with your self (and with your anima or animus—the true aspect of the psyche that “completes” us).  Thus we always face the challenge of getting along with our own selves, which in all authenticity always have conflicting and contradictory feelings.

But if you are in a relationship right now, or are inwardly preparing for one in the future, a few guidelines might come in handy:

*  Don’t “fix” the other person or their problems.  The essence of love is being understood; therefore strive to listen, hear what the other feels and thinks and resist the impulse to correct the so-called facts, or to offer practical solutions.  The goal to respond in a way that gets the other to nod and concur, “Yes, that’s exactly how I feel.”  This is called empathy and where you can achieve it, you achieve a much better feeling in your relationships.  Martin Buber calls this “I-thou” relating, in which we strive to see the other as a sacred spirit, and not as any sort of object—not even as someone to help; the love of compassionately seeing to the essence of the other, free of resentment or hunger to get anything, is something that Buber called “the essential deed.”  [something worth thinking about when often we think that sex is the essential deed, a power-loaded football that is sought or withheld in accordance with the overall discord in a relationship]

*  No “below the belt” hitting, by which I mean zero physical aggression, but even with verbal interchanges, do not name call, insult or say things meant to harm.  Try to stick to the expression of your emotions.  One powerful thing about this is that facts can be disputed, but your own emotions are subjective and beyond the judgment of the other.  If both partners are willing to express their own feelings, rather than telling the other one what they feel, or worse yet what they do that, of course, is viewed as all wrong, we can move away from the “he said/she said” sort of quarrel into the mutual recognition of emotion.

*  And finally, trust that you can disagree and still be in the relationship.  Many people carry wounds related to feelings of rejection or abandonment.  The less consciously held these wounds are, the more likely we may be to act them out by either abandoning, threatening to abandon the other, or provoking the other to abandon us.  If we can build the basic trust that there is love and a commitment to staying with the relationship, the threat of one or the other pulling the plug on it diminishes, and with this the anxiety and level of threat goes down and the emotional safety of the children in the middle increases.

So, let’s dedicate today to authentic and respectful quarreling and lively discord when needed, but also let’s dedicate to harmony and a sincere effort to engage in life’s “essential deed” by striving to truly see your partner, your friends and especially your children as sacred and luminescent beings, as blessings in a manner similar to a beautiful landscape in a wilderness—something to behold rather than possess or exploit in any way.  We all have some bad luck, but we also all have some good luck; therefore I dedicate my good luck in love, and invite you to contemplate your own good fortune, be it in your children, your own giftedness, prosperity, health, interesting experiences or wherever good luck has found you, and to join me in tipping our hats to this good fortune and placing it in honor of the well-being of all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce

p.s. Andy, I love you!


4 Responses to “Learning how to quarrel well—a key to a good marriage”

  1. A.N. Says:

    This is beautiful Bruce, I’ll “tip my hat” to the good fortune and seeing the sacred in all!

  2. aa Says:

    You write a good blog, but your love letters are the best. I love you.

  3. Beth Kirk Says:

    Thank you for this, and happy anniversary!

  4. krk Says:

    How very beautiful for all of us.
    Happy harmony, and anniversary.

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