As Long As We Both Shall Live: Creating a Mindful Marriage

mindful MARRIAGE“I,
Take you,
To be my (wife/husband);
To have and to hold,
From this day forward,
For better, for worse,
For richer, for poorer,
In sickness and in health,
To love and to cherish,
As long as we both shall live.”

Once the marriage vows have been exchanged, once the gifts are opened, the monogrammed towels hung, and the bed sides chosen, what steps can be taken to keep the marriage vibrant and meaningful as long as you both shall live? The answer to this universal question is elusive, yet could be a real marriage-saver if you incorporate it into the fabric of your romantic relationship from the beginning.

There is a silent, unspoken secret buried deep in both partners, a simmering doubt that won’t be quieted: maybe, this voice whispers, this love affair won’t last. Maybe my love will tire of me over time. Maybe I don’t have what it takes to keep someone interested for an entire lifetime. In many ways we sometimes sabotage what otherwise would be a good thing because we privately believe we are “not good enough.”

As a clinical psychologist and now married for a quarter of a century, I may have some perspective to offer on this score. The year my husband and I met was 1980 when Blondie had the #1 song, the Euro-pulsing, pop hit, “Call Me,” and Ronald Reagan swept to power, trouncing incumbent Jimmy Carter in a landslide presidential victory. That was a long time ago and the world has changed in fundamental and global ways since then, though stages through which relationships grow remain more or less the same.

All these years later, for example, my husband and I find ourselves adjusting to a newly un-feathered and empty nest, with one son away at college and the other staking his claim in New York, seeing if he can, as they say, make it there. So after years of a full, fast-paced, crazy family life, we have returned to setting the table for two.

It is rather nice though, I must say, rediscovering the essential aspects of the “us” that makes me feel today like the young woman back then, meeting and getting to know the man she would one day marry. With silver hair streaking his temples, we sit alone on the couch now, memories drifting to a more innocent, exuberant, youthful time: the productive years of raising children. Being there for scraped knees, calming the fears of a monsterfilled nightmare, hearing the peals of youth’s uncontrolled laughter, contagious and free: this was our world.

Every relationship evolves, from peaceful times through somewhat more difficult times and back to peace again, as married people learn that the path from here to there is never a straight line. Staying present – and patient – through each other’s growth spurts and dips, successes and pitiful crashes, shining moments and monumental mistakes is what love is allabout. Love is experienced, in the moment, as a spontaneous opening of the heart. Crises are faced and transcended in most marriages, and despite hardships, couples find themselves years later together still, growing in ways that deepen and burnish the marriage bond.

Here are a few important tips to marriage newbies, offered as a chance at long-term love:
Don’t be afraid to lose an argument
Don’t take things personally
Don’t be overly needy – create a life for yourself
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Do give freely
Do think of others before yourself
Do become the best listener you can be
Do express warmth to each other every day
Do kiss hello every time you meet again
Remember how precious every moment actually is: appreciate your
partner, with all his or her quirks and imperfections

Gelek Rimpoche, director of Jewel Heart, a Buddhist center in Ann Arbor is fond of telling a story about married couples. He says that when husbands and wives argue with each other and stir up feelings of aggression, they are not in touch with why they married this person in the first place – what initially drew them to each other. Once the rush of anger is gone, however, an hour or a day later, we seem able to re-establish this connection.

In the fire of the moment, though, we are cut off from ourselves as well as from our partner; we lose sight and forget. The secret to “As long as we both shall live,” is remembering, even in tough times, that negative feelings are transitory, they do not last, and therefore, we need not hold so tightly onto something ephemeral and fleeting. Anger passes, like clouds in the sky, so rather than indulging its allure, we can simply watch it pass by instead, like a cloud. Love, on the other hand, is what is always behind that cloud, even when we can’t see it. Wait just a moment, the clouds will clear, and lo and behold, there it is again, shining forth if you let it: love.

A willingness to be mindful in one’s marriage (not needing to “be right” all the time) gives the union between husband and wife a chance at longevity. There is an Eastern truism, that every moment is a new now. This is great news for couples because it tells them it is acceptable to be less than
perfect and to consider every moment as a chance at a fresh start. It isn’t about being good enough; it is about learning how to keep an open heart.

If you want to be married a long time, Rimpoche advises, when you feel angry, think back to the moment you fell in love.

This first appeared in Ambassador Magazine, Detroit, Michigan.

About the Author

Donna Rockwell, Psy.D. Dr. Donna Rockwell, Psy.D., L.P. is a licensed clinical psychologist, adjunct faculty member, community outreach worker, columnist, and mindfulness meditation teacher. Dr. Rockwell specializes in both mindfulness and celebrity mental health. She works with clients in her private practice and teaches public meditation classes. You can watch Dr. Rockwell on YouTube or read more of her blogs at The New Existentialists.

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