"Jerry is a good man," Ruth told us. "I know he loves me and the children. I feel guilty for saying this, but something is missing. All we do is work and raise the kids. We don't really connect. I almost don't see the point in being married anymore."
Jerry also felt strain in their marriage, but he attributed it to the time and energy required by his growing business. "I feel terrible that I'm not making Ruth happy," he said, "but I'm not sure how to fill the void she describes. Honestly, the whole thing scares me."
Jerry and Ruth are not alone. Many couples feel this nagging emptiness, and they search for ways to make it go away. Maybe a romantic cruise would help, or a new house. Some look to therapy to learn communication skills.
But the reality is that romance can fail you. So can money, words, and even love. All these things are sometimes not enough, because what's missing in many marriages today goes deeper. As human beings, we have a need for meaning in our lives.
What is the solution? We believe the answer lies in building and maintaining a bond of love, but not just any kind of love. What's required is a love embedded deep within a spiritual framework, a framework that gives meaning to the marriage.
In essence, what's needed is a belief that your relationship is not only special, but sacred; a conviction that your relationship is a vehicle for healing and growth; and an acceptance that your relationship is exactly where it needs to be at any given moment.
Our practice has given us insight into some of the keys to creating a spiritually alive marriage.
We often ask couples to recall the development of their relationship. Even those on the brink of divorce usually smile and tell us in great detail how they met and fell in love.
Every couple's story is a unique spiritual drama that provides a richly textured backdrop of meaning to married life. Perhaps you overcame great odds to be together. Perhaps you fell in love quickly, amazed that someone could understand you so thoroughly. Maybe you came from backgrounds full of pain and were surprised to be nurtured by someone.
It may seem now as if it just happened magically--but it didn't. You created the magic, detail by detail. You formed the sacred bond by caring, nurturing, and attending to each other's spirit--by paying attention to each other with the intensified focus that characterizes the process of falling in love.
Ideas to try:
Keep the River of Caring Flowing
It sounds incredible, but research has revealed that most people treat total strangers better than their own spouse. In a spiritual marriage, there is an ongoing flow of gentle kindness and genuine concern. This is an active process, one in which you continually seek to understand your partner, to be in touch with his or her needs, and to respond to your partner with your whole being.
You might be wondering, "What if I'm the only one who does the giving, and my needs never get met?" In our experience, once the pattern of "keeping score" is broken, remarkable changes take place. You begin to realize that although relationships may seem out of balance at any given moment, over a lifetime this shifting of the scales is insignificant. And although caring is selfless, it carries great rewards. Consistent expressions of caring immunize the relationship against distrust and resentment while also boosting the morale of the one who gives and the one who receives.
Ideas to try:
The focus of some spiritual traditions is to reach an end goal, achieving a state of grace. In contrast, our view focuses on the opportunities for growth along the path. We believe that the day-to-day process of living and loving is more important than reaching some perfect state of bliss.