Jerry and Ruth had been married for 12 years when they first came to see us for counseling. With three bright and happy children, a beautiful Victorian house in a quiet neighborhood, and what they described as a basically good marriage, Jerry and Ruth should have been the epitome of a happy couple.

"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.

Recognize Your Own Sacred Love Story
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:

  • Set aside time to talk with your partner about what drew you together.
  • Reread letters or cards you've written to each other. Look through old photos of good times you've shared.
  • Reread your wedding vows.
  • Ask yourselves (without expecting an immediate answer), "What is the meaning of our marriage?"
  • 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:

  • Find small but frequent ways to demonstrate caring. It can be as simple as calling your partner to say, "I'm thinking of you," or completing a chore that your spouse usually does.
  • Notice something your spouse did for you and express appreciation.
  • Ask yourself how you can best help your partner grow and develop.
  • Notice how you feel about yourself when you meet your partner's needs.

    View Your Marriage as a Spiritual Path, Not a Destination
    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.

    If your only goal is to reach a destination, then difficult times are seen as unwelcome obstacles. If you view your marriage as a spiritual process, however, then problems are not obstacles but opportunities for growth and learning. Valuing the process allows you to see that your relationship is right where it needs to be at any given moment.

    We don't expect you to jump for joy whenever you and your spouse encounter difficulties. But, after your initial reaction of anger or disappointment, you can step back and shift perspectives.

    Ideas to try:

  • Ask yourselves, "What can we learn here?"
  • Look for opportunities for growth and closeness that may be hidden behind the obstacle.
  • Find ways to stay on the same side in dealing with the problem.
  • Cultivate Patience
    Finally, remember that all of this takes practice. You wouldn't expect to learn a foreign language without hard work and study, and learning the language of the heart and soul is no different.

    Ruth, the woman mentioned earlier, had a difficult time being patient. Like many of us, she wanted quick results. But gradually, as they incorporated these spiritual tools into their marriage, Jerry and Ruth began to feel closer. They talked about what first drew them together. They started to surprise each other with simple signs of caring. They learned that discontent was a reminder that they needed to cultivate their love, to defend it from the pressures of daily life. They still didn't have all the answers, but by sharing the struggle they appreciated more fully their life together.

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