What does it take to sustain a happy and successful relationship/marriage?
Bob De Laurentis replies:
First off, I’m not an expert by any means. I make that distinction because it’s important to note right off the bat that I’ve consulted them many times. You know who they are: the legions of psychologists and psychiatrists, professional marriage counselors who have interesting and enlightening things to say on the topic of how to sustain a happy and successful relationship. My expertise, to the extent that I have any at all, is not theoretical or even philosophical, but comes on the road (more on this metaphor later) of an actual marriage.
In fact, the only reason to think that I might be even marginally qualified to comment on a subject so elusive and complex is the fact that a year ago, my own marriage hit the thirty-year mark. At that point, friends and fellow marrieds began looking at me as a person who had reached a special level of accomplishment, and was now in possession of a magical talisman, a mystical elixir, a secret road map (metaphor still coming) for achieving, against all odds, this incredible feat.
Unfortunately, I’m also not the holder of any of the above, though many times I wished that I were. In moments of crisis and doubt, I went searching in the same places that everyone else does, including the aforementioned professionals. But ultimately I found that the road (pesky metaphor again) always led right back to the same place, the person in the mirror. And by engaging in some honest introspection, I managed to discover a few things that were necessary for sustaining a relationship. For what it’s worth, they include (but are hardly limited to) patience, empathy, humor, adventure, romance, and of course, a little luck.
But in addition to the above, sitting above them, like a wise shaman sitting on a mountain top (with a view of the road below), is PERSPECTIVE.
Now for the metaphor.
My wife and I recently decided to take a long road trip across the country, a trip that we’d talked about for years but postponed for all the obvious reasons. I’d like to say that we conceived the idea when we first met, because that would make the story perfect (in the metaphorical sense), but that would be untrue. We did take a cross-country drive shortly after meeting, but that journey was largely practical. Driving from east coast to west, we had to arrive in a short time, belongings included. In other words, we were moving. There was little time for any of the things I mentioned earlier. In fact, I think it’s safe to say patience, empathy, humor, adventure, romance and luck were in short supply, if not largely missing. Perspective? Well, at that point, with the relationship in its infancy, it barely existed. It wasn’t an awful trip by any means, but hardly the kind, particularly if multiplied in increments that added up to thirty years (somewhere around two thousand one hundred ninety) that would sustain a casual friendship let alone a marriage. It seemed to me at the time that if the relationship lasted, it deserved a bigger and better road trip at some point in the future.
Thirty years later, the opportunity finally came, and we grabbed it. Ironically, this road trip would take us back east from whence we originally came, traveling up the west coast from Southern California to Portland Oregon, where we’d make a hard right turn and head across the country to the other Portland, in Maine. After a little horse trading (Columbia River Gorge for me, Fargo to visit a maiden aunt for my wife), we agreed on the itinerary. Thirteen destinations in thirteen days. We made our final preparations and hit the road.
The trip started out with a bang, Carmel and Mendocino the first two nights, the honeymoon phase. The following day wasn’t too shabby either, with the spectacular Oregon coast out the window all the way. But one of the things you quickly realize when you’re making a road trip like this is that it doesn’t break into neat little increments. Like marriage itself, it resists your best attempt to plan it perfectly, lay it out neatly.
And after this near perfect day, we arrived in Coos Bay, in one of the few hotels that took dogs, overlooking a parking lot, with chain take-out food as the only option. The temperature dropped, and the fog crept in like a horror movie. It was a night so dreary that it cast a pall over the fantastic opening days. We were in the thick of the trip now, the rude awakening of the reality we’d undertaken upon us. The honeymoon phase, so to speak, was over. The following day, we tried to summon our original enthusiasm, but the drive through interior Oregon was dull and boring. Not only was the honeymoon over, but we had (much too) quickly arrived at the point where the highs and lows of the trip began to even out. And we still had, roughly speaking, three thousand miles to go.
Anyway, I think you know where this is headed. Portland Oregon was as good as predicted, but the rain and fog on the Columbia River Gorge (my big pick) killed the (supposedly) spectacular views. Idaho, flat out terrific; Montana, wonderful, then not so wonderful, then flat out terrible. Mount Rushmore, a highpoint; Rapid City, a low point. Amazingly enough, we realize we’re about halfway through the trip. With the longest day in front of us (the ten hour jaunt to Fargo), most of the highlights behind us, we’re both thinking the same thing: is that all there is to the legendary road trip?
And that’s where PERSPECTIVE kicks in. Like marriage itself, the honest answer was yes, maybe, possibly, but probably not. This was the point when you realize (if you’ve learned anything at all during thirty years), that this road trip IS marriage: the good, the bad, the highlights and low points, the unexpected. And the most important thing to surviving and sustaining the journey is to embrace it all. This is the trip you agreed to take, wanted to take, chose to take. And if you let it, this is the trip that will offer you the greatest fulfillment. As long as you sit back, stay on the road, and stay open to the possibilities.
Which is exactly what we did. Fargo (which I secretly dreaded) turned out to be the most charming stop on the entire trip. Fergus Falls, Minnesota was almost as good. True, Minneapolis disappointed, but (perspective to the rescue) we missed the tornadoes that would land a day later. Madison, Wisconsin was pleasant pit stop, and just when we’re thinking we have the whole marriage/road trip thing on cruise control, we hit Indiana and Ohio: stormy weather, two lane highway, trucks everywhere, minimal visibility. The dark night (literally) of the soul of the entire trip. I have to admit, the one-two punch of Indiana/Ohio tested the marriage. And just when we thought we had it down.
The following day began the last leg of the trip, with a long drive through New York State, and the one destination that was a complete flyer: a small, barely pronounceable town called Skaneateles (Skinny Atlas) the gateway to the Finger Lakes. We were there simply because of the math (it represented the halfway point of the last leg). To make matters more anxiety producing, we’d run out of prep time when it came to reading up on the place. Simply put, our trip (and marriage) was finally in the hands of fate.
We pulled into the renovated motor court (a dubious proposition to begin with), on the final night of our journey. Exhausted, tired of packing and unpacking (not to mention driving) I girded for defeat. Moreover, we were lost, and our combination of trusty maps and GPS had finally failed us. I was ready for the trip to be over, and I was plum out of PERSPECTIVE.
Fortunately, my wife had a little that she’d put away for emergencies. Whatever this destination would bring, she counseled, it would neither make nor break the experience. If it turned out badly we still had a great trip, and would live to drive another day. We pulled over, figured out where we were, and expecting the worst, drove into town.
Lo and behold, we found ourselves in a place that I can only describe as timeless and magical, the road trip version of Brigadoon, one final lesson in perspective.
On any marital journey, it always helps to have perspective at your fingertips. It’s the thing that allows you to look out the windows, see where you’ve been, and where you’re headed. And most importantly, enjoy the scenery. Because that, after all, is the reason to be on the road to begin with.
– Bob De Laurentis
Bob DeLaurentis is a screenwriter and television showrunner. He was most recently an Executive Producer of the ABC drama THE UNUSUALS.
Deepak Chopra replies:
Relationship Is a Daily Rescue
Although the differences between men and women have been much emphasized, there's one thing that both sexes must do in a relationship: rescue love. Relationships are happy where love is nurtured. They begin to fray around the edges when love is compromised, and they end when love is gone.
What causes love to go away?
Many answers have been offered — boredom, routine, various distractions, outside obligations, fixation on work, wandering libido, lack of trust. But instead of dealing with such a long list item by item, there might be a simpler way. If you can rescue love every day, bringing yourself back to the place where love is, all the other problems don't have a chance to grow.
To rescue love, you first must understand what it is. Love includes affection but is more than affection. It associates itself with sexual desire, kindness, compassion, altruism, and mutual regard. With those things in mind, many couples turn love into loving acts and loving feelings. But such efforts are the effect of love, not love itself. You cannot turn an effect into a cause. For example, if you find out that your partner has cheated, you have a reason not to love him or her. Trying to be nice instead of nasty won't revive your love.
If you can discover how love works as a cause, you can rescue it every day.
Love as a cause goes beyond the individual. It's transpersonal or as spiritual teachers say, transcendent. That's not the same as mystical. To transcend means to go beyond. In this case, we want to contact love that goes beyond the ego. The ego is often put in charge of love. When love becomes what "I" want, then relationship is a negotiation between two selfish points of view. There's nothing wrong with negotiating the everyday details of your relationship – who does the dishes, when to have sex, how to have sex, etc. -- but love isn't about trade-offs and what happens in bed.
Love beyond the ego has to be on a new basis. It's not about quid pro quo, giving as long as you get to take. It's mutual. It exists in a space between two people. The only way to be deeply happy in a relationship is to find that space every time you lose it. In this way, love goes beyond affection and being nice. Loving acts blossom naturally once you find the place in your own awareness that is love. Needless to say, becoming aware is a process, in love as in everything.
Consider how relationships develop. We get along well with someone else who agrees with our point of view. We feel an intimate connection; we feel validated in their presence. Then the spell is broken. The other person turns out to have many opinions and beliefs where we don’t agree at all. At this point, the war between right and wrong starts and the road to unhappiness unwinds.
The very fact that you are intimately related makes it even more painful to find areas of disagreement. At the subtle emotional level you feel abandoned. The beautiful sense of merging with someone you love is shattered. At this point love is compromised. Both people feel the return of the ego, which says, “I am right. My way of doing things is the only way. If you really loved me, you’d give in.”
When the need to be right fades, we stop having so many grievances and resentments, which are the fallout of making someone else wrong. Instead of wasting time with the ego's version of love, return to the place of love. To detach yourself from anger, resentment, and the sense of being a victim happens only in the space beyond ego. You can only find this space by devoting yourself to knowing who you really are. Leaving the ego behind is the same as the spiritual quest for the true self.
When two people are on this quest, they are on the journey to a kind of love that can never be taken away. The differences between a man and a woman fade in the light of a shared goal that is bigger than any ego need or desire. Every day becomes both a rescue and a surrender. Not a surrender to another person's ego, which can only feel like defeat. Rather, both partners surrender to the larger goal.
The ego's path is much easier to walk and far more familiar. I know that someone is on the path of love when they ask the following kinds of questions about their relationship every day:
- Which choice is more loving?
- What will bring peace between us?
- How awake am I?
- What kind of energy am I creating?
- Am I acting out of trust or distrust?
- Do I feel what my partner is feeling?
- Can I give without expecting anything in return?
These questions don’t have automatic answers. They serve instead to wake you up spiritually. They attune you to a process that is more than “me” and “you.” When you become devoted to that process together, you and your partner will accomplish what seems impossible: your happiness will be as full for each of you as it is for the two of you together.
– Deepak Chopra
Deepak Chopra is President of the Alliance for New Humanity (www.deepakchopra.com and www.anhglobal.org). Deepak Chopra’s new book, Jesus: A Story of Enlightenment is available at Amazon.com. Follow Deepak on Twitter: twitter.com/Deepak_Chopra.
Stephen Huvane replies:
The very nature of a relationship almost makes it impossible to succeed. You start with two unique individuals and put them together to cohabitate, love and grow together, all the while needing to match or blend backgrounds, personal taste, families, personal incomes, sex drives, careers, pets, and friends. It is a daunting prospect for anyone never mind two people of the same gender.
My partner and I have been together for five years now (eight years if you count a brief stint of dating and the occasional hook up once a year for the first three of the eight years). This by far is the longest romantic relationship for both of us. We are two extremely committed men who enjoy our lives together immensely. That isn’t to say that we don’t work very hard to keep our relationship strong. It is the same for gay couples as I imagine it would be for straight couples. The first stage of any romantic relationship is always exciting. You can’t wait to see the face or hear the voice of the one you are getting close to. Each day you learn more about the other that makes you grow closer and more secure. You meet the friends and family or your future partner, and they become your friends and family. You share more and more of yourself with the other and you begin to feel safe in knowing that you are releasing your fear of being hurt.
Along the way you discover that you are in love and a life without the other does not seem imaginable. We decided two years into our relationship to have a commitment ceremony. We were surrounded by all of our family and friends at the home of my brother and exchanged vows to love each other, care for each other and to always be there when needed. That day was the best day of our lives.
Three years later our relationship has evolved into something more complex as I am sure happens to many couples. As you become more and more used to the strengths and weaknesses of the other – you begin to lose patience and inevitably the first major fight(s) happen. What would normally be a traumatic experience has in retrospect become a huge opportunity to learn something about each other that we did not previously understand. These arguments reveal a fear that we are having or an insecurity that may be brewing. Regardless of the cause of the fight – it is the lesson that we take from it that allows us to stay close.
I remember a good friend of mine got married and a year or so into the marriage – I asked her what do you like most about being married. Her response was “what I love most is that both of us are not going anywhere”. When I asked what she meant by that she said even though they would find themselves sometimes embroiled in a huge argument, she loved the security in knowing that they were comfortable enough to have that argument all the while knowing that neither of them would leave. This truly inspired me.
As we enter the sixth year of our relationship I am happy to say we are as committed to one another as ever. With busy travel schedules, career challenges, struggling economies, sometimes the pressure to connect is tiresome and overwhelming. When we feel that disconnection happening – we make a point of scheduling a date night This usually entails a romantic night at home where together we prepare a wonderful meal or maybe we go to one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants. Regardless, we make sure we take the time to reconnect
Being a gay couple in California certainly has its downfalls. It is not a very supportive place knowing that the rights to marry that our straight friends enjoy has been taken away from us. With that comes a stress that is unique only to gay couples. The non-acceptance is a burden that can sometime cause a rift in a relationship. After all, if your government and neighbors don’t accept you as a couple why bother? We bother because we love each other and want what most people want - a lifelong partner to grow old with.
– Stephen Huvane
Stephen Huvane is a partner in the public relations firm PMK\HBH and lives in Los Angeles with his partner, artist Steven Janssen.
Michael Berg replies:
Why Relationships Work
Logic dictates that long term relationships are not the natural order of things. When you bring two egos together, naturally they will clash. No wonder the divorce rate is so high.
The solution to beating the odds is to understand the deeper, spiritual aspect of relationships. As you may already know, the purpose of life is to transform into better versions of ourselves. However, often we are blind to what we need to change, or our egos get in the way. And that is what a partner is for.
Adam and Eve, the first couple, shed light on this conundrum. It’s written in the Old Testament, “the Creator says, ‘It is not good for man to be on his own. Let me create a helpmate opposing him.’”
What does the word opposing mean in this context?
It means because of our ego and our blind spots, we need someone standing there with us, supporting, challenging and reminding us of the qualities we need to perfect. When both partners accept this purpose, and are open and trusting, chances are they will see their way towards a successful long-term relationship.
The proof that each partner accepts this understanding is their willingness to be open and trusting in the heat of battle. Open to hearing the other’s opinions and suggestions, and trusting that whether or not you agree, there is something real for you to learn.
This understanding is essential because change can happen within this framework. Bridges can be built and understandings can be reached.
There’s obviously so much more that can be written about this topic, but I know starting off with this understanding as a cornerstone for your relationship cuts to the core of what it takes to sustain your relationship over time.
– Michael Berg Laurentis
Michael Berg is co-director of the Kabbalah Centre™.