Maybe it takes a village to support a marriage, too?
The things couples go through: successes, failures, money issues, grief, aging, health, changing as human beings, being hit with reality all the time and realizing how much we don’t yet know.
The more years I’m married and the more years I support my loved ones, friends and clients in theirs, I realize our marriages themselves benefit so much from being loved collectively.
It’s great to have people that love us individually, but when we have people that love our marriage, in a nurturing way, beyond judgment, people that can relate to our challenges and us as human beings who are trying our best and learning, we can make so much out of it. We can create a culture around marriage as an incomparable learning opportunity that benefits from collective wisdom and support. We can take it easier on ourselves and lean on each other. No couple has it all covered on their own.
It takes our willingness, too. Admitting challenges in our marriages can be embarrassing, because we publicly declared our love for our spouse, because we don’t want to admit that we don’t know what to do, because we can bristle against receiving help and because we want to hold up a pretty picture.
We need to let go of the fairy tale as a marketing tactic for selling marriage. A wedding, sure, but not a marriage. Perhaps a more apt definition of marriage is a lovingly entered joint commitment to evolution. We use goals and our experiences together and share our lives to help spark this evolution, to shape it.
I think the best part about my marriage – 14 years in – is the growth, the learning and giving it to each other as a gift, finding ourselves in new places as new people because we needed to evolve and used the commitment to each other to hold the process. I’ve needed to learn so much about myself in trying to become a truly worthy partner and there’s much more to go.
I think of all of the forgiveness I ask for when I learn what I needed to learn. Humbling. Some of that learning is truly challenging, but I couldn’t be any more grateful for earning it, for who I realized I can be, for the commitment and for the woman in my life who gives me the reason and the person to share it with.
What my village has done for me most of all is made me feel normal when I think no one could understand what I’m going through. Once that occurs, then I can actually take a breath and do something truly productive about my situation, instead of trying to do it with dread or shame hanging over my head.
My village has also knocked me down to size! Parenthood has a way of making you feel like you’re already supposed to have all the answers. Little people are asking questions of you and needing you all the time (and sometimes helpless big people, too 😉 ) and you get used to relating to yourself as having those answers. My village has a way of reminding me that it’s way easier to remember that I can be an idiot sometimes than think I need to know everything.
So how do you do this? How do we create a village around our marriage?
1. Start telling the truth.
No one can help you if you’re hiding. Shame and habits from our culture keep us from understanding that everyone has challenges to face and that no amount of makeup, wealth and happy faces can change the truth. If you give carefully selected people access to the truth, you’ll feel understood and known like never before. It actually clears our heads and gives us some room to think, to make better choices and lowers the drama. There really is no benefit to this exercise at all without truth.
2. Find people who will not automatically protect you and will tell their truth to you, about you.
We all have friends we go to so they can defend us. So they can agree about how awful our boss or spouse is and how wonderful we are, that we don’t deserve the treatment we are getting. That’s all well and good and sometimes we need it, but if we stay perfect through this and it winds up being “all their fault”, then we can pretty much guarantee that in the big picture, little will change in our lives.
It’s one thing to have courage to get out of your situation or stand up for yourself or try something new. That may change your life temporarily, but unless you get some help seeing as best as possible how we create the situations we find ourselves in, we’re likely to repeat them. This isn’t easy, because it’s hard for someone to reflect our own responsibility without it sounding like blame.
To really take advantage of having truth-tellers around us, we need some very important skills.
Thick skin. We need to be able to take a hit sometimes, to hear something that doesn’t feel so good, because this is often how we discover our opportunities. We’re shown the uselessness of our own approach, belief, idea. This can take some practice and willingness to be loved by people who say things that pierce our idea of ourselves. That’s one of the hardest and most rewarding things we can do, to be able to feel love from someone who truly means us well and says something that challenges us.
Another skill is finding the gold. This can be tricky, because there are terrible and self-destructive habits some of us develop where we find a way to make people right and ourselves wrong. It can be a form of self-abuse to do that. What I’m talking about is the ability to objectively look at ourselves in the context of what someone says to us or how they react to us and see how we may have created a situation we are not happy to find ourselves in. The gold is that moment when we see “oh, I see how I create that!” and it occurs to us as freedom and as a gift, not shame.
3. Take it easy on the spouse!
Obviously in cases of abuse or addiction, it can be dangerous to make our spouses right for their behavior, but in most other cases we want to keep our conversations from being a blamefest, so we can really use the opportunity to grow ourselves. If we keep the conversations mostly about us, our reactions and our interpretations then we can use our village as a mirror, see ourselves clearly and grow out of patterns that don’t serve us. We can get good feedback and appropriate advice to help us expand and evolve.
If we use our village as a place to predominantly create agreement with our gripes, then we’ve created a toxic environment for our marriage in our friendships and/or family as well. We can tell the truth without making our spouse the bad guy/gal. All of us are imperfect. If we do share the things we don’t like about our partners, try to keep it light and in the context of wanting to truly make things work. Keep your village on your marriage’s team more than just your team.
4. Practice creating a loving environment around sharing and growth.
This is not automatic for many of us. Growth and learning is often a solitary and judgmental experience. If you and your village can have enriching, enlightening and loving conversations, understanding that none of us are finished products, that we have so much to learn and learn from each other, then we can welcome the big stuff, the scary stuff and be real with each other.
Villages need to practice welcoming truth as a new child in the world. Something precious, raw and unformed, that might need a little cleaning off as it grows into something we can work with, support and admire.
In older times, villages had social constructs that encouraged shame and judgment as a way to avoid trouble and create predictable behavior. We’ve evolved to not need those structures as much. We embrace nuance, we consider and can hold ideas without feeling threatened by them. These gifts give us a chance to really help each other.
5. Agree to accept it all.
If you’re going to support each other with sex or parenthood challenges, you have to let everything be fair game beyond judgment. Accepting something doesn’t mean that you want to take it on in your own life, it just means that if you want to be a part of a village for someone, you can’t let your sensibilities get in the way of supporting the person through the challenge. This is the #1 reason why we carry so many secrets, why we are so used to being inauthentic, because we keep from being ourselves due to fear of judgment.
A sexually open-minded group who can let members address their wants, needs, frustrations and even fantasies stands a very good chance of raising each other’s well-being. They can also encourage each other to create the change they want in their relationships. When your ideas and wants meet rejection and self-rejection, it can be a very damaging experience and will be difficult to carry around. When we are accepted for being sexual beings, for living in a world full of variety, the idea that something is wrong with us never enters our minds.
When it comes to our children, they make noises, have growing bodies, raging hormones and act like jerks sometimes. Let’s just say pride is not the only emotion we have about them. When we can laugh together about some of their questionable judgment and habits and be accepted by our village, it takes the edge off and actually will help us be easier on them. Still great parents, with boundaries, but perhaps with less of the impact of our discomfort bearing down upon them.
6. Laugh, laugh, laugh!
The crazy ideas we get in our heads about what married life is supposed to be like can be funny. Our spouses not getting it, no matter how much we hint, can be funny. Our disappointment about the expectations we have about our marriages can also be funny and adorable. Humor takes the edge off of how seriously we may be taking things and creates perspective. We’re not talking about laughing at anyone here other than ourselves. When we can laugh about our lives then our village can laugh with us and our bond grows stronger. Then we take a gulp of wine and figure out together what we’re going to do about it!
Enjoy your discovery of the people you want in your village. I recommend making sure that you have a nice distribution of experience in the membership. Our elders often have so much to offer and can speak to our issues with a certain bluntness. They’ve been there, done that. Giving them license to contribute to our lives can really be a two-way gift.
Good luck with your relationship and with your village. The quality of one frequently matches the quality of the other!