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My husband and I hit a turbulent stage in our relationship 18 months ago, giving way to a crucible of our marriage.
At that stage, our marriage was limping along on habits and patterns that kept the family machine running, but lacked the space for true connection, leaving only a few threads to hold us together as a couple.
After all, life was full with a family schedule, and we often hit the pillow exhausted and could start over the next day mindlessly.
And, after 20 years, it could have been easier to carry on and to keep the status quo,
to have a glass of wine and shut down what we didn’t want to see,
to keep our hearts a little protected with all the old, thoughtless patterns in our relationship.
Yet, I was at an undeniable, personal rock bottom a year and a half ago, which forced us to both wake up to a marriage that was too thin to handle the deep questioning that was going on in my soul.
I questioned everything in my life at that time, as I faced living a life that didn’t fit what I had imagined. My chest felt frozen as I woke up to a world that seemed to be built for a younger version of myself, who did her best trying to fit into a grown-up world.
In the pain of this crisis, we questioned if we still had the desire in our own souls to go the long haul together.
We set out on a path of discovering different ways to know each other. Nothing was assumed: we didn’t assume we knew each other’s pleasure or pain, nor did we assume we would make it through this crisis as a couple.
We walked a path of uncertainty and faced a sharp edge of discomfort.
I chose to step into the questions, “Could I explore new ways to experience passion and joy, to expand into a more true expression of myself? Could I unlearn my old way of knowing my husband to discover the man in front of me?”
As Rainer Maria Rilke says,
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart. Try to live the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books in a very foreign tongue. Do not seek the answers which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.
And, the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Increasingly, over months, we found a greater attraction to each other, empathy, and personal vitality.
Here are a few things we did when in the hot trial of our marriage, and that we still do 18 months later:
We wake early to have sex, even when our mind tells us sleep is more important. This may seem radical at our age to share this with you. Yet, this one act has reinvigorated our personal lives and marriage more than any other act in the past year.
I believe it is because we get out of our heads and start the day remembering the essence of each other, all the while expanding our own energy. It seems ironic that this one aspect of a happy marriage seems to be lost in the midlife discussions. Yet, it is the main element that sets us apart from being friends.
I consciously schedule in a little more joy for me, and my husband is planning a little more fun just for him. He does motocross biking with friends. I schedule long chats with women where we can weave several topics together with emotion.
Subsequently, I have less need for my husband to be the one to process my thoughts and emotions with me. This works for my husband because he is not a highly verbal person. After all, we can only delight with each other if our own cups are filled to the brim and splashing over.
We do a few “boring” things together with the intention of being connected. There is so much to “divide and conquer” when it comes to raising kids that choosing one errand to do together feels like something special when we don’t have time in the week to overlap with each other.
We send short messages to let the other know that we are thinking of each other in the week. In case you’re wondering, my husband’s messages are half the length of mine. I accept his efforts as his style, and he takes mine as me.
If disconnect begins to surface between us, we drop our weapons and return to sex, where we wordlessly connect at the edge of our bodies, emotions, and souls. In many wisdom traditions, sexual energy is a portal to sacred, life force energy. As I age, I discover and embody the truth of these ancient spiritual traditions that knew the beauty of surrendering, creating, and breathing with our whole being.
It may sound counter-intuitive to schedule in time to connect. You may ask, “What about spontaneity and flow?”
Accepting our full lives and taking action for what we want to create is a simple formula, and a challenging practice. It reminds me of my resistance to working out. Some days, I can only manage showing up and being curious.
I have found that doing what feels uncomfortable but adventurous, like rising early for connection, keeps my spirit fresh and awake. And, in return, I see a twinkle in my eye and feel a generous heart.
The result is that it is easier for me to shift my “unhelpful” auto-responses to my husband. The sticky reactions that seem to undoubtedly grab me are losing their grip, and I am able to change and grow into this next stage with my husband.
And, in these middle years, depth of a shared history, growth, and intimacy are better than a honeymoon I could have ever imagined as a young woman.