A Course in Marriage: Steps to Transform Your Relationship

Copyright © 2017 by Roland Evans

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be copied or transmitted electronically except with the permission of the author.

This is a work in progress. The author welcomes feedback and suggestions from readers and couples. Please contact roland@nullroland-evans.com


Contents

Preface
Introduction
How to Use the Course

  1.   Sharing
  2.   Growing the Relationship
  3.   Personal Change in Relationship
  4.   Types of Relationship
  5.   Visioning
  1.   The Relationship Dilemma
  2.   Attachment
  3.   Attachment Reactions
  4.   Projection
  5.   The Relationship Inventory
  1.   The Practice of Loving
  2.   Loving Connection
  3.   Connecting Deeply
  4.   Loving Engagement
  5.   Soft Engagement
  6.   Firm Engagement
  7.   Loving Acceptance
  8.   Full Acceptance
  1.   Transformation
  2.   Transformative Practices

References


Preface

 I love being married. Joining my life to that of my spouse, Orianne, was and is the best decision I ever made. As a therapist, my hope is that many other couples have a similar wonderful experience of being together.

I first met my wife-to-be at a college get-together in the fall of 1978. There was a bunch of female students cooing and giggling around the professor’s little baby. Most of them looked uncomfortable—worried the infant might vomit or poop its diaper. Then Orianne, only 18 at the time, gently took the baby and snuggled it into her shoulder, totally naturally—and the baby calmed. I knew immediately she was an extraordinary person. We dated soon after and despite my initial hesitations, we have grown closer and more deeply connected as the years have passed.

According to prevailing psychological theories, Orianne and I were destined for difficulties. We were likely to marry someone similar to or opposite of our parents. Both of us experienced far from perfect parenting: my mother was extremely dysfunctional and randomly separated from my father; Orianne’s parent’s conflicted marriage ended in a messy divorce.

Given this inheritance, it seemed our relationship would struggle. On the contrary, we’ve been blessed with a long, harmonious and inspiring marriage. We are both headstrong, so we occasionally fight but most arguments pass like a squall on a summer’s day. For over 35 years, we have bound our lives together in love, companionship and spiritual communion.

When I look around, I see many couples failing to realize the full benefits of being together. In therapy I hear more than my fair share of painful stories: infidelity, hostile stand-offs, criticism and misunderstanding. But I also see the extraordinary love, courage and dedication couples invest in their relationship. Sometimes, my task in therapy is to help two people separate in the least devastating way. Most often I try to help couples discover a pathway out of their tangled impasse. I have few illusions how hard it is for people to live together—yet I know how uplifting and fulfilling it can be.

This course is an attempt to distill my experiences of being married and working with couples. It is not a simplistic book because no relationship is simple; no two people need the exact same support and advice. The Course does not provide a magic bullet to fix your broken marriage, fend off divorce or spice up your sex life. True relationship requires consistent loving attention over a long period of time. Growth comes with effort and perseverance.

I offer this book to all couples who love each other and want to be together. I think of these couples as partnered, regardless of legal status and gender. There is little doubt the ceremony and status of being married makes a difference to a relationship. However, for the purposes of simplicity, I use the terms married and relationship, spouse and partner interchangeably.

I hope the ideas and exercises provide practical assistance to help you transform your relationship into a blessed union, rich beyond imagination. My best wishes go with you on your journey.


Introduction

Committed relationship, marriage, is often the longest, most complicated and demanding project we will undertake in our lifetime. The container for our hopes and dreams, the source of love and satisfaction, it protects us from feeling lost and alone in this world. Though we know how important our connection to our partner is, we often slip into forgetfulness and neglect this potentially luminous treasure.

While the source of our greatest joys, relationship also evokes our most painful emotional turmoil. It has the mysterious power to move us to the heights of self-sacrifice but also the depths of despair, meanness, and cruelty. Relationship can wound us terribly—and heal us absolutely. The power and purpose of two people sharing their life together extends far beyond what we think and believe.

We begin relationship on a wave of optimism. The euphoria of falling in love, the relief of finding a mate engenders a rosy view of the future. We do not question the purpose of the relationship: we are in love and want to be together. After a stretch of time, the honeymoon feelings dwindle and we come face-to-face with the challenges of living with our partner.

It seems inevitable that couples after a few years of living together, take each other for granted. There are also new sources of frustration and irritation. The pressures of life—money, work, children, family—close in and demand more and more attention. The relationship takes a back seat and gets so familiar we almost forget our spouse is a separate person. We neglect to rise to the challenges that love demands.

Amidst the turbulence of life, the stability of a committed relationship helps us hold everything together. But our need for predictability and safety easily mutates into complacency. Familiarity does not always breed contempt but it does facilitate unawareness—blindness to what is really going on. Without realizing, aspects of our relationship stagnate and become a burden rather than a shared adventure. We forget the fragrant rose of love and feel only the thorns. That is when both partners need to pay attention to regularly recommitting to a loving union.

No real relationship is without difficulties. Disagreements, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings are part and parcel of living together. Fights are normal—even necessary. Friction always happens at the growing point; it is a sign that something is changing or needs to change. We have to rise to the challenge and recognize difficulty as an opportunity to try something different. Our relationship difficulties are incitements to learn and change.

The unavoidable stresses of married life, the harsh words and small rejections are painful, even devastating. Sometimes we do not know how to re-open our hearts. Then, unintentionally, we pull away, a chasm opens and the connection to our partner becomes brittle. If those wounds are not healed, the relationship can slide gradually towards inertia and possible extinction.

Only when conflict and resentments stay unresolved and unresolvable is the relationship under threat. Stuckness in all its forms is the main danger. As long as there is goodwill and willingness to change, a relationship has real potential to progress. As we share all aspects of our lives, however difficult, we keep moving forward.

Sharing and Growing are the essence of a healthy relationship. That is the central message of this course: we have to continually renew the relationship through sharing our lives and our selves. When we truly join with our spouse, when we embrace equality and emotional intimacy, the relationship expands and we develop as individuals.

Every viable relationship is a work in progress. There is no final or perfect way it has to be. It requires attention, imagination and willingness to keep progressing on a path towards deeper love and satisfaction. The aim of this course is to provide a guide to create not only satisfying relationships but ones that are positively transformative. We all have confused and distorted ideas of how our union should feel and function. Hopefully, this course offers a more realistic, useful and inspiring vision of how it can be.


How to Use the Course

Roland Evans BrandYourself Profile

Roland Evans BrandYourself Profile

Finding our Life Purpose

We come into the world with and for a Purpose–or maybe a set of interlocking purposes.  These purposes include the need to develop wholeness within ourselves and in our relationships and the drive to make a difference in the world.  We discover our own uniqueness in order to make the most positive impact on our relationships and on the world.  We are here to grow, love and create.

Our life purpose unfolds and develops throughout our lifetime.  In order to become more conscious of the direction and flow of our purpose we clarify our inner vision, strengthen our intention and take action by practicing our purpose as fully as we are able.

Envisioning
True vision cannot be controlled or created with our thinking mind; it arises through attention to something deep within us.  We go to the wellsprings of creative inspiration, our dreams and formless feelings.  We begin by groping in the dark to find those images just beyond our reach.  We invite purpose to take form, to show us a corner of its pattern so that we can bring it into our lives fully.  We listen, invite and create a space for something unexpected and new to arise; we do not force or cajole or become impatient.  Vision approaches first as a sense of something missing, an unsettling lack of something that we cannot put our finger on.

To invite vision, we:

  • Pay attention to what is incomplete – the missing aspects of our lives and selves
  • Listen attentively to what we do not want to do, what we never thought would be relevant and important
  • Notice the shape of our dreams and imaginings, the direction of our discomfort
  • Feel for the patterns that are unfinished, rough around the edges, in need of refinement.

Intention
Using our vision, we look towards what needs to happen so vision can manifest.  Intention is the energetic container of vision, an inner conviction that invites/cajoles/moves the vision into the realms of actuality.  Intention is the bridge over which vision travels to become real.  Intention does not force vision into a preset goal or outcome.  It allows it to unfold and flow over time into the shape that is needs to take.  There must be a give and take with the requirements of the physical universe so that vision takes on a life of its own.

Without intention that is consistent and firm, nothing can happen.   Intention creates a space in the world for something to manifest.  It focuses our awareness and attention so that we notice and make use of possibilities.

Action and Practice
Intention requires action to actualize.  Action is the work of our heart and mind to bring something into being.  Our heart holds the passion, the wishes and the feeling that makes us keep working, while our mind does the planning, the organizing and the procedures that allow something to be constructed and completed.  Action is the effective means to bring the vision through intention to fruition.

Taking action requires energy and timeliness.  Things can only manifest in time and space when they are ready and all requirements are complete.  As we complete the action, when our vision becomes manifest we experience a sense of “rightness” that tells us that we are on the path to fulfilling our purpose.

Vision, intention and action, these are the motors that allow us to engage with our life purpose.  As we manifest our vision more fully, as we experience the reality of our purpose, there is a deepening sense of satisfaction and “rightness” that brings depths of joy and satisfaction.  We are doing what we are meant to do.

Hugs and Quarrels: Individuation and the Relationship Archetype

Please join me for a talk on the sacred journey of marriage presented by the Boulder Friends of Jung.

“Our most challenging and rewarding life task is to sustain a loving connection with our partner.  Marriage can be envisioned as a spiritual journey that requires commitment, spirited engagement and compassionate acceptance.  The purpose of the journey is to become a better person, to realize the serenity of a quiet mind and an open heart through a deep, lasting connection to another.  Within the archetypal container of a committed relationship, we need both love and friction to help us on the path toward a unity of souls.”

When: Friday April 4, 7-9 pm

Where: Community United Church of Christ, 2650 Table Mesa Drive, Boulder 80304

Cost: $15

For details: Boulder Friends of Jung–Lecture Series

Random Thoughts

God is the unfolding experience of divine presence.  There is no God without experience.

Compassion is the touchstone of a true human being.  How can a person be truly human,  commune with the spirit of  humanity, if they are separate, cut off from the Whole.  Compassion and love binds us into one glorious whole that is humanity.

Hatred, intolerance and indifference to others is addictive.  It bloat the ego with a false sense of specialness and power.  Like all addictions, it is blind to its own chains.

 

Charter for Compassion

The Charter for Compassion is a document that transcends religious, ideological, and national differences. Supported by leading thinkers from many traditions, the Charter activates the Golden Rule around the world.

The Charter for Compassion is a cooperative effort to restore not only compassionate thinking but, more importantly, compassionate action to the center of religious, moral and political life. Compassion is the principled determination to put ourselves in the shoes of the other, and lies at the heart of all religious and ethical systems.


The text of the Charter for Compassion:

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

 If you wish to sign the Charter, please visit the Charter for Compassion web site.

Spirituality in Everyday Life

Spirituality is an overarching attitude that values everything, including our selves and the universe, as ultimately meaningful and purposeful.  Spiritual experience is fundamentally simple but difficult to maintain in our ordinary busy lives.  The experience is fostered and maintained by a quiet mind and an open heart.

What helps us quieten our minds? 

  • A regular spiritual practice: meditation, contemplative prayer, devotion, fasting, surrender and letting go—not an intellectual activity
  • Time when we retreat—hold back the demands and pressure of life, face our fear of not-doing, allow whatever needs to arise in us
  • Being in nature or involved in an activity that has the quality of “flow”—relaxed engrossed and engaged without stimulating the mind
  • Being with someone whose presence is soothing, who allows us to be ourselves, who lets go of expectations, who can also be quiet inside.

What helps us open our hearts?

  • Having compassion for ourselves, treating ourselves with patience, respect and consideration—knowing our limits and boundaries
  • Developing self-discipline that holds in check selfishness, need to be right, need for attention, entitlement, control of others—ego desires
  • Practicing loving feelings toward others on a daily basis—an inner attitude of openness, goodwill, acceptance, patience and benevolence
  • Showing generosity, care and kindness to those close to us every day—then practicing with friends and strangers
  • Recognizing our fear of being unappreciated, taken-for-granted, duped, controlled, disliked, disregarded that causes us to remain separate or drives us to be over-involved
  • Listening to the quiet promptings of our soul.

 

The Rhythm of Consciousness

Consciousness is a long wave coming and going, washing against the shores of our life, reminding us of who we are, then submerging us again in the depths of unawareness. We have no choice but to remember and forget, only to remember and forget again–at the mercy of the fragile flickering flame of awareness within us. The struggle to stay totally awake at all times is futile like never sleeping, never letting go. We must surrender to natural unconsciousness, the rhythmic processes of light and dark, awakening and sleeping, attention and distraction.

To be human is to swim with the tide, to get our heads above water now and then so we can look around and get our bearings.  Seeing where we are and where we need to go, we then relax and are pulled back into the undertow, letting ourselves drift into relative unconsciousness,  knowing that in time we will surface just in time to take the next breath.

The rhythm of life is one of supreme effort and total surrender.  We have the illusion that only effort moves us forward but the waves still carry us onward even as we let go.  Something is always happening, trying to come into being with or without our help.  Often, misguided efforts at enlightenment serve only to hinder the process.  We must respect the natural ebb and flow of consciousness, always asking the question, “How much am I here in the moment?”

 

The I Ching

When I was about 16 or 17, I came across the Chinese classic, I Ching (John Blofeld’s Book of Change) and used it often to try and obtain a clear sense of direction in my adolescent life.  I constructed a beautiful set of polished wood sticks (rather than the traditional yarrow stalks) and threw then to consult the oracle about life decisions.  Even with my youthful superficial understanding, I was astonished by how accurate and useful were most of the responses, particularly as I graduated to the full Wilhelm version.  Occasionally, I would be unable to grasp the obscure images and commentaries but I would sense that was caused by my own limitation or possibly issues with the translation.

Recently, after reading a number of the classic Taoist writings–Tao Te Ching, Chuang Tzu, Lieh Tzu, etc.–I returned to the I Ching, possibly the oldest source of these strands of Chinese wisdom.  This time, rather than using it to guide my outer life, I read it as a source of inner guidance on how the Superior Man (note the sexist and elitist language) conducts himself.  Each of the hexagrams and the lines speaks to how we need to relate to our inner and outer worlds to achieve serenity and harmony within a ceaselessly changing universe.

 

The Unconscious Mind

What is the unconscious mind?  First off, it is not a mind separate from our ordinary waking awareness.  It is more like a mass of interacting processes working at different levels that influence and give rise to our consciousness. These processes are necessarily unavailable to our awareness.  In fact, it has been shown that about 0.4 seconds before we are aware of any conscious decision, unconscious processes have already decided that outcome.

Think of your computer as a metaphor for you mind.  What you see and interact with on the screen (the content of your consciousness) is the result of myriad of programs that you cannot see or even understand.  These programs are written in different languages and arranged hierarchically all the way down to the basic 0 and 1 level of mechanical on and off switching in the computer hardware.  Every thought is a pattern of neuronal firing, a complex interaction of relational associations, a metaphorical symbolization and a fleeting conceptual awareness.  The conscious and the unconscious are all of one whole.

Because these processes are beneath awareness, we often minimize or dismiss their importance and influence.  To become whole we have to relate to those aspects of ourselves, however mysterious and obscure.  The proper attitude is one of wonder, respect, clear intention and appreciation.