A Spiritual Marriage

One of the things the false ego, that part of us that identifies solely with the material world, always does is replicate its unsteadiness and discontent in your marriage and family. As a result, we often treat each other in a less than loving way, since we have little understanding of real love or compassion. We're often living for our own sense gratification. Marriage is the foundation of a healthy culture. If you can destroy marriage, you can destroy culture. If the relationship between husband and wife is destroyed, the spiritual formation of the children is endangered. Marriage is properly defined as a solemn state in which a man and a woman confer upon each other certain rights, which are in turn connected to responsibilities. Marriage is solemn because it is formalized in public, and witnessed by someone recognized as holding authority to officiate. It is also a contract because there is a conferral of bodily and other rights. Now some who are only familiar with the Christian perspective might ask, isn't marriage a covenant? Yes and no, depending on how you define the word. If we define a covenant as a solemn contract, then yes. In any valid contract, justice is a central feature. If I'm contracted to replace someone's roof, and I fail to do so, then I'm in violation of the justice of that contract. There is an agreement; you fix the roof, I pay you a predetermined amount. So in the solemn contract of marriage both parties have conferred rights upon each other and their attendant responsibilities. This means if you fail to uphold your end of the contract, you commit an offense against your spouse with full knowledge of the gravity of that failure. The false ego will do everything possible to make you feel good about violating your solemn contract, if  not objectively, then certainly subjectively. Very specific types of spiritual dangers exist in any relationship (much more so in marriage), and no matter how close you and your spouse may be, every marriage will struggle with these dangers at some point. Why? The answer is found in the fact that many are still struggling to master the senses (if they're trying at all) and discipline the mind, which both tend to run about like wild horses, very difficult to tame. 

Both men and women share in the defects of material life-sickness, old age, death, and an apparent (illusory) separation from Ishvara (Kami, God). In order to survive in the material world we're forced to work to maintain the body, women give birth (which is painful), and the material energies must all be engaged. These specifics are important since they point us to the central problem-illusion. Because we're living in the material world, engaging every day with the material energies, we tend to mistakenly identify solely with the material. This leads to all sorts of mental and emotional illusions. The foundation of all strife within marriage is always based on this principle: That is, the false ego, immersed in one illusion or the other, will divide couples internally, in their minds, by distorting their impressions of each other. It first separates you from each other psychologically, and then progresses from there to separate you physically. So, the first assault will always be on the perceptions of your spouse, distorting them to the negative. Communication and perception are the first casualties of the false ego. Because we often fail to communicate as effectively as we should our intended meaning is often distorted in the imagination of our spouse. The false ego works on the imagination of our spouse, such that our spouse begins to think we view them as a bother, as ignorant, or as attacking them in some other way. The first strategy of a spiritual marriage is not to allow your perceptions to be manipulated and distorted. It means you have to learn the proper way to communicate, and give your partner the charity you would expect to receive when you simply think or feel they've said something that truly hasn't been expressed or implied. This doesn't mean we ignore reasonable issues, since our spouses are so familiar with us that they can reveal our defects to us. It means we need to understand that there is a proper way and proper time to express our needs, feelings, and concerns. It may seem strange to speak of communication as having strategic import in marriage, but it isn't really all that strange when you think carefully about it. If an army doesn't have clear communication, or the lines of communication are broken by enemy combatants, then that army can easily fall prey to the enemies attacks and to internal struggles, having no greater insight in the overall battle plan. It is very much the same in your marriage. Don't allow the adversary, the false ego and its illusions to distort your communication, nor use your imagination against your marriage. Your expressions, your choice of words, the tone of your voice, and the many non-verbal aspects of body language all impact communication with your spouse. Pay careful attention to these as you communicate. Avoid emotional outbursts as these will invariably be met with a  negative response, which is the exact opposite of what you hope to accomplish.

The key components of a spiritual marriage, beyond being mindful of the aforementioned things, absolutely requires you to show mutual respect, trust, consideration, forgiveness, and charity. The closer we are to someone, the less we tend to be protected internally and emotionally from them. The process of courtship and the willingness to enter into marriage requires a degree of vulnerability on our part. The very nature of marriage, and by extension family, is to have union, to seek Oneness in difference (Dualistic-non-dualism again!), so there is, generally speaking, no wall of separation between a husband and wife internally. And so spouses always run the risk of hurting each other, even if unintentionally. When our perceptions are distorted it is because we're looking at whatever was said or done through the false ego, which often acts on selfish desire or internal pain, rather than logically asking, what did my spouse actually intend? In other words, your marriage has to be rooted in objective reality. What did your spouse really intend? What you feel emotionally is very likely absolutely irrelevant. You cannot look at your spouse through the prism of your emotions, as all that does is provide the false ego with the opportunity to destroy the marriage, because you and your spouse have access to each other's emotions through your imagination, and emotions are often unstable. They're fed by imagination far more than most think.

It is important that you set aside how you feel and look to the objective reality, as most spouses who do so admit that they know logically that their spouse would never intend to hurt them. But once you allow the wound to happen, that pain will be the constant target of the false ego. This is why you need to take charge of your emotions and mind immediately upon feeling them growing in anger, putting an end to the back and forth accusations and perceived feelings of both parties. Those are the exact things that distort your view of your spouse, making you think he doesn't love you, she doesn't find you attractive, and so on. If our spouse charitably points out something about our attitude that is hurting them, we need to be willing to not just listen, but hear them and thank them as we resolve to work on that part of our false ego. The fact of the matter is, our spouse recognizing these character flaws is our opportunity for spiritual growth, to grow in mindfulness and compassion for our spouse who deals with even the most ugly manifestations of our illusions. However, these flaws must never become your focus. Instead of focusing on your spouses flaws and letting your perception of them be distorted by your own false ego, engage the opportunity to develop in yourself the qualities of patience, compassion, mercy, and honest self reflection, and let those negative perceptions go, since they're illusions anyway.

It is easy to allow the illusions of the mind and emotions to influence your perceptions in marriage, specifically because our spouse has been granted an insight that permits them to reveal to us our shortcomings. How we communicate these things to our spouse is of utmost importance, since it can impact their perception of self worth. Most people have inadequate self concepts and no knowledge of Self. This often leads us to feel badly about ourselves in some area, often because the standards we set for ourselves are quite simply unrealistic. And when we fail to meet these unrealistic standards, we feel discouraged, and some even lost self respect and self confidence. To the extent a person dislikes themselves, he/she will be much more easily discouraged and hurt by criticism. They will be sensitive to what their spouse says and does. Often they feel lonely, even in marriage and with a family. Intimacy can be difficult for them. Their ability to establish relationships with others and maintain them can be very difficult. It cannot be stressed enough that all criticism in marriage must be communicated with love, respect, consideration, forgiveness, and charity. Again, we must be aware of our tone, our choice of words, our facial expressions and our body language. Do they convey an attitude of loving acceptance, or of harsh judgment or disgust? All of us want to be loved, and expect supportive love from our spouse. The Atman, who you really are, needs this Give and Take, Sending and Receiving. It is part of our dual nature. As a result, we enjoy being around people who make us feel good about ourselves, as our spouse should. And, for better or worse, most of us don't like criticism. While marriage is indeed a contract, it doesn't make for a good reform school or court of law. When we allow our own illusory conceptions to introduce harsh criticism and blame to destroy our communication, the contract of marriage starts to take on a sense of dread and entrapment. Communicate with the characteristics previously mentioned as the proper strategy, and you'll be better able to keep the suggestions of the false ego at bay.

Loving Self-Sacrifice

The honeymoon phase of a relationship usually ends within a year of marriage, and changes begin to occur. While up to now you've been basking in the language of love and the glow of newfound happiness, you're now reverting to your more normal behavior pattern. This is when all your faults become so glaringly obvious to your spouse. Along with the criticism previously mentioned, it can become easy to take each other for granted if we don't apply the proper strategy to our communication. When a spouse becomes harsh in their criticism, this will trigger feelings of anger, pain, and resentment in the other spouse, and lead to avoidance, casual treatment, indifference, and even outright rudeness. Your spouse needs encouragement, not harsh criticism. They need to know they're loved and valued, not viewed with disdain and expected to serve the other under the coldest emotional conditions. When a husband and wife focus on the negatives about each other, distance will absolutely be the result. In turn, they both become more vulnerable to the illusory suggestions we mentioned, including turning to someone else for the kindness and support they should be receiving from each other. This is usually preceded by a period of arguing. This means another part of our spiritual marriage strategy must be learning how to discuss disagreements and problems without fighting. I suggest the following guidelines.
  1. Express to each other the need for heart-to-heart time of sharing each others feelings.
  2. Choose a mutually agreeable time and place.
  3. Both should come prepared to truly listen, and take notes with pen and paper.
  4. Choose who will speak first.
  5. The one listening should not interrupt, object, make faces, roll their eyes, correct, clarify, etc. until the other has completely finished speaking and says, “Okay. Your turn.”
  6. Neither spouse can accuse, berate, or belittle the other person.
  7. Expressions such as, “I feel..”, “When you do/say, it makes me feel/think...”, are appropriate.
  8. Don't use phrases like, “You always...”, “You never...”.
  9. Avoid anything that can be misconstrued as being harsh, mean, cruel, or accusatory.
  10. If you cannot convince the other person to change their mind, try to place yourself in their place and ask yourself, “If I believed/felt they way he/she does, what would I want the other person to do/change?”
  11. After each has listened to the other, each must choose only one item for the other spouse to work on for that week. Don't remind each other through the week if you see your spouse slipping.
  12. Schedule a weekly discussion for progress. Don't accuse, but refer back to point #7.
  13. Privately pray or meditate for each other during the week that the Supreme Absolute would enable you both to be kind to each other and that you learn how to solve problems without attacking each other.
  14. Pray or meditate together during the week, setting aside sacred time with each other.
It is important that you always take a benevolent approach to your spouse. Spouses should always be willing to suffer for each other. By this I don't mean a spouse must suffer abuse. It simply means the common character flaws that we humans all share aren't a reason to seek a divorce, but part of the spiritual journey we undergo in marriage. Perhaps it is easier to understand marriage as a call to loving self-sacrifice. There are two main aspects of sacrifice.
  • The Offering-Something is set apart as special. (Ourselves)
  • The Sacrifice-Something is offered unconditionally and without regard to cost. (Our love)
Love is seeking our own highest good and that of our spouse. If we are truly committed to that, then our marriage can be spiritually and emotionally healthy.

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