I don’t recall how I first stumbled upon Recipes for a Perfect Marriage by Morag Prunty, but most likely it came from a recommendation from a member of the e-course message board. I remember intially feeling put-off by the title as anything that contains the word “perfect”, especially in connection to weddings or marriage, produces an immediate allergic reaction in my psyche. But because I trust my wise and thoughtful audience, I purchased the book and was stunned to find the words that I espouse to my clients every day transposed into a rich and meaningful novel.
I recently re-read the book to make sure that it has withstood my ever-evolving understanding of real love and marriage. My 2011 review: it’s nothing short of brilliant. It’s the only novel I’m aware of that presents an authentic, realistic window into what it means to love and be loved. It’s the antidote to every romantic novel and film you’ve ever ingested – from Wuthering Heights to Jerry Maguire (“you complete me”) – and is a must-read for anyone struggling with doubts, questions, and concerns about their partner.
As I read the book this time around, I underlined and dog-eared, and over the next few weeks I’ll be writing posts based these passages. I hope they will evolve your understanding of love and help you open your heart to the good man or woman that stands before you.
“What my marriage taught me is that real love is only what you give. That’s all. Love is not “out there”, waiting for you. It is in you. In your own heart, in what you are willing to give of it. We are all capable of love, but few of us have the courage to do it properly. You can take a person’s love and waste it. But you are the fool. When you give love, it grows and flowers inside you like a carefully pruned rose. Love is joy. Those who love, no matter what indignities, what burdens they carry, are always full of joy.”
– from Recipes for a Perfect Marriage, p. 281
When people find my work it’s often because they’re suffering from relationship anxiety and are consumed with the question of, “Do I love him/her enough?” They’ve exhausted the Internet searching for an answer to their anxiety-provoking question and when they dare broach the topic with friends or family they’re usually met with, “Doubt means don’t.” Since this isn’t the answer they want to hear, they keep searching until they find their way, sleep-deprived and severely anxious, to my virtual doorstep.
Their story follows those of the characters in Recipes of a Perfect Marriage: They’re with a wonderful partner but the feeling of love has withered. In its place they find themselves dreaming of passionate exes and wondering if they’ve making a mistake. While they’re consumed with finding an answer to their question (“Is this the right choice?”, the relationship trudges along, held up by a steadfast partner who isn’t bedraggled by the same anxiety. “This shouldn’t be so hard,” I hear daily. “If I was with the right person, it would be easier than this.” An understandable argument, but not one that holds water in my office.
What’s happening here? We’re seeing the effects of a someone raised in a culture that is addicted to love. We chase after it with the same misguided impulse that creates addictions to alcohol, drugs, caffeine, cigarettes, sugar, television, the Internet, and spending: as a way to avoid taking responsibility for our wholeness and as a temporary way to fill the emptiness.
In the early stages of relationship, you may experience a rush of love. We call this feeling being in love, but it’s really more of an adolescent state of infatuation. The love-drug may last two months or, in rare cases, two years, but eventually it wears off. It’s at this point that the task of learning about real love begins. But it’s also at this point that most people, brainwashed by our dysfunctional cultural conditioning, mistakenly assume that because the love feeling has dissipated, this means they don’t love their partner anymore. They often leave only to find themselves in the exact same boat with the next partner.
All of this is predicated on the belief that love is something you get from another person: a feeling, an experience, a transfusion of aliveness and joy. Our culture transmits the insidious rescue fantasy that says, “If you find the right person (also known as The One or your soulmate), your pain will disappear and you’ll live happily ever after.” To put it bluntly, our culture encourages you to be love-addicted. We may have waged a war on drugs but we havent even begun to dismantle the rampant addiction to love that seeps into every crack of mainstream culture.
The antidote? Learning to become the source of your own aliveness and committing to taking 100% responsibility for your pain and joy. It’s about learning to fill yourself up through your creative expression, your connection to Spirit, your relationship to your shadow parts, and your commitment to giving to others. One of my favorite parts of the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety Course is my interview with Kevin Kimball about his 30 year marriage in which he talks about the breaking point in his marriage when he was almost out the door but instead found his way to therapy and learned how to fill himself up through his inner work. As he says:
“I believed for a long time in the early years that marriage was the vehicle that was designed to bring me the sense of fullness and completeness that I had experienced freshman year dating Jill. I remember going back to the first girlfriend I ever had. I felt like marriage should provide me with the same sense of euphoria that you experience when you’re falling in love or in love, or as it has been portrayed to us. There is certainly, in my experience, something physiologically that happens — it’s a whole body, whole soul experience where you feel this tremendous unity with the other person. So when that wasn’t there for the first many years of my marriage I thought it was because it wasn’t the right thing, that I had gotten pushed into it.
“What I clearly knew was that this feeling of euphoria that I had been looking for, of being full and complete, wasn’t there at all. And I was miserable in a lot of respects. I was miserable in the sense that I kept thinking it was Jill’s responsibility to fill me up. To the extent that I wasn’t emotionally satisfied or sexually satisfied or spiritually satisfied, mentally satisfied, occupationally satisfied, somehow it all seemed to be someone else’s responsibility, and certainly that emotional- spiritual side of things not feeling complete, I began to conclude that there must be something wrong with me, our marriage, Jill, or some combination of all three, but it was a lot easier to focus on the marriage and Jill because I wasn’t in a place to start taking responsibility for myself.
“Over time, and I’ll cut to the end now and there are lots of in-between steps, my frustration with my lack of fulfillment reached a critical point. I had been doing my own inner work and trying to seek out what was going on. I had done work around parental issues, issues with my religion, and ultimately reached a point where I really believes that our marriage wasn’t something that was going to be able to sustain me. It wasn’t filling me up. It was at the point that I sought help, and everything changed.”
So on this day before Thanksgiving, I invite you to set your intention to give: give to yourself first. Sit with yourself and, with an intention to accept and embrace, attend to the grief, loneliness, anxiety, fear, heartache, joy, and excitement that may be coursing through you. Imagine that you have a young child sitting beside you, desperately needing your undivided, devoted attention. Trust that you have everything is takes to fill her up, that, in fact, you’re the only one who can fill her up. And from that place of wholeness, give from the fullness of your heart, give without strings attached, give for the pure and fulfilling pleasure of giving. Give even when fear is telling you to run. See what it feels like to make the choice to swing open the doors of your heart as wide as they will open without restriction, fear or judgement, and let the love pour out and into the one who has been waiting, steady and with patience, to receive you.