I want to share a hard-won lesson that has recently clarified for me. I have by no means perfected this one, but it’s been a profound journey and I hope that by sharing it here the value of that lesson can expand to help someone else. It’s about love… true love.
There are lots of theories about love; what it means, how it feels, what it’s purpose is. What I would like to share has more to do with how it works in daily life than anything else, although all aspects of love are worth exploring. For me, the lesson at hand has been learning to love “expansively” rather than to “merge” with my partner, or worse yet, become “codependent.”
Swami Kriyananda in his book, Expansive Marriage, talks at length about how the deep spiritual opportunity in marriage is to expand one’s reality to include another. His warning is to not stop there; to use that lesson to expand one’s love to the world. It’s a beautiful goal, but I found myself puzzling over what the difference is between “expanding” and “merging.” The more I think this one through and the more I talk with others on the subject, the more I realize that the differences can look very subtle and that love is tricky!
For me, it comes down to my energy behind my behavior. If, for instance, my husband wakes up in a bad mood, I can respond in three unique ways… which way I respond has everything to do with how balanced I am that day. The first would be my “codependent” response, which is to take on his bad mood as if it is my own fault and do all that I can, at any cost, to make him happy. The energy behind that is ultimately selfish; I am afraid of losing his love and therefore seek to secure it at any cost to myself. NOT the way I’d like to respond to a bad mood, needless to say.
The slightly milder version is to “merge”; to take on his bad mood as if it is my own. Couples do this all the time and I have a real natural tendency to do it myself. Some might argue that merging with your partner is the whole point in marriage. Why else do we seek union so desperately?! Isn’t that why we’re monogamous creatures; so we can merge our two incomplete parts to become one whole? Not if you ever want lasting happiness, it’s not! To relinquish your happiness into another person’s hands, no matter how much you love them, is to condemn yourself to the roller coaster of life for good, no exceptions… because, let’s face it, no one is perfect (except a saint, maybe)! No matter how caring your partner, how nurturing, he or she will have a bad day at some point and you will suffer needlessly. You will also cause suffering in your partner every time you have a bad day if that person has merged with you too.
So how to “expand” your love without letting it turn into the “merging” or “codependent” kind? And what does it mean to expand your love beyond your partner? The latter question used to really scare me in my last relationship at times. I spent nearly a decade living in a codependent relationship, taking on my partner’s moods as my own fault or merging. The scariest thing in the world at that time was to share that love with anyone else… I could barely hold onto enough for myself!
Expanding your love beyond your partner is a means for learning to love both personally and impersonally, the way that Divine Mother does. That’s not to say you are not monogamous. Just that you recognize that the love you feel for your partner is from a greater source and that you can share that love into the world as a whole and help to raise consciousness. You appreciate the love you feel for your partner as something bigger than either of you and you cherish it as sacred.
Going back to my first illustration, if my husband wakes up in a bad mood and I am feeling balanced in myself, I can respond “expansively” by first staying in my own spine… making sure that my next move comes from my highest Self. Then opening up the space to help him, if there is anything I can do, or to give him the space he needs to work through his mood. The more in my “spine” my energy can remain, the less likely I am to take on the bad mood, or worse yet, think it is my own fault and seek to fix it desperately, at any cost.
So, you can see, outwardly my response might not look that different — I try to help or empathize. The difference is happening inside. Staying calm, centered and at peace while helping another is a skill we all could use and for those whose job is to serve individuals, it’s crucial to maintaining personal health. So it makes sense that we need the same skill in marriage. How can we truly be ‘there’ for someone if we are not in our own spine? If we have lost ourselves, we have nothing to share or to give.
So much of this happens unconsciously that it helps to look at the moments, such as a bad mood, when you are tested to see how the different forms of love play out. I hope this lesson can be valuable for someone else; it came at great price and continues to help me to grow daily.
Love is an incredible opportunity to connect to your own spirit; to face yourself; to find support when you need it; to grow. It is ever-changing and comes in so many forms: friends, husbands, wives, children, mentors, gurus, God.
May we all journey deeper into love and learn to expand that love to the world!