Lessons from a Bad Marriage


I had a “lesson-resourceful” marriage and this is what I learned:

  1. Trauma. We marry our unresolved issues. We marry our shadow. We must address and heal trauma so that we don’t repeat it. We must understand trauma so that we recognize it in ourselves and in others. What to look for. What is fixable. What to avoid.
  2. Gut feelings. Instincts. How to read the signs of your body’s warnings. To listen to the head, the heart, and the guts. This is so hugely important, it’s one topic that I feel I must must must teach, and I teach as much as I can to my clients: how to listen to the body’s information when making decisions.
  3. A good map for relationships. A good map for navigating life and relationships, which is what I’ve got with Ken Wilber’s Integral Model and the AQAL map. Crappy maps make crappy journeys. A good map is paramount. A good map shows what must be different in a relationship (the polarity, the opposites which attract) and what must be the same (values, world views, personality type).
  4. Power balance. This has been the missing lessons for many years, until I met Paul Linden, a martial artist, founder of Being in Movement, who taught me about power balance in relationships. What are the variables of personal power. What are the dynamics of relational power. How the power balance in a marriage makes the difference between dysfunction and abuse. This is a topic that I have never heard a psychotherapist utter, and I don’t know if anyone masters this topic better than martial artists, which is why Paul Linden uses his Aikido experience and skills in working with survivors of trauma and abuse.
  5. Shadow Work – “Cleaning Up”. Identifying, addressing and cleaning up that which has caused me to choose this man and marriage from all the men in the world. I don’t believe in random luck. This inquiry has become part of my life during the marriage and while recovering from its aftermath: What’s going on inside myself that I chose this? This is an everyday endeavour: showering, brushing your teeth, vacuuming the floors, and doing shadow work. Every. Single. Day.
  6. Self-improvement. The problem created at one level of personal development cannot be solved from the same level, but from a better, more comprehensive view. A college student is better equipped at resolving conflict than a kindergartener fighting over the teddy bear. Also, relationships require skills and aptitudes that those of us who didn’t have role models to learn from in our childhood are best served to learn them as adults, or else. Really, or else.
  7. Appreciation. Nobody wants to be taken for granted – nothing is more exhausting and disheartening than giving your all only to be discarded, belittled, or treated with entitlement. Appreciation must be cultivated, expressed and granted all the time, every day, for everything small and big.
  8. Embodied presence. This is the ultimate gift in an intimate relationship. Seeing and being seen, listening deeply to each other, witnessing each other – this is the medicine and the glue that holds people together. I found out through my own body that anxiety arises when disconnected, not seen, not heard. “I’m not interested in hearing you and your story” and “I don’t want to talk about it” hurts like a bullet passing slowly through your heart, taking its time in killing you. I fell in love with my husband’s stories from his years in the wild Canadian North, and fell in love with his asking me questions and listening to my own stories during our courtship. We were a long-distance relationship and started out spending hours and hours on the phone, listening to each other. When that died, our marriage died, long before separation.
  9. Boundaries. Boundaries are rules which, like walls, are bound to protect and preserve an individual and a relationship. When I cried in pain and protest, why marriages don’t come with instructions manuals, and after hearing several well-intended people exclaim: “Boundaries!”, I had no idea what “Boundaries!” meant. I sensed it was something necessary and in my (our) case lacking, but what? How? Now I now and honestly, still learning.
  10. Intention. Clarity of intention in creating anything, including and especially a marriage. What do you seek to accomplish by marrying this person? What needs do you have which you hope and intend for this marriage to fulfill? Why are we clear about the kind of house or car we want, but not about the kind of marriage we want? Number 10 should very likely be listed here as number 1.