Marriage As a Spiritual Practice
By Debby Gullery
I believe that we are living at a very hopeful time in history when many people around the world are striving for new and healthier types of intimate partnerships—partnerships and marriages that include their core values and their spiritual and emotional development.
The New Age author, Shakti Gawain, has said, “Relationship is probably the most powerful spiritual path that exists in the world today. It’s the greatest tool that we have.” And True Parents have taught us that our marriages and families were designed by God to be our personal schools of love. It makes sense that in committed relationships, where trust and loyalty are central, endless opportunities for genuine growth would naturally exist, and that the real measure of our spiritual lives is most evident in the way we love most the people who are most important to us.
It is so much easier to love the world than to love a husband who is snoring on the couch instead of helping with the chores, or a wife who is nagging about the dishes instead of doing them! But it is precisely with these people, at these moments, that we can clearly see just how loving, how forgiving, how kind and how accepting we really are.
It’s not always in the prayer room or at church services and events that we see ourselves most honestly. It is instead when we are confronted by another person whom we love, who has expectations or needs that require our investment and effort to meet. It is in the little choices we make all day long; whether or not to follow our conscience, to prefer the needs of another before our own, or to give when we just don’t feel like it.
In this sense, our husbands and wives act as mirrors for us by reflecting back to us the best and the worst in ourselves. When we are married, we have opportunities to see just how capable we are of loving and respecting each other many times a day. Noticing, appreciating, and embracing these opportunities allows us to recognize how our marriages can and do function as very substantial parts of our spiritual practice and growth.
Also, the way we look at our relationships often determines what we get out of them. What would happen if we saw our most important relationships as the actual path to our wholeness? What if we saw marriage and parenting as transformative spiritual practices?
We might treat our partners and families very differently! If we look at our relationships as central to our spiritual growth, then we’re forced to pay attention to our actions and attitudes. And instead of resisting the inherent challenges of these relationships, we could see them as opportunities for growth. And then our marriages (and families) naturally become the places where our most significant growth occurs!
So how does this really work? Well, first we need to become more intentional about our growth in general. And then we need to start paying attention to ourselves—to our moods, our attitudes, our thoughts and actions. We need to expect growth and look for it! Spiritual growth doesn’t happen automatically—we have to invest in it, and work at it.
We can consciously work at becoming more loving with the very people whom we love the most. We can choose to do things that move us in the direction of connection and love. We can treat our important relationships as laboratories for our daily spiritual practice. And we can view our relationships as opportunities for us to move closer toward the spiritual people we’re striving to become.
Building authentic connection and intimacy requires huge amounts of honesty and courage and a happy, healthy marriage requires commitment to constant personal change. We do not have to be stuck in the dysfunctional behavior we may have learned as children. We can change patterns and habits that are detrimental to our marriages. As a matter of fact, doing this is an essential part of our commitment to each other!
In this very practical way, our capacity for loving each other well becomes the true measure of our spirituality, and investing in our marriages becomes an integral part of our authentic spiritual practice.
- Have I paid attention to my actions and reactions today?
- Have I practiced acting in a loving way towards
- How has my relationship with my partner helped me to grow in positive ways?
- How have I helped my partner to grow in positive ways?
This article is adapted from Debby’s book, Small Steps to Bigger Love, which is available through HSA Publications and on Amazon. It includes a study guide for small group use. Debby is also available for couple coaching and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.