Saving My Marriage
By M. LaVora Perry
What happens when you’re already in deep with a partner—way past the “getting to know you” phase—but lately you feel certain that you blew it by hooking up with this person, and now you’re stuck with him or her.
We all know about some of the most radical options, especially the big “D” or the big “B” (divorce or breakup). There’s also the big “I”—infidelity. Other options are marriage counseling, or individual counseling if your partner isn’t game. And perhaps the least appealing choice of all is to simply continue suffering.
However, there’s another option: decide way down deep inside yourself that you’re going to turn your situation into a mind-blowing victory.
When I was totally fed up with my marriage, even though a few of the other choices were tempting or seemed like good ideas, I went with that last option. This is my story.
In 2001, after being married for close to nine years and having three children with my husband, I had come to a crossroads. I realized that I was not happy with my marriage. In our life together, my husband and I had enjoyed brief periods of intimate connection. But more often, even though he never fooled around with other women, and he and I slept in the same bed each night, I felt there was an emotional chasm between us.
As my fortieth birthday drew near, I went to a women’s meeting at the Cleveland Buddhist center my husband and I go to, and heard one of the leaders, Matilda Buck, speak. She was very laid back, and at one point spoke openly of how, in the early 1990s, after twenty-four years of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo*, she realized that she was suffering in her marriage and life. Matilda said that she began to understand that Buddhism was about being happy, not faking it. She gave herself “permission” to leave her husband, if that’s what it took for her to build a happy life for herself. Eventually, by squarely facing her painful reality, Matilda found her own core of joy inside herself and together with her husband healed their marriage problems without getting a divorce. She said she’s been living it up ever since.
I saw myself in Matilda’s situation. I looked into a future with my marriage stuck in limbo and I knew I wasn’t going there. Although, during my violently abusive rages, I had often threatened to leave my husband, for the first time since we had wed I felt it was time to make some decisions.
In the past, when I had really felt like getting a divorce, I’d received guidance from Buddhist women. They reminded me of the Buddhist concept that explained that through my own thoughts, words and deeds, or karma, I had created the destiny to suffer in relationships. These women reconfirmed what I already knew in theory: I always had the power to change my karma and create a new destiny and a happy life, but in order to do so, I had to take full responsibility for my situation and totally engage in self-improvement from the inside out. I had to change what I thought, said and did on a moment-by-moment basis.
I realized that the advice I received represented the core of Buddhist practice. But doing the work of inner transformation is way easier said than done. I had tried to follow the advice I received, but I always ended up feeling like I had to settle for being in a disappointing marriage. However, this last time I thought, “We both deserve better than this. I will not stay in a half-dead marriage for the rest of my life.”
Soon after that women’s meeting, although it was hard for me, I managed to stay pretty calm while I talked to my husband about what was on my mind. I curbed my urge to break into one of my usual angry outbursts, because I realized that if I was going to change my tendency to repel the very person I wanted to attract—my husband—then I had to change my behavior in the present moment. I told him that I wasn’t happy with the way we related to each other. I said that I wanted us to make love and touch each other more often. I wanted us to kiss “hello” and “good-bye,” without him frowning at me while we kissed. I wanted us to go on dates and I wanted him to bring me flowers. I wanted to not be pushed away when I tried to get close to him, because he was too busy or too tired to receive and give affection.
“I am not an old woman,” I said. “And when I am old, living the way we are living now will still be unacceptable to me. I want us to be close to each other. I didn’t get married to just be your roommate and split bills with you. If the two of us can’t connect in the deepest way, then we’re better off without each other.”
With arms crossed and scowling, my husband looked angry to me but he said he wasn’t. I thought that his typical refusal or inability to say he was angry, when he obviously was, showed how disconnected he was from himself, let alone from me. With frustration in his voice, he said, “LaVora, you’ve been trying to leave ever since we got married.” He was right. Deep down, I had always known I was only trying to run away from myself, sometimes I just couldn’t stand being in my life.
I ached for my husband to change into someone I wanted to be with. Each time I chanted about him, I forced myself not to focus on his faults, but rather, vowed deeply that I would make our marriage happy, and prayed to see how I needed to grow. It became clear to me that I was going to have to do what seemed like a Wonder Woman feat—use what I had at hand to create the marriage of my dreams. After my talk with my husband, I began to really pray to do just that.
One morning, before I started to chant Nam-myoho-renge during my morning prayer, I wrote my goals on a large index card and placed the card on our family altar where my husband couldn’t miss it. I wasn’t so much trying to make sure that he read my goals; I just didn’t want to be afraid for these to be my goals. I was coming to realize that up until that point I’d been scared to say what my deepest desires were, because I didn’t believe I could make them come true.
On the card were the words, “I will take responsibility for creating a loving, passionate, sexy, trusting marriage imbued with open, honest communication, appreciation, respect, cooperation and encouragement.” Next, I had written what was at the heart of these goals. “I will have a deep and lasting connection with my life mate, and prove to myself, and everyone, that we humans always possess the inner resources we need to transform even the heaviest destiny into wonderful fortune.”
With these goals, I vowed that I would create a happy life, because I was limitlessly powerful just as Nichiren, the 13th century Japanese founder of the Buddhism that bears his name, said I was when he wrote, “[The] Buddha …and we ordinary beings are in no way different or separate from one another.” And, “You must summon up deep faith that [the universe] is your life itself.”
When my husband sat down to join me in prayer that morning, I showed him the card. He laughed a little, sharing the cute smile that I first fell for, and asked, “Is that going to be there when people come to our house for Buddhist meetings?” “No,” I assured him, feeling a warm tingle as I shined a smile back at him, “It’s just here to remind me that I’m going to make these determinations come true.”
When my husband returned home from work that very evening, he gave me flowers and a tender kiss and hug. Our children—six, four and two years-old—danced around us like elves, playfully squealing for hugs of their own.
As I continued to allow myself to freely chant about my marriage, I began to see that if I really wanted to achieve the goals I had envisioned, then I couldn’t continue to lash out violently at my husband whenever I was mad at him. I also saw that I needed to pay attention to the little requests he made of me, like, “Keep the kids out of my office,” “Clean out the minivan when you drop crumbs in it,” and, “If you’re not going to wash the dishes, at least put them in the sink.” I needed to respect those requests, instead of ignoring them, because I was “too busy” or “just forgot.”
I saw that by disregarding my husband’s wishes, I was effectively saying that he didn’t matter to me. My attitude sucked the happily right out of ever-after. I continued to chant, and I pledged to change my ways.
Because as a Nichiren Buddhist I’ve been taught to pray and then get busy breathing life into my prayer, I decided to learn more about relationships. I began listening to the audiotapes of Dr. Chérie Carter-Scott’s book If Love is a Game, These are the Rules. The tapes affirmed a lesson that I was beginning to profoundly understand after almost 14 years of Buddhist practice: Whatever I seek from others, I must first give to myself. I learned that if I wanted my husband to communicate with me on a deeper level, I needed to first truly communicate with myself by listening intently within for my answer to the question, “What do I really want?” Then I had to respect myself enough to wholly honor my dreams—to do whatever it would take to go for them all the way. I would create the marriage I always hoped for by working toward it, not by making do with less.
I saw that I needed to take the same kinds of steps to improve communications with my husband. I had to clearly tell him what I wanted, instead of holding a grudge and thinking that, like a psychic, he should somehow just know what I wanted. Also, I realized that when my husband would tell me how he really felt, and what he really wanted and thought, I had to fully listen to him without being quick to let him know what was “wrong” with what he was saying.
Whether I was busy judging my husband, instead of listening when he shared his feelings with me, or being careless about the little things that were important to him, or behaving abusively toward him, I was coming to realize that it was my behavior that had caused him to do exactly what I hated—emotionally withdraw from me. Whenever he reacted to me in this way, I felt frustrated and angry because he and I were not connecting, which was what I deeply wanted us to do. It was this lack of connection that was at the heart of my dissatisfaction with my marriage, and through prayer and self-reflection I began to understand that I was the true source of the problem.
I also grew to recognize that I needed to support my husband’s desires and dreams. If his goals and mine didn’t seem to match, then, based on the inner wisdom I could tap through prayer, I could create a solution that would truly satisfy us both.
Eighty-two year old international Buddhist leader, Daisaku Ikeda, has been married to his wife, Kaneko Shiraki Ikeda, since 1952. He’s said that “Real love is not two people clinging to each other; it can only be fostered between two strong people secure in their individuality. A shallow person will have only shallow relationships. If you want to experience real love, it is important to first sincerely develop a strong self-identity.”
In my relationship with my husband, I now see that I have everything I need to learn about myself and grow. Through the challenges I face as a wife, I’ve found, to my unspeakable joy, that I am the woman I always dreamed of becoming, and I love me. With my expanding self-love and appreciation, I appreciate and love my husband and others more than ever. And I believe I’m laying the groundwork for building an absolutely happy life in which the beautiful man I married and I can have a stronger and more lusciously satisfying union than either one of us ever dreamed was possible.
Today, I am really enjoying what there is to enjoy about my life journey with the man to whom I said, “I do.” Loving kisses, gentle touches, and heart-to-heart talks have made their way back into our busy schedules.
M. LaVora Perry Bio:
M. LaVora Perry is a freelance writer and the author of the critically acclaimed children’s novel, Taneesha Never Disparaging, a funny and tender story about a feisty 5th grader who is taunted by her imaginary evil twin and a very real, very mean bullying teen. Visit M. LaVora Perry’s website at http://www.mlavoraperry.com/
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* As a practicing Nichiren Buddhist since 1987, I chant the mantra Nam-myoho-renge-kyo each day. These words mean “Devotion to the Lotus Sutra teaching.” In the Lotus Sutra, the ancient Indian sage known as the Buddha, which means “awakened person,” taught that each person, place and thing is the universe itself. Nichiren Buddhists pray by chanting the title of the Lotus Sutra in order to awaken to the limitless power of our lives.