Personal Growth

Married 40 Years

By Suzanne E. Harrill

Recently, my husband I were visiting my brother-in-law. When there was a lull in the conversation I said, "Guess what? We are soon to be married for 40 years!" Then I reached over, hugged and kissed my husband and said, "And we still like each other." My brother-in-law laughed and said, "Still? Iíd say finally." We three laughed. Then he proceeded to say that he hasnít seen a couple as different as we are stay together and find such peace and harmony. I was immediately reminded of earlier times when things, were not so. How did we move to a place of compatibility and acceptance for each otherís differences so that most of the time now our personalities blend well?

Looking back, I would say we have had several marriages. Some people divorce and experience different relationships with new partners, while we, on the other hand, experienced different relationships with the same partner. Not easy when you live under the same roof and share the same bed. Your lessons are "in your face" so to speak and you cannot ignore them. The journey of transformation was challenging, to say the least, as it was a continuous process with leaps and backslides. Fortunately, we always came out on the other side of our conflicts and challenges in a better place.

When I council others who are struggling in their primary relationships and considering divorce, I explain a major factor, based on my experience, that is paramount for staying together and moving through difficulties and differences. That is to pay attention to whether or not both partners stay in the ring and are willing to confront issues. The times I felt my marriage was not working, I could always count on my husband to set time aside to talk, to hear my thoughts and feelings whenever I asked, as I was often the instigator.

Another thing that helped me move from an average marriage to a more fulfilling, self-actualizing partnership was that I was, and still am, an explorer: always seeking and looking for information to improve myself, the relationship, and searching for higher, universal truths about life in general. My training as a counselor helped too. I learned early on that I had to know myself; I spent lots of time journal writing to uncover what was inside of me. I read many books, as I wanted more out of life. I resonated with Jungian psychology as it talked about the unconscious, projection, and oneís shadow side. It forced me to discover and own the things I projected onto my husband that I did not like and that I hid from myself. I learned that if I was angry or upset it did nothing for the relationship to project it onto my partner; I learned to take responsibility for my feelings. A couple of important books that broadened my horizons were, Ken Keys Jr.ís book A Conscious Personís Guide to Relationships and Scott Peckís book The Road Less Traveled.

Now does living in a self-actualizing, conscious relationship mean we never argue, get annoyed with the other, or fall back into old patterns, such as, feeling like a victim and blaming the other? No. What it does mean is that we have learned through experience and have enough information to catch ourselves early on when this happens and usually we need to spend time apart to work through our own part in a conflict. And we continue to need to communicate and practice what we know.

Life in my 40 year marriage is a continuing process. I am proud of both of us that we had staying power, believed in our own personal journey to heal, grow, and transform, and were open to new ideas. Having very different personalities is only a surface problem and not a foundation problem. We can now easily see that our value system was and is very similar. Home and family, for example, are near the top for each of us. Some of the qualities I have learned in this long-term relationship are patience, forgiveness, love and caring, self-awareness, and communicating. On a humorous note, the popular song, "You Say It Best When You Say Nothing At All," is our song. I, especially, have learned and continue to remind myself to say less and simply "be" for the continued success of this marriage.

If it were not for my marriage, I would not be the person I am today. The combination of our personalities, mine and my husbandís, created the perfect milieu for learning, growing, self-actualizing, and expanding belief systems. I would say the richness of the partnership of 40 years with my husband has been and is the catalyst for my awakening.

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