Written by: Christina Marlett, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Relationships are the best teachers for spiritual growth. Tune into Part 1 of this mini-series to find out how spiritual expansion results from a long-lasting marriage.
My husband and I are celebrating our 25th anniversary this summer. In the week leading up to this auspicious day, I got a download for a mini-series of articles I’ll be sharing with you over the next few weeks: 7 Spiritual LessonsLearned from 25 Years of Marriage. Some parts of me are surprisingly similar to who I was 25 years ago (I was already pretty wise in some ways at 21 when we tied the knot) and other parts are thankfully very different.
Hallelujah for change! In this series, I’ll pull back the curtains on the spiritual growth I’ve experienced as a result of being married in hopes that it will be helpful for you, too, whether or not you’re with the love of your life yet. For a wee bit of background, Paul and I met at University in a dance class during our Kinesiology degree.As part of the Creative Dance Unit, we were put into groups and given the task of turning an everyday activity into a dance. Our group chose bowling (although I don’t think any of us bowled daily). I was a bowling pin and Paul was the bowler. Clearly, it was destiny. More details will be revealed about those early days as we progress. For now, just know that we dated for three years, got engaged at the end of our first degrees and were married the following summer.
The first spiritual lesson
People sometimes ask us what the secret is to our happiness. If I had to narrow it down to one thing (which I can’t and that’s why there are seven lessons coming your way – but this one is at the top of the list), I would say that taking responsibility for your life is imperative. It’s not something that we knew about for the first few years but once we were introduced to the concept, boy, did it make a tremendous difference.
Taking responsibility for your life
The first place I remember learning about taking responsibility for everything in your life was in a book but sadly, I no longer know the name or author. Sorry mystery author! It seemed like a really big idea but the more I started experimenting with it, the more it made sense.
One of my mentors, Marci Shimoff (who I do remember!) explains it really clearly in her book, Happy For No Reason. To take responsibility for your life, it’s helpful to choose to become a victor rather than a victim. When you’re a victor, you know that everything that happens (even the tough stuff) is happening for you and your highest growth and expansion. You increase your ability to trust in the Universe/Infinite Intelligence/Life. When you’re in the victim habit, life happens to you. As a result, you feel less powerful or even powerless, so life is a struggle. Not sure whether you’re more victor or victim? Here are some clues. Victim behaviours tend toward blaming, shaming and complaining. People in the victim habit blame others for their challenges (such as the people in their lives, the government, the media or anything else outside of themselves). They also turn that blame toward themselves which shows up as shame. They tend to complain as well; about the weather, their job, their family, the traffic, the politicians, etc. Victim energy is heavy. It drags you down. Victor energy is uplifting, light, solution-oriented and way more expansive. Of course, we’ll all experience heavy energy from time to time. What we’re talking about here is having an awareness of your energetic tendencies so that you can be at choice rather than just let life happen to you. At the beginning of my marriage, I made a conscious choice to choose victor energy as often as possible (although I didn’t know that language at the time). From the start, I vowed that I would never complain about Paul to other people and I also do my best to not complain to him either. I’m not saying I sugarcoat things or walk around with a Pollyanna smile on my face all the time. We’re definitely real with each other and we’re also conscious of our tone. Complaining has a very identifiable tone to it and it’s repetitive. It gets to be the same-old-same-old very quickly. So that’s a choice you can make: victor or victim. It’s a great way to start taking responsibility for your life.
What we don’t do in our marriage
Taking responsibility can show up in other ways too. Here are some things that I don’t do because they don’t feel good or enhance the energy in our home.
I don’t nag. If something needs to be done and I’m asking Paul to do it, I learned a great approach from John Gray, author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. He said that if you’re asking repeatedly to have something done, say it with the same positive and light tone every time you ask. Ever since I learned that strategy, I’ve done it and it feels much better. Again, the energy is much lighter and more positive. No, it’s not always easy but it does indeed create better results.
I don’t criticize Paul, either directly to him or to others. When I tell people about my beloved, I say that he is a gift to humanity. It makes me feel so much love for him and guess what? Because that’s what I’m putting out there energetically, it becomes more and more of my experience. I consistently experience him as a gift because I believe it emphatically. If I went around saying that he was a dud, I would get more experiences to match that energy. We get to choose where we put our focus with the power of our words and thoughts, so I choose to use my words and energy to uplift.
I don’t bring up ammunition from the past to make a point in the present. Attachment is the root of all suffering. Staying attached to things that happened in the past just causes suffering. I do my best to get the lesson from any challenges from the past and then stay present by releasing the emotional attachment. That way I’m not stockpiling old stuff and letting that energy drag me down.
What we do instead – embracing mistakes
One of the most powerful aspects of taking responsibility is the idea of embracing mistakes. As a recovering perfectionist, I grew up fearing mistakes and avoided making them at all costs, much to my detriment. As Paul and I have grown together, we’ve come to understand that the only way we can learn (neurologically speaking) is through repetition and by making mistakes. In fact, the best learning happens through mistakes. That shows myelin develops in the brain (and you need lots of myelin if you want to be good at something). You can find out all the fascinating details about the myelination process and skill development in the book called The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. Once we discovered the importance of making mistakes, we really embraced it as a family. When any of us, including our teenagers, make mistakes, we celebrate the learning rather than focus on the problem. Sure, we look for solutions, but the takeaway is always the most important thing. As Jason Mraz says in his song, I’m Yours, “You win some and you learn some”. Here’s a story about a mistake I made not too long ago. We take an iodine supplement that uses a dropper to put it on the inside of our wrists. Usually, the iodine bottle sits on the table but for some reason one day, it was on the kitchen counter. (The white granite kitchen counter… you may see where this is going.) I put the little drop of amber liquid on my wrist and as I was rubbing it in, I knocked over the whole bottle.I didn’t panic but I was dismayed that so much had spilled because it’s quite pricey. I didn’t want to wipe the spilled iodine up with a cloth and waste it so I got our metal scraper and the funnel with the intention of getting as much iodine as possible back into the bottle. I can say with 20/20 hindsight that it was not a good idea. I made the puddle of yellowish gold oh so much bigger and then saw that it had also dripped down the painted wooden cabinets. Very little was salvaged and the stain was much more significant. Oops! I tried all manner of environmentally friendly, non-toxic cleaning products to remove it and ended up removing some of the paint on the cupboard but very little of the stains. (*Slaps face with palm.) When I hesitantly shared my catastrophe with Paul, he was totally non-reactionary. He didn’t blame, shame, complain, criticize or even get angry. He just asked me how on earth I had managed to stain the countertop, drawer and cupboard. Then he went to work trying his own hand at removing it. (Just a note: apparently iodine fades over time on countertops. Not so much on paint but the counter is almost back to normal- hooray!) As you can see, Paul just embraced my mistake and got to work finding a solution, which made the whole thing a non-issue. We’ve definitely done a lot of work to get to this point and – wow – it is so worth it.
What we do instead – our magic phrase
Over the course of 25 years, there have obviously been disagreements and challenges. In the early days, I did not deal with them well. If an incident happened, it would take me at least three days of ruminating (which looked like the silent treatment to Paul) but what I was doing was trying to figure out a way to say what I needed to say without hurting his feelings. I was not very good at it. Once I learned to take responsibility for whatever showed up, it became easier to communicate and over time, we came up with this magical phrase that’s based on Non-Violent Communication: When you (some behaviour that isn’t working for you), I feel (insert how you feel about it). I’m working on dealing with that emotion on my end but I wanted to let you know. If there’s any way you could (preferred behaviour) instead, that would be amazing. Here’s an example of something Paul said to me a few months ago in the form of the magic phrase. “When you stay in bed and leave all the morning prep to me, I feel resentful and stressed. I’m working on dealing with that resentment on my end but I wanted to let you know. If there’s any way you could get up with me two days a week to help, that would be amazing.” Guess what I did? I thanked him for letting me know and did exactly what he asked (except instead of two days a week, I did six or seven because I’m like that). The magic phrase is an effective way of communicating because you take responsibility without blaming the other person. There’s no criticism, name-calling, shaming or anything like that so the person on the receiving end doesn’t feel like they need to defend themselves. There’s also a clear request so that you know how to take action. Magic!
What we do instead – loving like the sun
Loving like the sun means giving generously like the sun gives light. It doesn’t expect anything in return. It just gives and shines. Basically, loving like the sun is another way to say that what you focus on expands. If you have a habit of giving your attention to your partner’s faults and flaws, you’ll find them and they will grow.
If, instead, you focus on the positives in your partner, their good deeds and the ways they make your life better, that’s what you’ll get more of. I’m not talking about being a doormat or giving from a place of depletion and exhaustion. This practice is one of the mind. When you take responsibility to choose carefully where you put your thoughts and attention, everyone benefits.
If I notice my mindset tending towards what hasn’t been done or anything else that feels like lack, I insist that my thoughts turn to the other side – to what has been done.
For example, I remember many times when I would be doing something like vacuuming and I would just be seething because I was the only one cleaning. When I learned to love like the sun, I was able to train my mind to notice the negative thoughts and how they were making me feel and then shift them to noticing all the help Paul had already given that day or week. His helpful actions just weren’t necessarily happening at the same time.
The more I practice loving like the sun, the less I suffer because as soon as I notice my mind going down a rabbit hole, I catch it, choose how I would rather feel and think accordingly.
There you have it. Taking responsibility for your life can be done in so many different ways. Ultimately, it’s an energetic practice that leaves you feeling very empowered because how you feel is up to you. You don’t have to count on others to make you feel a certain way, nor do you flail around in emotional storms, reacting to incidents big or small. You get to choose how you use your mind and when it comes to marriage or other relationships, the more you take responsibility for whatever shows up by training your mind, the happier everyone will be. At least that’s been my experience.
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Christina Marlett, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine As the creator of Courageous Self-Care, Christina is passionate about helping stressed out high achievers learn to lead their communities, families and themselves from a place of wholeness, overflowing energy and deep self-respect. She excels at helping overwhelmed leaders revitalize their energy from the inside out so that they can be productive and peaceful at the same time. Christina is a certified Embodiment Coach, Body Awake Yoga teacher, Happy for No Reason Trainer, Energy Codes Facilitator and BEST Practitioner who helps you take inspired action so that you have epic relationships, vibrant health and so much energy that people will ask you what you’ve been doing differently.