We already had a happy "marriage" ... so why did legalizing it nearly destroy our happiness?
"I can marry you spiritually — but I can't do it legally," I said. Instead of a euphoric, "YES!" to his proposal, these are the words that tumbled out of my mouth.
After two divorces, I vowed never to marry again. But, a "spiritual marriage" felt doable — it felt freeing and right. (And, just in case it didn't work out, I wouldn't have to go through the legal angst of another divorce.)
So we did it all. A church wedding with a willing minister officiating, all our family and friends to help us celebrate. The only difference? We signed a license attesting to us being married under the "Laws of God" instead of the "Laws of the State of Maine."
For all intents and purposes, we were truly married (except for an occasional document requiring legal accuracy.)
And all was happy and well ... until it all went wrong. Why? Because eight years later we decided to make the marriage "legal" after all ... and THAT was our undoing.
We figured — Hey, we made it through the seven-year itch, we're buying a new house together ... a legal marriage just makes sense. We certainly didn't expect things to change between us. But wow did they change! So much so that we almost didn't make it. (Don't worry ... I'm happy to report, we did!)
But, looking back, on the other side of the fiasco, I can see what went wrong ... why "making the marriage legal" nearly ruined our happy relationship. Here's what I've learned:
1. I became a "wife" — in all its dysfunctional glory. Suddenly, I was a nagging, judging, clinging cliche. Where, before, I used to love my alone time, suddenly my husband going out felt like a sign that he no longer desired me.
His once endearing ability to make me laugh when I felt completely, stressed out ... suddenly morphed into me complaining he never takes anything seriously. I started nitpicking what he wore before we could go anywhere. "I love you, you're perfect ... now change" became my mantra.
In our spiritual marriage, I was his friend and lover; someone who appreciated all of him — the good, the bad and the ugly. Unfortunately, something about being a "wife" made me act more like his mother than his lover.
2. He became "the husband" and donned that role like a royal mantle. He became the hero, the bread-winner, and the king of the roost in one fell swoop. However, not in the way you'd think. He didn't treat me like "the little woman" he was in charge of or like a helpless princess in need of rescuing. Instead, when he couldn't live up to that ideal image of the perfect husband, he heaped a pile of guilt and shame on himself, withdrew and became silent. And, in my wifely role, I added fuel to the fire.
In our spiritual marriage we were equal partners, discussing the roles best suited for each of us. We didn't assume responsibilities or lack thereof, we mindfully decided which role each of us played in running our daily lives together.
3. We became caricatures of "ideal marriage." From dysfunctional marriages in magazines to the romantic fantasies we watched on TV, we wrapped it all into what marriage "should be." The problem was, his "should" didn't agree with my "should" and we didn't need to discuss it because, clearly, the other person was just plain WRONG!
In our spiritual marriage, we had common values that we nurtured with love. But those became lost, forgotten and hidden under the new legal marriage ideal we tried living into, built from everyone else's beliefs.
4. The legal document became the glue that kept our marriage together. Eventually, we forgot that we chose this path together of our own free will. The legal marriage felt like a trap. And, feeling trapped is a recipe for disaster. Good manners went out the window, kind gestures and anything loving was a thing of the past. We took each other for granted. In disagreements, we each fought to survive, as if only one of us could emerge the winner.
Free will was the glue for our spiritual marriage. It was free will that brought us together and we fully understood that if we ignored the free will of our partner, our spiritual marriage could dissolve quite simply. It made both of us more thoughtful with our words and clearer with our intentions. Quite simply, the legal document made us lazy.
Luckily, before permanent damage set in, we recognized the insidious slide into the dark place we knew too well from previous divorces.
We realized we had to shed the assumptions and expectations about having the "perfect marriage" that we inadvertently embraced when we made our legal vows. We already had a great marriage before the legal paperwork. So, with hard work and the help of an enlightened counselor, we found our way back to the real foundation of our marriage — the free will and common values that brought us together in the first place.
Jane Honeck coaches couples with money and other difficult life issues. She believes letting go of assumptions and approaching life with curiosity is the anecdote for falling prey to life's expectations. Contact her today for a free consultation.