Evolving in Divorce and Marriage

“How many times have you been married?” he asked.

“Four.” He was silent at this revelation, so I joked, “Think of me as a movie star.”

Taking up the unresolved issues of our parents marriages:

But I am not a movie star.

I am a person who has evolved through marriage and divorce. I have been fortunate to marry lovely, smart, and caring women. I am grateful to them, because we were taking our initiation in love together. The initiation was often difficult, confusing, and humbling.

My four marriage partners, and I had a common experience growing up in homes with parents who were unable to learn together.

Because they couldn’t learn and change with much self-awareness or skill, our parents simply lived with each others neuroses, working, raising children, bickering in a stalemate that became the essence of their relationship.

Coming together, we had some major deficits:

At the beginning of each marriage we wanted it to last a lifetime.

We had a lot of confidence that we could create a marriage that would be far superior to the marriages of our parents.

We had never seen a highly successful marriage in action. We lacked the self-awareness and skill to address the issues of love that emerged inevitably in our marriage.

When the unresolved issues of our parents marriages emerged in our own marriages, we didn’t know how to take advantage of the trouble, learn from it, and strengthen our love.

Instead, we got angry and depressed, just like our parents had before us. We fought bitterly in front of our children, just as our parents had.

Eventually, we gave up on each other, just as our parents had.

But, unlike our parents, who stayed stuck, we left each other to try again.

Marriage and divorce were the vehicles for my own emergence:

I may have been a slow learner, but I learned with each marriage and divorce. Over time, I became more and more aware that I was co-creator of my marital problems.

Dad had been critical of my mother. Gradually, I stopped being critical. Dad was an alcoholic, depressed, and emotionally distant. I finally learned how to stop falling into periods of depression.

Eventually, I learned how to say I love you easily and naturally, something my father never did.

Mom felt sorry for herself and blamed Dad for all that was wrong in her marriage. I finally squeezed out the last of my own self-pity, took full responsibility for the life I lead, and flew free into a vibrant life of joy and practical advantage.

I learned with my wives. I gained skills and awareness with each marriage.

Our initiation continues:

Mary and I have achieved the marriage I always thought was possible, a marriage devoted to learning how to love.

We see every exchange each day as an opportunity to invest in each other’s potential. With light hearts, we shine our light into each other’s dark corners, encouraging, kidding, gently nudging, and helping each other stay awake.

We emerge as more loving persons.

We are a team, committed to loving each other, other people, and this beautiful earth.

Experiencing this kind of love, we feel as if we live in heaven.

I don’t feel a failure at marriage. I am not embarrassed at how long it has taken me to learn how to love in marriage.

I feel like a success at marriage. I continued to learn, even though I had painful failures. I didn’t give up on achieving a wonderful marriage.

I am taking my initiation in love.

Gary Stokes was founder and CEO of a national laboratory testing new strategies for the development of children and families in poverty. He has coached hundreds of leaders who are working to build stronger families, including Presidential appointees and other top executives in government and education. His recent book, Poise: A Warrior’s Guide, charts a path toward a vibrant life of joy and practical advantage. He maps the universe of poise on his blog, http://www.thepoisedlife.com/

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