by Rebecca O'Dwyer
Some say that marriage is being bound by vows. There is an old cowboy saying that goes “A wedding ring cuts off the wearer’s circulation”. But, what is marriage really?
I remember someone close to me saying one day “I don’t want anyone to be with me because of a piece of paper. I want them to be with me because they love me.”
A marriage is not about the piece of paper, the legal agreement that binds two people together in the eyes of the law of this land. I have never felt that my husband was with me because he had signed a piece of paper that said he couldn’t leave. He is a very strong, spirited man and it would take a lot more than a scrap of papyrus to keep him in a situation he didn’t want to be in! I also know that he wouldn’t think twice about breaking the law to re-gain his personal freedom.
So what keeps him here? Is it the vows we took? We have friends that tell us we should relinquish our wedding vows because they are keeping us prisoner in our marriage. Why would I ever want to undo the beautiful words that I spoke to my husband that day? I stand by them. Every morning, when I wake up, I look at him and feel so much gratitude to be walking through my life with him by my side.
Every day I re-choose the vows made more than a decade ago.
I choose to be by his side in health and also in sickness; through abundant times as well as the lean times; and not to run at the first sign of trouble. You may be thinking it’s easy to say those words when you’re living a charmed life but, when the proverbial sh*t hits the fan, it’s a lot more challenging!
This is true and, when I took my marriage vows, it was with ignorance, confidence, and the expectation of many glorious years ahead of wedded bliss. I couldn’t have known we were heading so quickly towards difficult times, but within five years we had experienced our fair share of illness and financial hardship, not to mention physical, mental and emotional challenges.
During these times, we have a choice – to blame our partner, take pity on ourselves, and give up, OR to find the strength within us, accept our situation and work to improve it with an open heart.
For better, for worse, in sickness and in health, means through thick and thin, not giving up when the going gets tough.
There is a country saying “When you are picking flowers, everyone gets along. It’s when you get to mucking out the stables you find out who your friends are.” Of course it is easy to maintain a good marriage when life brings us little in the way of challenge, but it’s when we’re thrown a curve ball we have a chance to discover what we’re made of, which is a massive gift.
My parents had a sign on the kitchen wall when I was growing up that said “Don’t go to bed on an argument – stay up and fight it out!” with a picture of two bulls head to head. I’m grateful to them for showing me that some things are worth fighting for, and to stay and work it out instead of bailing at the first sign of trouble. I feel that divorce, in our modern day culture, comes far too easily and it takes from us a wonderful opportunity to work on ourselves.
Marriage is the ultimate spiritual practice!
It takes an enormous amount of personal awareness to share a home with another human being while living your life’s purpose and supporting your partner to live theirs. That is what it means to love another person – to encourage their growth, whatever that means.
I also set an intention on my wedding day to stay with my husband for the rest of my life, or until one of us leaves our body and we are separated on a physical level. Humans, like other animals such as swans and penguins, are inclined to mate for life. There is huge pleasure in this, and the love between you grows as the years go by. It is not inevitable, as we are told so often, that a relationship becomes boring and stale, or a perpetual battle ground. It depends very much how we treat one-another and how much we value what is between us.
Is it more important for you personally to be ‘right’ about every little thing, or to give love and respect to your partner?
It doesn’t make us weak when we choose to bite our tongue and let something go – it means we recognise that some things just aren’t important in the grand scheme of things. Pick your battles!
The day I married my husband, I also pledged to share my body with him, and him only, from that day forward. Why is this an important part of a marriage ceremony? Sex is also known as ‘making love’ and, if we look back to ancient India, we can find out a lot more about what this means. Tantra has been practiced in the East for many centuries and it involves working with the energies of the body, and the understanding that when a man and a woman come together in union with open hearts, this act increases the love between them. Over time, as they continue to come together in this way, this energy (or love, as we call it) grows, and it can take them to levels of joy, bliss and peace that are difficult to imagine until they are experienced.
Sex between two people who love each other is known as a sacred union because, through it, we literally become closer to the Divine, whatever that means to us. I realised at a young age that sex was a spiritual experience and something of real beauty if approached in the right way, and I received the explanation for my feelings many years later through teachings from the East. Indulging in sex with many different partners does not allow us to experience the depth that is possible with one long-term partner. I don’t abstain from sex with other men because I ‘can’t’ because I’m married, I choose not to participate in it in the present moment because I know it won’t serve me.
For me, my marriage began when the man who is now my husband asked me to marry him and I said that I would. On that day of our engagement, we made a promise to one another, and we are people who keep our word. We were both born into, and still live and work in, the farming community. In our world, a man (or woman) is true to his or her word. We stand by our word. Verbal contracts are good in agricultural trades because there is still trust and honour, and long may it continue. There is great power in the spoken word – words create.
A year later, in our own personal story, we sealed our promise to one another in a sacred place. There was a ceremony, or ritual, which of itself holds great power, and energetically supported us and the intentions we made on that day. The ritual was witnessed by all our friends and family who wore their best clothes in honour of this important occasion. They all heard us make our promises to each other and they, in return, were asked to remind us of our words at any point in the future when we might need it. In this way, they are supporting us in our intentions. They also gave us gifts to help us set up home together, and joined us in feasting and dancing to celebrate the joyous occasion.
My vows have been tested at times, and I am very grateful to my Mother, Sister-in-Law, and a dear friend who have each made me a cup of tea, listened to my woe’s and gently encouraged me to go home and make up with the man they know I love and belong with. They were all among the congregation on our wedding day and witnessed our intentions and the love between us. The fact that we occasionally have disagreements doesn’t mean we have failed at creating the perfect marriage, it just means we are human and it is part of the journey.
A sign that we are growing as individuals and learning from our arguments as a couple, is that we disagree about different things as time goes on, instead of arguing about the same old thing over and over again!
Be under no illusions, it takes dedication to create and maintain a successful marriage where both partners are happy, but it’s a very rewarding enterprise. I acknowledge, again, what I have gained growing up in a farming family that has helped me with commitment. When you work the land, you are often dealing with the elements in challenging situations, such as assisting a cow who is having difficulty calving. You may experience mental distress trying to work out the best thing to do under pressure; emotional upset as you worry about the consequences of your decisions, like the possibility of losing her or the calf; alongside physical discomfort from cold or extreme heat; and the exhaustion that comes from expending every last bit of energy you have in an attempt to help her birth the calf. You cannot walk away – it is a life and death situation.
As Billy Ocean once said: ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’.
It is at times like this we find our inner strength, and we’re able to ask our body to keep going when it is tired out and hungry; while keeping a level head with our emotions in balance. Calving cows is a lot like dealing with speed bumps in a marriage – if you can make it through the challenges you will birth something beautiful.