QUESTION: I take responsibility for Caring for the Soul of My Marriage. But sometimes I get so confused. What's the difference between being patient with my mate and allowing myself to be a doormat that's stepped all over? Could you suggest some basic groundrules for a mystic marriage?

copyright year 2000 /Erin Starr

That's a good question. I'm glad you asked. Most newlyweds don't go into marriage with the express hope of a speedy divorce. They hold, instead, an innocent hope that the soul of their marriage will grow. Soulful marriages are mysterious creatures. They march to a different drummer. They are built on imagination, love -- and workable rules.
Though I grow weary of rules, they have a place in deep marriage. Here's a sampling of rules:

1. Take time off from each other occasionally, if only for a day.

2. Write each other a note during this time, listing what you love most in each other.

3. No hitting or other domestic physical violence. Whether or not to hit your child in discipline is a topic of controversy -- but hitting your adult mate is simply taboo.

4. Decide what the limits are on sex with others, and stick to it. You know the statistics about cheating. Many do cheat. Others stay monogamous -- although it's more rare than even the statistics show, since many people won't even tell a statistics test whether or not they cheat. If you can't hold yourself into fidelity, then set up an "Open Marriage" system where at least your mate can have a fling, too, if desired.

5. Use language as a gift, not a weapon. Define your terms, especially in argument. You may be in agreement, actually, but using words in such different ways that you appear to disagree.

6. Both partners are responsible for keeping the checkbooks straight. Use money as a tool of building, not a weapon to control each other.

7. Children are a gift beyond any gift. Treat yours accordingly. The marriage will be stronger. Here's a trick: Imagine that your children have become fully grown. Envision them as strangers that are brought to you by a magic fairy one day. Imagine yourself being invited by the magic fairy to welcome these grown children into your tribal family circle of adults -- because kids do grow up -- and treat your child with as much politeness as you'd treat an adult friend.

Did I do this? Not really.

I was young when I first started having children, and I followed to some degree the way parents treated their kids during the 1940's and '50's, which is when I was growing up. There were good things and not-so-good things. Over the years, I created my own mode of parenting, and changed. My belief is that grandmothers make good disciplinarians because they've learned to discipline with kindness. There are of course some things an older grandparent can't do because of age and limitation, and these activities are best left to the parents. But grandparents are kind teachers of discipline and rules, generally, because their youthful rage and confusion and selfishness have been mitigated by time.

Do all these rules seem a nuisance?

Sometimes rules are pedantic and boring. But just try marriage without rules like these. If a couple can agree on some basic rules regarding sex, money, and language, their success is almost certain.

When I'm near a soulful marriage, I can feel it. There's an organizing force. The center will hold. The marriage can be flawed - most likely it will be - but it is a safe harbor, a fair place. Robert Frost, the fine New England poet, said: "Home is where,/when you have to go there,/they have to take you in." When you know the rules, and abide by them, the port stays open.

Our century is creeping like a cat under bushes toward the Millennium. When the cat pounces, and the next thousand-year cycle begins, marriage will change. Women will come into acknowledged leadership in marriage, as they will in other institutions.

Why didn't this happen sooner? Both women and men contributed to the delay. During the early part of the twentieth century, women who were disadvantaged by onerous marriage laws were as adamant in the anti-female vote as men -- especially in intellectual New England, of all places.

The women thought that females were above politics, which was considered a dirty business - and in thinking that way, they left the leadership up to the men, who weighted the marriage (and divorce) laws in their own favor. Who wouldn't? That kind of power is hard to resist. How could this imbalance not eat at the soul of marriage? Married women, in the early part of our century, were often afflicted with a lack of conjugal passion that was called "frigidity." But perhaps a frigid response to an unbalanced marriage was actually a healthy response! Or at least a truthful one.

Found in the ancient tantric teachings is the concept that Woman is the leader in a marriage. Woman is the Wisdom figure. Man is the figure of Compassionate Action. She says: "I need a good plot of soil to plant my seeds in, to grow food for the family, right here by the kitchen." He digs the garden where she wants it, and builds the soil. She plants the seeds and tends to the weeding. Together they harvest and eat.

Man refreshes his soul at the Well of Woman; and Woman refreshes her soul at the Well of Solitude. This is the bygone way. As she takes her time alone, he has his solitude if he needs it. In older times, women were often confined during their moon cycles each month, or avoided by men. Although the reason for this was a bit unsavory (women were considered "unclean" during this period), the result was that women had a chance to sip at the well of solitude once a month, which could be quite refreshing.

Cultivating intimacy involves its opposite - time alone. Too much intimacy seems to make people antsy, so they pick a fight just to get some space. I see people throwing spiritual words around like honeyed bullets from a machine gun. Couples may experience variations on the following mind-bending theme: "It's all One, so I don't see why you're upset that I had sex with your friend last night." "I know we agreed to be monogamous, but we're all just Divine Energy -- It doesn't matter if I make love to you or someone else -- I'm still your soul-mate." "If you're jealous because I'm sharing a sexual healing with your friend, you're just projecting your own attachment issues."

Not fair. Using spiritual words to break the rules you've decided on in your marriage is not freedom of speech and action - it's just sloppy.

In conclusion, I'd like to say that soulful marriage is within anyone's grasp. If this is what you want, write down some rules. And follow them. If they need to be changed, let it be mutual. May the eccentricity and mystery of your marriage be an enchanting beacon for other marital ships to follow.


Weekly Q&A