Monday, August 13, 2012

The Mindful Marriage

Mindfulness seems to be well on its way to becoming treat of the week. Applied to everything from anxiety to adolescents, post-trauma to pain, sadness to stress, one half expects to pull into the local take-away drive-thru' and, with every McMindful Meal receiving an extra large soft drink of your choice. So why not marriage?

I happened upon a review of a new book recently, How Can I Be Your Lover When I'm Too Busy Being Your Mother?, and it dawned that this might just be the mindfulness entree into this domain. The male and female authors, Toronto-based psychotherapists, appear to have nailed a number of the commoner, 'he said, she said' complaints that find their regular way into our offices. Sort of a 'Mars and Venus' look at the usual laundry lists and the knee-jerk defenses they elicit; with a bit of gender-specific perspective -- and some alternative approaches that might just avert the typical tape being played out yet again. They consider the male's 'convenient blindness' -- a penchant for walking past that pile of clean laundry waiting to be helped upstairs, or the emptied garbage can at the curb -- generally viewed by this lad's partner as laziness, shirking, not caring, or just plain obliviousness. They offer the alternate possibility that the male view may be as much driven by his immediate goals (where he's headed at the moment) and that anything not representing an impediment to that goal is generally (and easily!) ignored. 

Leisure and how it's defined comes under the microscope too. The authors maintain that men 'make a sharper distinction between work and play'; women frequently 'do a different kind of work to relax'. How often have I heard the 'I work all day; when I get home I want to read the newspaper with my feet up' defense; generally in response to the 'I could use a little help with the kids, cleaning up supper dishes, and walking the dog' plea. To the male, the maxim of 'a woman's work never being done' is more a matter of female choice or compulsion, than job description.

In the crosshairs as well is nagging. To the woman, her partner is just one more child that she can reliably count on to ignore the first five requests before being threatened into action; to the man, it's an 'I'll get to it . . . no need to go ballistic!' The gatekeeper/woman: 'If I want it done today, and done right, I may as well do it myself'; the man:  'nothing is ever good enough!' Meeting a standard or perfectionism; slap dash incompetent or never satisfied control freak.

Even raising the family is grounds for a disparate take on things. Smother-mother or lackadaisical dad. Helicopter mom contacts the university control tower for landing instructions as little Billy settles into his first 'home away from home'; dad hands three-year old Bobby the can of lawnmower gas to help jump start the BBQ.  Is there no middle ground?

The authors of course have their own, generally pretty grounded suggestions for reframing and resolving the above scenarios -- on both sides of the matrimonial fence -- in a less dysphoric way.  I was equally impressed, however, just how many of the general tenets we associate with mindfulness practice and principles have salutary application. How about non-judging: adopting the observer's role (vs. that of the 'fixer' or 'quality control monitor'), foregoing a critical, judgmental, evaluative posture. Or perhaps being a little more present: might this involve noticing that laundry, garbage can, or milk left on the counter and addressing now vs. later.

Does letting go have a place in all this matrimonial chaos? Could that look like being a little less attached to a particular outcome or standard; perhaps accepting what is vs. compulsively measuring the distance between what's before us and some ideal. Oh and how 'bout patience? The old grit in the marital machine of just whose timetable are we operating on ('gimme a minute and I would have gotten to it!')

Non-striving, the soothing of the need to have things the way the should be, or the way we need them to be, just might find a place in the mix. And what of the beginner's mind? That would be seeing a situation stripped of expectations, standards, negative predictions; and allowing that it may just be handled a little differently (and more satisfactorily) -- if I'm only non-judgmental, accepting, and patient!  And finally, trust -- of self and our significant other. Seeing both self and other as competent, interested, concerned, and caring.

There might even be room for some of those other wingy concepts: right speech, right view, right intention, and right action. So, will that be two all-beef patties, special sauce, on a sesame seed bun -- with a side order of equanimity and compassion?

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