Fairy tales begin “Once upon a time …” and end with the blissful words every child loves, “… and they lived happily ever after.” As we grow up, however, we confront the unpleasant reality that in fact nothing lives happily ever after. Just because the prince meets every challenge and saves the damsel in the nick of time, and just because they fall madly in love and swear eternal vows, doesn’t mean their life together will always be clear sailing.
Relationships aren’t meant to be walks in the park; they’re far too valuable for that. Yes, just like fairy tales, they’re replete with challenges for both the hero and the heroine to rise above to gain the spoils the relationship offers. But it’s up to the players to decide how much they dare risk and how willing they are to move past their accustomed boundaries. A relationship is the ultimate vehicle that can take you anywhere in the universe you wish to explore, if you have enough curiosity and sense of adventure.
I’ve been married to Arianne for twenty years, and it’s been in every respect an extraordinary experience. I’ve always wondered what it is about being “us” that works and what doesn’t, and why our relationship is successful where so many others fail. I sometimes look back over the past two decades and consider what we might have done differently. The answer is always the same: nothing. Like all other couples, we’ve had our challenging moments, but in retrospect those were the times that provided the greatest opportunities for growth.
I choose to believe that Arianne and I were fated to be together. What else would you call it when, out of the more than six billion people on the planet, we somehow found each other? When I look back at the series of unlikely synchronistic events that caused us to meet in Johannesburg, South Africa, nearly halfway around the world from my home in Connecticut, I can only smile at the deft hand of a higher intelligence at work. As Einstein said, “God does not play dice with the universe.”
There is a divine purpose to creation, and we humans – these tiny sparks of consciousness inhabiting a tiny planet on a far-flung arm of one of the hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe – are a vital component of that purpose. I choose to believe that God – whatever that term may conjure for the reader – creates the circumstances to bring two sparks of consciousness together. From there on, it’s completely in their hands. Whether they opt to walk together or apart, focus on the material or the spiritual, play it safe or courageously test the limits of their comfort level, determines the quality of their own little piece in the great creation.
People often ask Arianne and me what key ingredient keeps our relationship so magical. If there were such a product, I’m sure it would have been packaged and marketed long ago. From my perspective, there is no panacea, no one simple answer that makes it all smooth sailing. Certainly our relationship has elements of complete paradox. We like to call it a multi-dependent affair in that it interweaves interdependency, independency, and codependency into a remarkably strong cord that neither ties nor binds, but acts as a lifeline when either of us, like Icarus, flies too close to the sun.
If pressed for the secrets to our relationship, however, I would offer the following: First, people seek their ideal mate, but often for the wrong reasons. Instead of searching for the person with whom they can create the consummate relationship, they search for a perfect someone out there who will complete them. Completion, however, is always an inside job. The question is not “who out there can make me whole?” but “how can I make myself whole so I can be in a great relationship?” Elizabeth Clare Prophet once put it this way: Suppose you finally see your knight in shining armor riding toward you. What is it about you, what do you have to offer, that would make him stop for you?
Second, we humans may be spiritual beings, yet we are very much mired in the material world and the vagaries of the illusion that regularly ensnare us all. The willingness of both partners to recognize their own fallibilities without defending them, sprinkled with liberal doses of humor and compassion, generally sees a relationship through the rough spots. As a couple helps each other transcend the need to defend and justify, the artificial barriers of ego that keep all people separate and insulated from one another begin to dissolve. Then the magic begins.
Finally, I would say the single most important element is mutual respect. In its absence nothing worthwhile can come of any partnership. Only with respect is it possible to realize the synergy of unfettered commitment that makes one plus one equal infinity. Arianne and I were given a plaque with Kahlil Gibran’s treatise “On Marriage” (from The Prophet) as a wedding gift. It has hung prominently in our bedroom ever since:
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
Relationships are what you make of them. If you are willing to release your ego and all the psychological drama it deposits on your doorstep, you will discover that your relationship holds endless possibilities. How big or small you dare to dream is a matter of your courage and imagination. Expect little and little is what you’ll get. There is much I seek to accomplish during the course of my incarnation, yet if all I succeed in doing is to support and make easy the path of the remarkable lady with whom I share my life, I will consider it a resounding success. Still, there’s a wonderful universal law that states: the more you give, the more you get. Unwittingly, in serving her, I’ve opened up untold doors for myself. The security and strength of our relationship provides a mutual platform from which we can both afford to take risks, knowing that we will be loved and supported without judgment. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Jean-Claude Gerard Koven is a writer and speaker based in Vilcabamba, Ecuador. He was a featured weekly columnist for the UPI (United Press International) Religion and Spirituality Forum and is the author of Going Deeper: How to Make Sense of Your Life When Your Life Makes No Sense, recipient of both the Allbooks Reviews Editor’s Choice Award and the USABookNews.com Award for the Best Metaphysical Book of the Year.
©2004 – 2021. Jean-Claude Gerard Koven / All Rights Reserved.