More often than most people realize, we bind and limit ourselves in order to preserve our primary relationships. Sometimes we actually choose to remain the same and, in various ways, encourage our partner to remain the same in the mistaken belief that this will protect our relationship. The thinking goes something like this: Even though I am not being emotionally fed or stretched in this relationship, I won’t ever leave, because I would rather be safe here with you than on my own.
Or: I won’t stretch professionally, because I am afraid I might outgrow you. And to make sure you don’t outgrow me, I’ll discourage you from stretching. Or: I won’t give up my criticalness, because then you might become too confident, and that could jeopardize our marriage as we know it.
Almost universally, marriage partners develop a remarkable, unwritten agreement: I will live with you despite your ridiculous behavior if you will live with me despite mine. In the process, couples limit their own and their partner’s unfolding, reducing themselves to their least capacities rather than inspiring each other to their fullest. This is the prototypical frog-in-the-pot story. We enter the relationship full of zest and dreams, then let both slip away for the sake of the marriage.
In my own marriage, I used to have the deep, underlying fear that if I changed too much, if I became too mature, too professionally successful, if I carried my meditation practice too far, I would leave my partner behind. Then I would be all alone.
So I held myself back. For years I did not step into my full professional capacities and also restrained myself from leaping fully into my meditation. Of course when you say out loud that you are giving up the fruits of life in order to keep your partner, it sounds absurd.
Nevertheless, fear of losing one’s partner produces all sorts of strange, semi- conscious, self-limiting strategies. When I finally voiced this concern to my wife, about leaving her behind, she expressed the very same concern about leaving me behind. Fearing for our marriage, we had both held ourselves back.
It is possible to remember that when either partner moves forward professionally, psychologically or spiritually, when either partner drops some fear and opens their heart further, the other follows. Instead of the marriage keeping one static, it can become a source of leap-frogging forward.
If you suspect that you are stunting your own evolution to preserve your relationship, two things can be recommended. One, have faith that your personal development will not interfere with your relationship’s long-term health. Or, if it does, you are in the wrong marriage. Two, seek professional help.
In any case, as Dylan Thomas said under different circumstances: Do not go gentle into that good night. Do not stunt your own growth. Ask yourself: Is there any important way I would be living differently if I were not in this relationship? In order to preserve this relationship do I hold myself back: Professionally? Socially? Psychologically? Spiritually?