The One Big, Not-So-Secret Secret of a Happy Relationship

Love on a MountaintopRelationships. They’re a source of endless joy and angst. We might be deliriously happy for a while, but then the gloss wears off and we’re stuck with reality. Most people get into relationships expecting they’ll feel better about themselves and their lives when they have someone to love them. We will meet the man or woman of our dreams and they will fulfil us, be our everything and we’ll both be deliriously happy for ever.

When that’s not the case, what do we do? Often, we blame the other person. The thinking might go like this: I don’t feel fantastic anymore, so it must be the other person’s fault: they’re not good enough, good-looking enough, rich enough, smart enough. A solution? Move on. The next relationship will bring all the things I need. And many people chase the high that new “love” brings.

Another solution might be to stay in that relationship because, very conveniently, we now have someone else to blame for everything we don’t like about our lives. If it wasn’t for them and all their flaws, our life would be wonderful. Love promised a perfect life, but I still don’t have enough money and have no friends. Life didn’t deliver. It’s all their fault. How convenient not to have to look at our own stuff and stuff-ups. Those arguing, bickering, bitter couples are all locked into the blame game. Are we too afraid to say “What’s my part in this? Why do I feel so unhappy? What can I do to change this?”

Being in a relationship that works means asking all those questions of yourself and then doing something about them. A something that doesn’t involve running away, getting divorced and making all the same mistakes in your next relationship. In short: Own your own crap. If something annoys you in your relationship, look at your part in it. Then look at why it annoys you. It’s your responsibility. It’s so easy to blame everyone else for everything. I know, I spent most of my life doing it.

My husband called me on it early on in our relationship. I hated him for it at the time, because it meant I really had to look at why I always played the victim. Sometimes I want to be weak and helpless and have someone else to blame for everything that’s wrong in my life. But if that’s true, where does it leave me? What can I learn or improve from that position of helplessness? Playing the victim may feel easy at the time, but it’s a cop-out. In the long-term, it kept me stuck and miserable.

Now when I feel bad and I want to blame him, I have the tools to turn it around, knowing and really understanding that I am responsible for my own misery and my own happiness. I take him out of the equation and own my own crap. He can’t do anything about my crap and I can’t do anything about his, but to the best of our ability we don’t dump it on each other. That, my friend, is the one big not-so-secret secret of a happy relationship. Own your own crap. And do something about it so you don’t feel crappy.

There is one proviso: If he or she ever physical assaults you, even a “small” hit, that is not your crap. That is not your fault. That is definitely their crap. And grounds for divorce.

Get your free copy of Mary-Lou’s Seven Tips For Your Best Relationship Ever

Trust Your Truth, Even When It Doesn’t Match Your Beliefs

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When I first met my husband I tried to ignore him, even though he fascinated me. We met at a dinner party; I thought my friends were trying to match-make us and being the mature and sophisticated woman I am, I avoided him for the entire evening. I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of succeeding.

Fortunately the things we had in common, the soul truths and connections were too strong. When I finally surrendered to the fact he was intelligent, funny and many of his beliefs aligned with mine, we talked late into the night. I went home, alone, and had a dream. I dreamt we’d had dinner together and then the next day met up for a cup of tea. When I woke I realised I could do something we rarely get to do in this life. I could make a dream come true. I rang him. He swears if I hadn’t, he would have rung me. We met for a cup of tea. And so my dream came true. There’s a longer version of this story in my first book Sex, Drugs and Meditation.

He was very different to any man I’d ever dated. In my old way of thinking, he was a nerd and a dag; not cool. I believed I should only go out with musicians, writers or artists; men who dressed and acted in a certain way, were mysterious, slightly dangerous and never fully present.  It took me some time and effort to relax enough so I could accept him for the way he was. And the way he was, was perfect.

Later, when friends told me to leave him, I had to examine what was true for me, not for them. We all had the belief that a man should provide financially and take care of his wife. My husband had promised he would and though he may have had trouble doing so financially, he was committed to learning how to take care of me in other ways. As I said to my friends at the time, “I can either have an investment property or I can be with the man I love”. I made my choice. By the time our financial situation improved, our investment in our marriage had brought us immeasurable wealth in all the ways that matter.

A lot of the beliefs that I have (and probably many of you, too) are drummed into our heads by advertising. The most entrenched beliefs are handed down to us through our cultures; the fairytale ending, the handsome prince, the knight on the white charger, the perfect man. Nothing else will suffice. The man I married was none of these but he was perfect for me. I just had to discard those beliefs and find the truth underneath.

Mary-Lou’s new book How To Stay Married is available now. For a free copy of  7 Tips for a Happy  Marriage sign up for Mary-Lou’s newsletter.

On the Anniversary of my Mother’s Birth

Mum & 6I noticed the date and realised that today would have been my mother’s birthday, if she was still alive to have birthdays. The realisation caused me to pause, to breathe and to allow myself a little bit of space to remember her.

I’ve written about her in my latest book How To Stay Married and how instrumental her impending death was on my marriage. I honour her in my Seven Tips for a Happy Marriage (and one from my mum.) And today, on the anniversary of her birthday I’d like to share with you just a snippet from How To Stay Married. How fitting that this extract is from the chapter called Heaven.

I wake the next morning with a very strong sense of my mother. After she died I had a dream. Our country was under attack. Air-borne missiles filled with toxic chemicals were heading our way. It was clear we would all be killed. Though our government had sent missiles to intercept the threats there was no guarantee we wouldn’t be contaminated. I was part of a task force sent to secure a high-rise building. Our mission was to make it airtight so people could shelter there, safe from the chemicals. As we were making final preparations I was told our enemies had captured my mother and were holding her hostage in the basement of that very building. We were ordered to leave or else they would kill her. I rushed to rescue my mother and free her from the evil clutches of these doomsday merchants. Clearly I’ve watched too many action hero films. However, when I eventually found her she was free, happily walking in a park by the water. The sun was shining, children played. My mother was safe, the danger was gone.

When my mother was ill and first told me that all the months of chemotherapy she’d endured hadn’t made the slightest difference, that none of the chemical weapons they’d used on her had worked, I was devastated. Hearing she had, at most, six months to live left me incapacitated, only good for crying.

A long-held dream of my mother’s had been to see the colours and beauty of the wild flowers of Western Australia in the spring. She’d seen them on television and in magazines, but wanted to see the spectacle for herself. What really caused my heart to ache was the fact that, once the prognosis came through, her dream would never come true. But one day I had a growing realisation. Who’s to say she won’t? Who’s to say that she won’t be a part of those wild flowers? Who’s to say she won’t be in the warmth that causes them to blossom, in the breeze that blows over them, the rain that falls on them? Who’s to say she won’t be in the very soil that nurtures them? 

Her life was abundant and blessed, a cornucopia of children, grand-children, friends, gardens, creativity, good works and the church. Hers was a life filled with learning, loving and informed conversations always touched with her wicked sense of humour. A life well lived and well loved. Why would anything change now?

Relationships: The Hero’s Journey

LoveDo you dream of finding the right person to spend your life with? Are you in a strong relationship already and want to keep it that way? Or perhaps your marriage is a little tarnished and you hope to make it shine again?

Relationships are always a mix; they’re woven from golden shining moments and niggling annoyances, big whack-you-over-the-head disasters and then, just when you were about to give up, a deep sense of tenderness, connection and certainty reminds you of why you fell in love in the first place.

Learning to navigate your way throughout this adventure, with its delights and debacles, is what provides the depth and authenticity of a long-term relationship. This is what makes it a relationship where, no matter what, your partner has your back and you would be quite safe doing a trust exercise — like the ones where you close your eyes, fold your arms across your chest and let yourself fall backwards knowing, absolutely, that the one you love will catch you. Every time. That kind of relationship is a rare and treasured thing.

Relationships that last are not easy. Getting to the place where you feel safe and happy is a journey. The Hero’s Journey, no less, where you surmount problems, even slay monsters and trek through epic wastelands to arrive at your destination transformed. In order to do so you have searched deep within yourself to find authentic answers and resounding truths. The journey you have taken and the lessons you have learned mark the way for other seekers to follow.

I came into my marriage with all my fears and insecurities piled up in boxes, stuffed into suitcases. In the early years of our relationship I added to the weight and size of them with my anxiety and paranoia. Fortunately I married an exceptional man. He takes responsibility for his emotions and actions and expects me to do the same. It’s constantly challenging, sometimes thrilling and often annoying. It has been excruciating at times. But it has been through learning what is mine and what is not, of finding the courage to let go of the things that no longer serve me and keeping the useful treasures only, that our marriage has become a place of freedom, space and light — and love.

Mary-Lou’s latest book How To Stay Married was released on her tenth wedding anniversary. 

How To Stay Married – Free

How To Stay Married

Do you love free stuff? I know I do. Now’s your chance to get a free review copy of my new book How To Stay Married. Just click on this link and we’ll get better acquainted. If you’re worried about giving me your email address please don’t be. I’m too lazy to spam anyone.

The review copy is just for the first 100 but don’t worry. Everyone will get my Seven Tips For a Happy Marriage (and one tip from my mum).

How to Stay Married will be available for sale from the 6th of November which just happens to be my 10th wedding anniversary. There were times I never thought we’d make it but here we are, The Hubby and I, happier than ever.

My first book Sex, Drugs and Meditation chronicled how meditation changed my life, savedSex, Drugs and Meditation Front cover my job and helped me find a husband. How To Stay Married, is the truth behind the happy ending; a journey from fear, resentment and financial devastation, to a place of love, joy and trust.

How to Stay Married takes us around the world; from the glitter and glare of Las Vegas to the sub-zero temperatures of the French Alps and the tropical heat of Thailand, all with cabin luggage only.

The discoveries I made about myself and my marriage are a modern day parable about learning to travel light in life, love and relationships.

I hope you love it and write a review on Amazon for me. Just a line or two will do.

Thank you so much for joining me on this journey.

Lots of love

Mary-Lou

Fear of Commitment. It Can Feel as Though It’s Real. It Isn’t.

commitmentCommitment. Why do so many of us find it so hard? I spent many of the early years of my marriage terrified. It was exhausting. Yes, some of our problems were real but there were concrete things we could (and did) do to handle them. It was the things I made up in my head that I had trouble dealing with. Dreadful things. I battled with the demons in my mind.

My fears caused continual mental anguish and even physical pain. They sent me down dark hallways and spine-tingling crevasses. And, in a way, that was the point. Fortunately, thanks to years of work in Twelve Step Programs, counselling and especially meditation, I knew that these fears were not real. Through meditation I had discovered just how addicted I was to feeling bad; to having all these emotions coursing through my body, putting me on edge. It was like a drug and I used it to feel alive even though it was killing me on many levels. I would make things up and then react to them as if they were real. Madness? Yes. But boy did I get a kick out of it.

Often I felt like a trapped animal. My partner was getting too close. It terrified me. And that’s the way I’d acted in many of my previous relationship. Fight or flight. Lashing out at those who got in my way. Yes, I had been hurt in the past –by other lovers, by my upbringing, by my friends –but this fear of commitment was irrational, mad, out of control terror. A base reaction. A lot of us think that when someone really gets to know us they won’t love us anymore. If that is the case, it’s far better they get to know you as soon as possible. Then if they can’t handle the truth at least you can move on quickly.

One of the fears that tormented me was the “but what if there’s someone better out there” kind. And, now I say, well, maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. You’re never going to be in a wonderful and loving relationship if that’s the way you approach it. I knew, deep in my heart that if I couldn’t be in a relationship with this man, I would never be able to make a relationship work with anyone, ever. He was very much in touch with himself and continued to do the work to clear his emotional baggage despite the constant setbacks we suffered. I had to show up and do the work too. I knew he would always support me in that.

But often I didn’t want to and acted like a spoilt brat. Sometimes, I must admit, I still do act like a spoiled brat. However these days I know the truth and the truth is where we always end up. We love each other. We are committed to each other on every level and it’s no longer terrifying.

Mary-Lou Stephens’  meditation memoir, Sex, Drugs and Meditation, is the  story of how meditation helped changed her life, save her job and find a husband. The sequel How To Stay Married will be released soon. It’s the truth about the happy ending.

If You Love Someone, Set Yourself Free

This article was published by The Elephant Journal on 21/4/2012

 

It was love at first sight—that clench of the guts, wallop in the heart, stars in the eyes kind of love.

Handsome, talented, funny and creative—how could such a man want to be with me? But he did and I was in a haze of happiness. With his dark lashes and hypnotic eyes, he Woodford-22seemed to be surrounded by a halo of light. Or so I thought. I resisted the drugs at first but heroin kept my illusions in place and him in the state in which he preferred to exist. And still I thought he was the most delicious creature on the planet.

Denial is the strongest glue there is.

Our relationship imploded in a fury of betrayal and lies when, while I was away at my father’s funeral, he had sex with his ex-girlfriend. I was shattered, mad with grief, left with no trust in men or myself. The terror of being hurt and the fear of not being able to rely on my own judgement meant that relationships had no chance of surviving. I swung between looking for love and running away from it—an endless tug of war.

I found relief from this insanity during the time I spent in Twelve Step programs recovering from my addictions to drugs, alcohol and food. I worked those twelve steps many times and shed my skin in therapists’ rooms, yet relationships remained elusive and transitory.

My friends began to get married while I continued my pattern of short-stay serial monogamy. One of these friends suggested I try The List to manifest my perfect man. I had to write down everything; his physical appearance, his work, his interests, the things we’d do together. I wrote pages of intense descriptions, hopes and dreams. Then I had to hone it down to the essentials—my “Top Ten.” Next I had to sleep with The List under my pillow and burn it at the next full moon. Ridiculous. But I did it. Nothing happened. Instead, I began avoiding my friend because of her questioning looks and my own sense of failure.

My love-life might have been a source of continual disappointment, but my working life blossomed. I began a whole new career in radio and after some time landed the job of my dreams. Unfortunately, the dream didn’t last. With the arrival of a new boss, my job turned into a nightmare.  Thanks to my years in Twelve Step programs I knew I couldn’t change him, and I knew I couldn’t change the company I worked for. If I was to keep the job I loved, I had to change the only thing I could—myself.

Ten days of silent meditation was the solution I chose. During those ten days, I was forced to confront the demons of my past and the monsters in my mind. On day seven I was shocked when that old wound of betrayal showed up with the same intensity as it had when it first happened. Had all that therapy been for nothing? I hadn’t worked through it—I had just suppressed it.

That night I had a dream. I was walking through a spacious room. White gauze curtains hung from the ceiling. On a huge bed was the man I had loved, naked with a young woman I’d never seen before. The familiar pangs of betrayal and heartbreak flooded through my body. The woman saw me and approached,

“You think he’s yours. You think he belongs to you. But he’s mine now.”

It was then I noticed her skin was pierced with large, heavy hooks. I realized the same hooks were embedded in my chest and legs, their barbs puncturing my body.

She sneered at me, ‘He never belonged to you.’

Her words hit me like a slap. She was right—he had never belonged to me…he was never mine. He had only ever belonged to himself.  And as he had never belonged to me, all the hurt and pain I had felt was a lie. My body began to vibrate with pricks of energy. All the betrayal, anger, jealousy and fear flowed out of my body to be replaced with joy. He had never belonged to me. There was no reason to go through the torture I had put myself through. He was never mine. The hooks fell from my body. They left no marks and caused no pain. He had never belonged to me. The hooks were gone. I was free.

I awoke from the dream smiling. Nobody owns anyone. Love is a choice, not a commandment. We are all free.

I realized I had never had a real relationship. Not one where I was present. I’d always been afraid, enmeshed, hooked in, jealous and obsessive. Terrified of being abandoned but also terrified of anyone getting too close. But if I don’t belong to anyone and no one belongs to me, I am free. They are free.

After the meditation retreat was over, my challenges at work remained.

But at a dinner party a week later, despite all my best efforts and worst habits, I met the man I would marry.