So, Arranged Marriages are more Successful?

As Dr. Robert Epstein, editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, commented in a 2003 Psychology Today article: “Research suggests… that many people in arranged marriages fall in love over time. A study by Gupta and Singh, for example, shows that love in romantic marriages declines steadily over a ten-year period , but that love in arranged marriages increases over the same period, surpassing that of romantic marriages after about five years. So the experience of people in arranged marriages shows that love can be learned.”

Seth, Reva. First Comes Marriage (p. 8). Touchstone. Kindle Edition.

Philosopher Alain de Boton even asserts that low expectations are one of the major predictors of happiness —the lower your expectations, the more likely your life is to exceed them!

Seth, Reva. First Comes Marriage (p. 9). Touchstone. Kindle Edition.

I mentioned in my last post that my wife and I have begun reading First Comes Marriage by Reva Seth. I continue to find my views about marriage and romance challenged on every front.  Seth cites a 2005 USA Today article that suggests that, even though divorce is down in the USA, it still hovers around 50%. She then cites research suggesting that the divorce rate for arranged marriages is around 5%-7%. This by no means proves that arranged marriages are happier, since there are many cultural factors that could explain the low divorce rate. But, 50% compared to 7%  cries out for a bit of thoughtful reflection!

The concept of LOW EXPECTATIONS seems especially important to me. When I look back on what I now know I expected my marriage to do for me, I’m flat out embarrassed. As wonderful of a young woman as Holly was, I can see now how she was the cheerleader, homecoming queen, and all around fox that I always wanted to date in high school. By gosh, she was going to prove to my ego that I was that cool guy after-all! And I’m only naming one of the many expectations I’ve realized I had of her. She never stood a chance! Add to that the conversations we’ve had about how her choice of me would hopefully “solve” a number of perceived problems she had… well… I’m more and more amazed that we’re still together!

Part of our survival over the years, we see now, has come from a letting go of expectations. However, this letting go has often been infused with a fair amount of resentment. I’ve long realized that “making peace” and “giving up” can feel very much alike. I discovered too often that my choices to let go of expectations became peppered with feelings of anger. So far Seth is helping me see the wisdom of starting with low expectations (which is not the same as no expectations).

I often ask my clients, “How much time are you going to spend being angry that your spouse has actually turned out to be… your spouse?”

What would it be like for you to take a fresh look at the expectations you’ve had of your partner that seem to keep stirring up pain? I’m not saying we should let go of all expectations, but how many are you holding on to that really don’t make that much of a difference?


An aside: It’s not been lost on me that Milton and I are making a similar argument when it comes to a relationship with God (See Whirlwind in the column to the right). We believe that a fair amount of our suffering comes from us having expectations of God that God never signed on for….

Posted in Marriage, Spiritual Formation

What if We’re all in Arranged Marriages?

Now, I have to be honest here. Id grown up around arranged marriages that seemed quite happy, so I suspected that there was more to it than I understood or had been led to believe by the common portrayal of them. So it wasn’t a complete surprise to come across some really positive aspects of arranged marriage during my initial interviews but I really hadn’t thought that romance would be among them.

From First Comes Marriage: Modern Relationship Advice from the Wisdom of Arranged Marriages by Reva Seth

I’ve always been upfront about what a struggle my marriage of nearly 33 years has been. Holly and I have been guilty of about about every marriage bungle in the books, and yet still managed to raise 3 pretty cool kids, who seem headed towards creative lives of love and work. It’s almost weird to think that we’ve done this while often frustrating the hell out of each other over unmet expectations and a fair amount of resentment.

During a recent rough patch I asked Holly if she would read a book with me. She agreed. I had a book or two in mind, but came across First Comes Marriage in which Seth draws on interviews with 300 couples whose nuptials were arranged by families. My initial forays into the book revealed an interesting deconstruction of our Western expectations of marriage. She then offers some core insights into what makes arranged marriages work.

And somewhere in there it hit me: I’m in an arranged marriage also! Only my marriage was arranged by the subconscious needs of my small self, and my wife’s. We have spent our lives trying to move forward, using the equally subconscious paradigm, of Western Romantic Love.

I’m looking forward to reading this book, and discussing it with Holly. I’m a very inconsistent blogger, but my intention will be to fill you in on where this goes for us….




Posted in Spiritual Formation

Running in Circles

When pummeled by too many thoughts a long walk would cure me of the punch-drunk feeling of lifelessness. The normal route led along open fields, and not infrequently I would see a man walking his four Kerry blue terriers. These were amazing dogs. Bounding energy, elastic grace, and electric speed, they coursed and leapt through open fields. It was invigorating just to watch these muscular stretches of freedom race along. Three of the four dogs did this, I should say. The fourth stayed behind and, off to the side of its owner, ran in tight circles. I could never understand why it did this; it had all the room in the world to leap and bound. One day I was bold enough to ask the owner, “Why does your dog do that? Why does it run in little circles instead of running with the others?” He explained that before he acquired the dog, it had lived practically all its life in a cage and could only exercise by running in circles. For this dog, to run meant to run in tight circles. So instead of bounding through the open fields that surrounded it, it ran in circles.

from Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation by Martin Laird

I’m so grateful for the images and metaphors that shine a little extra light into the corners of my soul. I’m often challenging my clients to open their eyes and see that the “real” world is a much larger place than the ones they’ve created. Yet, when I read about a pup, running in circles, I have to admit that my wounds still dog me (no pun intended?).

Loving God, please help me run in a little larger circle today than the one I ran in yesterday. Amen.

Posted in Spiritual Formation

Richard Rohr’s Levels of Spiritual Development – Part 4

I’ve been blogging the last few weeks about the Rohr’s stages of spiritual formation as a part of the Sunday School class I’m teaching at St. Paul’s Episcopal here in Waco, America. I’ve summarized Rohr’s first five stages previously, and I’m finding it harder and harder to comment thoughtfully on the later stages. I know that part of this struggle has to do with my lack of experience with the later stages (I’m just not all that spiritually mature!), but I also believe this has something to do with failure of intellect to grasp these stages as well.

Here’s a summary of the last three stages, which I’ll follow with a few reflections.

Level Six: Who I am Is Empty and Powerless (God’s Waiting Room).

This is a stage of profound emptiness. A danger here is that a person will regress back to a place of simplistic, perhaps superstitious, religious practice. All a person can do is wait and ask and trust. Here is where the deepest expressions of faith are taught, and a person is asked to trust that darkness can be a good teacher. Here is where we truly start turning loose. Defeat is a better teacher than accomplishment. Darkness is greater than light. You begin to sense that the divine presence may be in you and in others. God is about to become real.

Level Seven: I am much more than I thought I was.

This stage represents the death of the false self, and birth of the True Self (I, that is Wes, prefer Burleson’s designations of small self and Authentic Self). I am who I am. At first, because you are not at home yet, this level will feel like a void. Even if a wonderful void. there is a sense of “I have never been here before.” Gentleness and Compassion become a part of your demeanor. You have been patterned to see and act oppositionally, now you drop dualistic thinking. You move towards “both/and” rather than “right/wrong”. John of the Cross would call this the “luminous darkness”

Until you get to levels 5, 6 and 7, the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t make much sense.

Level Eight: I and the Father are one.

This stage is captured by St. Teresa’s declaration, “One knows God in oneself, and knows oneself in God.” All else is a passing ego possession, and I do not need to protect it, promote it or prove it, to anyone. This is a place of true freedom. The fig leaves from the Garden have finally been totally discarded because one has nothing to hide. A person who is living in this space is no longer governed by guilt and shame.

Level Nine: I am who I am, just me.

The stage seems to be a fuller living out of level eight. There is no need to appear to be anything but who I really am. Fully detached from self-image, living in God’s image of you–which includes and loves both the good and the bad. The serenity found in the saints. Totally non-duality. This person fully realizes the religion is a container that we humans need in order to approach the Mystery. The Mystery can never be contained by any religious container, but religion is valued as an avenue to open ourselves up to a very graceful and loving Mystery.

One thing I’ve realized as I’ve worked through Rohr’s stages intellectually is that, for me, things get really fuzzy with levels 4, 5, 6, and even 7, all of which reflect great unrest and darkness. It seems to me that Rohr offers 4 stages to lay out what James Fowler describes in one stage (Fowler’s stage 5).  What I think I’m seeing from my current vantage point, that of a privileged white male who is 58 years old, is that I’ve certainly sat in the pain of these dark stages, and grown from it. Still, I can see how I’ve routinely retreated back to the pseudo-enlightenment of stage 3 as a way of soothing my anxiety and regaining the illusion of solid ground. I’ve believe my Authentic Self has solidified to a place where I can parent my small self effectively, yet I can’t say I’ve really tasted the sort of freedom that Rohr tells us is available.

I guess I’m saying that it sometimes seems ridiculous that I’m trying to teach this stuff!


Posted in Spiritual Formation

Richard Rohr’s Levels of Spiritual Development – Part 3

This morning at St. Paul’s I’ll be picking up again with Rohr’s levels of Spiritual formation. In previous posts we’ve covererd:

  • Level One: My self-image and my body is “who I am”.
  • Level Two: My external behavior is “who I am.”
  • Level Three: My Thoughts / Feelings are who I am.
  • Level Four: My deeper intuitions and felt knowledge in my body is who I am.

As I touched on in a previous post, stage Four can be a very liberating place to be early on, but gradually becomes more troubling. The liberation comes from the loosening grip of religious dogma combined with a willingness to trust one’s own experiences as providing insight into the Mystery of God. One example of what this might look like involves generosity. Those raised in conservative Christian settings are taught to give 10% of their income to the church they attend. In stage Four a person begins to move past this “rule” for giving toward a principal of sacrificial giving. They might decide to give less to the local church, and direct more funds toward other projects that they perceive are serving the Kingdom of God.

As I also said in that previous post, this can be daunting becomes it places much more responsibility on me! If I’m going to operate from my intuition and experience, instead of according to a set of rules, then I must take more time to truly examine myself and understand my motivations. The temptation is to simply return to a rather narcissistic place where I say, “Hey, I make my own rules!”

I’ve been asking the class to read In His Steps as an example of a congregation seeking to evolve spiritually together. By the middle of the book it is clear that the characters have been thrown into Stage Four together. Many of them keep discovering that simply asking he question, “What would Jesus do?” creates more fog than clarity. Yet through mutual support they tease out their answers, and act on them.

The self-examination needed to navigate this stage successfully will no doubt stir up plenty of anxiety (as it does for Sheldon’s characters) If we can sit in that anxiety, then we move into Stage Five.

Level Five: My shadow self is who I am (The dark night).

Richard Rohr describes his experience in Stage Five like this:

As a young man I thought I had become a Franciscan and a priest to teach and talk about love, that I had left everything to love God and neighbor. But by my forties and fifties I had to be honest and say, “Richard, have you ever really loved anybody more than yourself? Is there anybody in particular that you would die for?” My celibacy was based on the utterly false premise that if I did not love anybody in particular, I would automatically love God more. I realized that that was not at all true. All I did was love myself more, but in a very well-disguised form. Much of that middle period of my life I spent shadowboxing, seeing my own inability to believe and to practice the very things I was teaching to others. And this continues!

In this stage of development weakness, along with a deep sense of hypocrisy, may seem overwhelming. The previous stage invites a much more honest look at oneself. As this unfolds one begins to realize just how broken he or she is, and that the tendency to project “evil” on to others is a genuine issue. One may began to think, “How could I have ever claimed to be Christian?” Confronting anger and fear is important, but it is also necessary to “upgrade” one’s understand of Grace. It can be very painful to sit in this place, and trust that God is the one who transforms us, and we cannot transform ourselves. Many people benefit from a close relationship with a spiritual director during this time. As with every stage, there is a danger of feeling overwhelmed, and tempted to retreat to an earlier stage.

Earlier, in Stage Three, one becomes liberated from all of the dogmatic rules regarding what one has to do to be saved. In Stage Four, one begins to realize, “Dang, I may not be lost in the ways I was taught back then, but I’m still lost!” Stage Five unfolds as one truly sits in this anxiety.

This is the stage where Grace truly becomes a life-giving reality. The only way we can live with our destructiveness is to believe that God is indeed redeeming all those who wish to be redeemed (and maybe those who don’t).

Once again, if we navigate this leg of the journey, our reward is not much in the way of contentment. Level 6, “Who I am Is Empty and Powerless” still doesn’t sound like a wonderful place to be!

Posted in Spiritual Formation

What “Stuck in Stage Two” Looks Like.

I’ve been blogging on the class at St. Paul’s I’ve been leading. We’ve been talking about Richard Rohr’s take on the stages of spiritual formation. A friend just sent me this link to an article that is as good of an example as any regarding the consequences of stuckness:

Bill Nye the ‘Science Guy’ debates head of Creation Museum on evolution, earth’s origin

I’ve been very clear with the class in pointing out that every stage of growth is necessary, and that judging where someone else is in the journey is a sign of one’s own spiritual immaturity. However, I have to admit that stories like this one DO illicit judgement from my mind. And this makes my mind want to then jump through all sorts of hoops to explain to you why I’m not really judging… I’m just… uhhhh… discerning?

Nonetheless, here’s what saddens me about these stories. In this instance, the unwillingness, or inability of a person to comprehend a way to integrate the biblical story with the scientific story has led to a rather large commitment of resources to simply defending the indefensible. I know that I cannot comprehend the mind of God, so I know that it’s possible that this person’s energy is furthering the Kingdom of God.

I’m thinking about Wilber’s concept of “transcend and include” that I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog. If a person believes that moving beyond a literal reading of the Bible is somehow dangerous, then a person will end up stuck. This is like an elementary school kid hearing that the middle school kids are smoking pot and having sex, so he decides that middle school must be an awful place, and so decides to never leave elementary school.

Of course, it’s just as unhealthy to attempt to transcend and reject. This is like getting to middle school, seeing how much more advanced it is than elementary school, and deciding that the earlier grades were a waste of time. These people may read an article like this and decide that creationists are just stupid, or feel ashamed that they ever held such views themselves. Attempts to transcend without including what came before generally just leads to a sort of prideful pseudo-transcending.

My desire for myself is to get to a place where my first reaction to these stories is one of sadness, rather than anger.

Does that sound judgmental? (probably)

Posted in Spiritual Formation

The Marriage Problems Box: A Little Help Please?

I’ve been playing with the Covey Box a little bit, and trying to make application to marital conflict. Here’s what I’ve come up with. I’m interested in any thoughts you have about my effort here, and I’d appreciate your ideas about what sorts of common, or uncommon, challenges in marriage fit into each box. My apologies


The Marriage Problems Box

Posted in Marriage