Today, I am committed to spending every day that Charlie and I are together being kind, caring, considerate and loving. There has been enough pain, fear, and suffering. I am determined to see how much beauty and love I can create. And every day, I say a prayer of gratitude for having my life, my health, a devoted husband, my children, grandchildren, friends, and work that I love.
I came to understand that some suffering in our relationship was preventable, and I became highly motivated to search out all those areas where I could make changes. There are still difficult topics that must be addressed, truths that must be spoken that are likely to cause discomfort, but the respect with which they are communicated allows them to be spoken without undue duress. We have co-created a relationship that is a holy sanctuary from the harshness that the larger world can often be.
The trust, cooperation, and closeness that we enjoy now results in bursts of creativity. One of these times, we escaped to Mendocino for a few days of vacation. It was hot as we climbed down the steep rock steps to the beach below, me in my skimpy bathing suit, barefoot, and carrying my heavy briefcase stuffed full of notes for brainstorming a relationships seminar. Settled on the sand, a gentle breeze blowing, we relaxed together and the course flowed out of our loving connection.
I was experiencing the zest, gusto, excitement, inter-connectedness, and a meeting of the hearts and minds that are characteristics of co-creativity. We were, as Ray Bradbury calls it, “tossing ideas like confetti.” Basking in the deep delight of the joining of two visions and two voices, we were creating something new. In a matter of hours, we had the whole course designed. Someone observing us would never suspect that not that long before our relationship had been in a state of siege, with hundreds of fights followed by protracted recoveries.
Attaining Trust and Mutual Respect
The state of trust and mutual respect was hard won, but we arrived in the magical zone where no distinction between work and play existed. It was a vacation day, and there was nothing in the world I’d rather be doing than creating a workshop with Charlie. With lots of laughter, pure enjoyment, and a deep mutual respect for the different contributions we each bring to the workshop’s design, we forgot about time because we were so absorbed in the process. When we climbed back up the rock steps I was filled with a deep sense of satisfaction.
The image I hold of the intimacy stage of relationship is of Charlie and me standing across from each other, melting into each other’s eyes. Laughing and crying for joy, we experience the bliss of connection. I am completely filled with love to overflowing and so turn to stand side by side, facing out into the world. In this turning to face the world, I made the transition from intimacy to the co-creative stage.
Letting Our Love Flow Into The World
At first the intensity of our energy had been contained inside our relationship. Now my understanding about love seeks a wider area of distribution. I feel compelled to take the understanding that we experience to move it out into the larger world, to touch others with the depth of our transformative love.
I lived to see the day when I receive all the love I desire; I’m stuffed to the gills. Participating in something transpersonal, larger than myself, gives me a sense of personal power, centeredness, connection, and understanding. The love I experience is so vast that the narrow channel must widen to allow that love to flow into the world.
I have come to understand that creativity is manifesting something that didn’t exist before, and that co-creativity is joining with another to form something out of nothing. This process is a manifestation of the trust that continues to build between us. We could not go straight to the co-creative stage; we had to move through the earlier stages of our relationship first.
I experience co-creativity as a dynamic energy that motivates action and risk taking, as a connection to the deepest part of myself reaching out to connect to the deepest part of Charlie and others. The connection involves empathy and listening. I receive different levels of communication simultaneously, a practical, logical understanding accompanied by intuitive knowing.
Co-creativity is fun. Enthusiasm prevails. It’s stimulating, provocative, mind stretching, and absorbing, with the excitement of being on the edge of the precipice. This is a pleasurable, enlivening edge, anticipating continual surprise. It’s here and now, in the moment, compelling me to pay attention. It’s laughing, celebrating, and honoring what has been accomplished.
Marriages Made In Heaven?
I’m not sure that I believe in the concept of marriages made in heaven. But when Charlie and I are in the magic, it’s a tempting belief. From that vantage point, it’s as though our souls were sent down to earth and guided to each other, as if guardian angels watched over us to make sure we didn’t quit before we got the message of what we were supposed to be doing: to teach others how to heal and grow in their relationships. It is as though we were chosen as vehicles for the work.
Most of the time, I see us as ordinary people who slogged it out in the trenches like many others—no divine anything helping us, just dogged determination. Over the years, we kept doing our work as individuals and as a couple, until at a certain point we had finally done enough, and popped through to the co-creative stage.
I hold a vision that if large numbers of people could reach the co-creative stage of relationship, we would live in a more peaceful world. In relationships characterized by this highest level of development, power is shared equally, and there is a consistent experience of living in love and joy.
Charlie and I have had transformative turning points in our lives in personal growth seminars. Charlie proposed marriage to me in a personal growth group, with a dozen members as witnesses. In another seminar, Charlie decided to change his career, which prompted our move to California. I began my journey as a group facilitator by facing my fear of public speaking the day I took the microphone to speak in front of two-hundred people.
Going to the couples’ workshop in Oregon when we were on the verge of divorce was an epiphany for me, and I found the work I needed to do and the practices that helped save our marriage. And a seminar allowed Charlie, with the profound support of the entire group, to envision a fulfilling life outside the company he worked for, and make up his mind to resign and come back to the family.
Knowing on a visceral level the transformative power of group dynamics, I dedicated my career to creating a context for others to dive deep inside themselves and experience the kind of breakthroughs I had. Offering seminars rooted in what Charlie and I had learned so far was the obvious next step.
After years of bumbling and stumbling, I was surprised to find myself in the role of the “ritual elder,” guiding the process of transformation in others. Couples who are on the transformation path find their way to us, seeking the special knowledge we have acquired during our journey to wholeness.
Challenges Need To Be Endured and Mastered
If we want to achieve the highest level available in a relationship, challenges need to be endured and mastered. I shed the romantic notion that “if we love each other, the relationship will just flow.”
In our workshops, we attempt right away to break up any delusional thinking and romantic myths, letting participants know that having a great relationship is work—damn hard work at times. We say it often and in many ways.
Learning how to be present with these difficult emotions led me to a new depth of love. In the co-creative stage, I was able to comprehend the grand scheme of things. I discovered that all that I go through is an opportunity for my growth. It is a challenge to become stronger, wiser, more mature, and more loving.
By maintaining equanimity in the face of crisis, I am able to see with the broader vision. Having arrived at a place where I can stay open to what is, gives me a sense of great power. I feel courageous and capable, proud of being able to handle my life.
Learning To Be "The Right Person"
At times I experience great joy, wonder, and exhilaration in learning. Learning means accepting that sometimes I don’t know. It means that sometimes, I have to be willing to be wrong about what I think is the way it is.
Every time I learn something my worldview and my perception shift in some way. I often thought that there was somebody out there with whom learning would be more comfortable. It took a while to let go of that fantasy and realize that it is not about finding the right person; it is about being the right person.
By becoming a dedicated student and a patient teacher, I am learning to ask the right questions. What are the qualities that originally drew me to my partner? Are they present now? What is the purpose of our relationship? How do we have a disagreement that neither of us loses? What is the most skillful way to handle my anger? What part of my own dark side have I not owned and am projecting onto my partner? What part of my golden side have I not owned and may be projecting onto my partner? How do we build trust back after it has fallen? What does it really mean to be responsible? What, for me, is compassionate self-care?
If I were to lose my partner through divorce or death, what unfinished business would I have? What would be the areas of remorse and regret? How can I become a more loving person? My beloved, how may I best love you? What is my unique contribution to make in this world and in what way might my partner assist me in that process?
Living in questions like these allows me to be humble and bring an inquisitive mind to my relationship. Instead of being so full of righteous knowing, I am a good student of life, living in radical amazement, energized by the process of discovery.
Wavy Gravy says, “Married life is a pit full of pitfalls, designed by some demonic deity for our conscious evolution.” I do my work not only so that I can have more trust and better communication in my relationship and more enjoyment in the family. I also do the work to feel more whole.
The Gift Is Right There In Front Of Us
In an old Sufi tale, a man named Nasrudin lived in the Middle East. He had the reputation of being a rascal, so at the border between the countries, the inspector had the guards search the saddlebags of Nasrudin’s donkey caravan to see if he was smuggling gold or jewels. They found nothing.
Time passed, and Nasrudin came to the border with yet another donkey caravan. He was wearing a beautiful turban with a huge jewel and a robe of high-quality cloth. The inspector was more convinced than ever that Nasrudin was up to no good. He had the guards search everywhere, even inside the donkeys’ mouths. Again, they found nothing. A year later, the inspector ran into Nasrudin in the bazaar. “Nasrudin, you rascal,” he said. “Those times you crossed the border, I knew you were smuggling. I have no official capacity any longer. You can tell me what were you smuggling?” And Nasrudin answered, “Donkeys.”
I love this story because it reminds me of the points in time that have such tremendous value and are so often overlooked. While we are searching for the jewels and gold, the peak experiences of our lives, the dramatic moments, we may overlook the mundane moments. Intimacy is often contained in ordinary gestures—a lingering gaze, a brief touch, a hug, and a gentle word of encouragement. It is all these donkey moments lined up that make for the riches.
In my life, I’m committed to having caravans of donkey moments each day: openhearted encounters with my beloved husband, with children, friends, clients, students, cats, plants in the garden, trees in my yard, and the sky. These moments make me feel wealthy.
Becoming A More Loving Person
I’m so glad I persevered. What I enjoy now is such a delight. I have more peace of mind than I have ever known. I feel a strong sense of trust in the relationship we have created and yet I do not take it for granted. Each one of the ordeals of my marriage made me stronger, first crushing me and then giving me new life. I learned so much about myself, about relationships, and about how the world works.
The secret of life for me is about becoming a more loving person is clear. Also clear is that I had no way of doing that without developing my strength, courage, commitment, integrity, and personal power. It is through the ordeals of my life that I developed these qualities.
I’m especially glad to be giving my children and grand-children a model of a relationship that works, where there is a high level of respect, where power is shared, where there is strong trust, honesty, and vitality. They see love and devotion demonstrated daily. Our marriage not only gives them a secure environment for their own development but also an up-close prototype for their future sacred partnerships.
I know that when I am on my deathbed, the important question I will be asking myself is, “How well did I love?” I want to live my life now, every day, in such a way that I can answer, “I loved well; I loved fully; I loved many. I lived a life of devotion.” I am making my little corner of the world a heaven on earth.
©2018 by Linda and Charlie Bloom.
Reprinted with permission of the authors.
That Which Doesn’t Kill Us: How One Couple Became Stronger at the Broken Places
by Linda and Charlie Bloom.
That Which Doesn't Kill Us is the story of a couple's ten-year journey that took them through a series of ordeals that crippled their family and nearly destroyed their marriage. Trained as psychotherapists and practicing relationship counselors, both Charlie and Linda found that their professional training wasn't enough to liberate them from the challenges they encountered. The process of their miraculous recovery reads like a riveting novel. The Blooms' unfolding story provides the essential steps necessary to breathe life back into a failing marriage and move into a deep, loving connection that surpasses even the dreams that each partner had dared to hope to fulfill.
About the Authors
Linda Bloom, LCSW, and Charlie Bloom, MSW, married since 1972, are bestselling authors and the founders and codirectors of Bloomwork. Trained as psychotherapists and relationship counselors, they have worked with individuals, couples, groups, and organizations since 1975. They have lectured and taught at learning institutes throughout the USA and have offered seminars throughout the world, including China, Japan, Indonesia, Denmark, Sweden, India, Brazil, and many other locations. Their website is www.bloomwork.com.
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