If the word passion means “to suffer,” and suffer means “to bear,” a truly passionate relationship is one in which the partners actively if not always gracefully bear with all that love presents. Not just the exuberant and the exultant but also the fearful and sorrowful, the unfulfilled and incompatible, the turning of interest to disinterest and knight in shining armor to couch potato who won’t stop leaving his whiskers in the sink.
This is a lesson Charlie and Linda Bloom did not learn gracefully, just determinedly, and the events that began unfolding roughly ten years into their forty-four years together are a perfect case in point. At two separate couples retreats, Charlie and Linda each had a wake-up call, and things began to change.
“My favorite fairy tale as a child was Cinderella, so when I met Charlie and fell in love with him, I thought my prince had come. But these kinds of fantasies are a setup for expectations that are impossible to fulfill, and when they don’t get fulfilled, the passion can just drain out of a relationship, and the boredom and anger can set in. I was so distressed about how my life didn’t look anything like I expected and wanted it to, and the fighting and resentment just eroded our goodwill.
“We argued and manipulated, blamed and shamed and threatened and carried on and screamed and didn’t listen, and we weren’t skilled at speaking vulnerably with each other, and we called each other names. But we paid attention, and there was a lot of love there, and I had a dogged determination about not quitting. And what I never did was hold it inside. People get so toxic with unexpressed resentment that it finishes them off. We almost burned the relationship to a crisp, but we didn’t withhold.
“Out of the fifty percent of marriages that don’t end in divorce, you’ve got to wonder how many of those people are really living in fulfilling, satisfying relationships, where they’re truly delighting in it. And I would guess less than ten percent. Not that they’re miserable, but they’re just not experiencing what they hoped to experience. And they often think the other person is going to bring the passion and aliveness and creative juice to their life, and they get resentful when they don’t, rather than rising up to a higher level of responsibility and realizing that it’s up to them to create it.
“The secret of a great marriage is that both people take responsibility for their own happiness and bring their happy selves to the relationship. They know what lights them up, and they’re on it. They’re engaged and impassioned with their own lives and bring that passion into their relationship and uplevel the whole enterprise.
“So ultimately I had to deconstruct that Cinderella fantasy of mine and face love as it actually was, including the concept that a relationship could die. It doesn’t necessarily just get better and better and better, and the trust higher and higher and higher. It’s a mixture of golden periods with dark periods, and sometimes outright tortures of the damned.
"But what had the most profound impact for us in keeping the passion alive might have been the switch I made in the midst of that crisis: making more room for the shadow parts, not believing that the relationship was irreversibly damaged and that I might as well just dump it and cut my losses and start over with someone new. Which is where I’d been going.
“I formed a different vision in my mind, realized I could make something good out of this, that it wasn’t just a tragedy and a wreck. I learned that I could stand on my own two feet, make decisions, manage my life, and run the kids like a single mom when Charlie was gone.
"It was a tremendously strengthening time for me, and I created a much more realistic model for what relationship really is. It isn’t all about comfort and security and happily ever after, isn’t all about warm, fuzzy, feel-good pleasure. That’s part of it, but if you’re just going for that, you’re in for a lot of trouble.”
Charlie and Linda began a recovery process that would eventually lead them to begin teaching workshops called Partners in Commitment and authoring books with titles like 101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married and Secrets of Great Marriages.
The theme of their work now is “Stronger at the broken places,” a phrase borrowed, appropriately enough, from Hemingway’s novel A Farewell to Arms: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA).
©2014 by Gregg Levoy. www.us.PenguinGroup.com.
Subtitles by InnerSelf.
Gregg Levoy, author of Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life is a former columnist and reporter for USA Today and the Cincinnati Enquirer, and has written for the New York Times Magazine, Washington Post, Psychology Today, American Health, and others. He has presented at the Smithsonian Institution, Microsoft, Environmental Protection Agency, National Conference on Positive Aging, National Career Development Association, and American Counseling Association, and been a frequent guest of the media, including ABC-TV, CNN, NPR and PBS. His website is www.GreggLevoy.com
Watch a video interview with Charlie and Linda Bloom: Secrets of Great Marriages
Watch a presentation by Gregg Levoy: Living with Passion