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"The Reader's Digest Telephone Marriage Poll
the Fifth, Spiritual, Dimension of Life"

by Benjamin B. Conley, M.Div., LMFT

Reader's Digest recently found that 30% of the men polled inits telephone survey of 1,000 married people wish they could talkto their wives more openly about spiritual matters. At the sametime, 38% of the men polled hide their desire for affection.

These two bits of information are part of the landscape ofcurrent marriages, painted with a 42% divorce rate, according tomanaging editor Katherine Walker.

A hidden desire for affection, unwillingness to talk aboutspiritual matters, and a 42% divorce rate. Could these items bethe three faces of the same reality?

I start with the un-provable assumption that we are allconnected with the world around us from birth, and that theinfant's innocent openness illustrates that. Recently in thesupermarket, I encountered a round, open-eyed face examiningme over the shoulder of his mother. At several months of age, hehad not yet learned to be afraid of connecting with me, notrealizing that I was a "stranger."

This is in contrast to the 4 year old "stranger" I encounteredlater, who upon making eye contact with me created theprotection of a finger-screen through which he continued tocommunicate with me. He had a bit more need for protection,even though I was no more dangerous the second instance thanthe first.

So, having experienced some hurt, we become acquainted withfear of repeated hurt, and the need to protect ourselves, a mosthelpful survival process.

By the time we are adults and marry, we have learned to hideour desire for connection with others (affection and spirituality)and protect ourselves by limiting our connection with others(denial of spirituality). When we are frightened enough, weengage in "defensive" behavior that serves, often painfully, tosever our connection with others (divorce and contamination ofspirituality). Then we can be "safe," look for affection from others,until, when sufficiently frightened, we limit or sever our connectionwith the new person. Over and over again, until we change thepattern.

The spiritual dimension, our connection with others and with theuniverse is, in my opinion, so fundamental and powerful that itdeserves to be called the "fifth dimension" of reality. I think of it asthe "life force" that makes life possible, that gives plants growth,that nourishes organisms' evolution, and that provides the "sparkof life" for human beings. Candace Pert, (the molecular biologistwho discovered the opiate receptor on body cells) spoke of a"spark" that seems to leave the body upon death, somethingmore than the cessation of cellular activity. Insofar as we are inharmony with the spiritual dimension, we participate in the waythings are meant to be, and find our own inner peace, as a result.

But what might all this have to do with a 42% divorce rate? It might be that instead of cooperating in concrete ways with thestructure of our human nature and the most intimate connectionwith our loved ones, we may be contaminating our relationshipswith behavior that is domineering, critical, demeaning, andintrusive. To the degree we go against the way we are created tobe and become, we will experience pain and suffering, the pain ofdivorce (and other failed relationships) being one result.

On the other hand, when we are in harmony with the spiritualdimension, we connect with others in a loving way, acceptingothers and the entire world as it is, not as we wish it to be. Evenwhen the way we wish others to be would be a relatively objective"improvement," acceptance means our giving others our"permission" to be the way they are, though we are deeplycommitted to being a different way.

The most practical emotional and cognitive problem thisposition raises is: "But what shall I do about things not being theway they should be? Do I just sit passively by and let thingsdeteriorate while I am being loving and accepting of the negativebehavior around me? How do I know I am not a wimp, notwhipped? How do I tolerate the evil around me?" Another versionof the same question is "Why does God let evil exist?"

Were we live, one application of these philosophical questionscould be: "How do I get along with my spouse, when he/shedoesn't agree with me?"


2001 by Benjamin B. Conley, All Rights Reserved

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