Our Life Pathways, by John Wagner

Harville Hendrix makes this observation about marriage. In our society marriage is viewed as choose a mate, climb into a box, settle in and then take your first close look at who you married, stay put if you like what you see. If you don’t like what you see, climb out of the box and scout around for another mate. Whether or not marriage works depends upon your ability to attract a good partner. The common solution to an unhappy marriage is to divorce and start over. Some couples stay in the box, tighten the lid, and put up with a disappointing relationship for the rest of their lives.

Let us propose a more hopeful view of love relationships. Hendrix states, “Marriage is not some static state between two unchanging people; but rather it is a psychological and spiritual journey that, as romantic love began to play a more substantial role in mate selection, begins in the ecstasy of attraction, meanders through the rocky stretch of self-discovery, and ends in the creation of an intimate and joyful lifelong union. Whether you realize the full potential of this vision, depends not on your ability to attract the perfect mate, but on your willingness to acquire knowledge about hidden parts of yourself”. I would add to this a willingness to acquire knowledge about God’s desire for your marriage and yourself.
It would seem that all of us have three pathways which we take through life. Ironically they all seem to relate to the development of romantic love in our lives. If we become more aware of how our pathways were developed while learning more about ourselves, we will be better equipped to connect with God and our partner in marriage.
One pathway we all have is a spiritual pathway. Our internal mandate in this pathway is to be connected. We have an inner desire, as we go through different developmental stages, to be connected to others and when that connection is not there, we feel empty. We may be able to be alone for a while but then the desire for fellowship of some kind enters our thoughts.
This pathway actually begins the moment we are conceived. While in our mother’s womb, we are connected to her floating in an oceanic joy of euphoria. All of our needs were met, food was supplied, and we floated in comfort without any rejection. Some of us did experience at some deep level of our psyche the emotional experiences of our mother. If our mother went through extreme stress or depression, there does seem to be evidence that we are affected even while in our mother’s womb. Not everyone is affected in that way for we are protected in the womb in ways we will not experience for many years.

We were born and our umbilical cord was torn from us and we all begin a lifetime of rejection and woundedness as well as love. Some wounds and rejection were serious and some not so serious. The point is that we all shared an original connectedness with our mothers. Our entire lifetime is a mandate to reconnect to that original wholeness again or that original state of being. There is an inner sense of energy where we are joyful and satisfied. We want that again.
Our real mandate of this spiritual pathway is to be connected with the Father for eternity. When we experience the presence of God through connecting with Him and become the person He wants us to be, we enter a deeper level of our lives through Him. I really believe the depth of our connection with Him will determine our emotional health and also our relational health with our spouse.

God decided that, because of our desire to be connected, He would give us “covenant marriage” while we are on this earth. He recognized that with Adam it was not good for him to be alone. God gave him Eve. A relationship based on a covenant with each other and God where we learn how to love unconditionally, meet our partner’s emotional and physical needs, and grow into spiritual maturity. When we become truly committed to our partners to heal each other, then we will stop the generational curse and raise healed children.
We have the opportunity to choose the blessings or the curses. We can stay under the curse of generations or we can make a decision to be under the blessings and change history.
A second pathway we take through life is our environmental pathway. The internal mandate we are under in this pathway is to survive or stay alive. If we look at the animals in the forest as they sense danger, they go in a fight or flight mode; if the animals are safe, they have a co-creative relationship. Relationships are very similar to this experience. We operate under an unconscious agenda that puts us in fight or flight mode when we experience an event that is unsafe to us both in a life experience or relational experience. If we are emotionally safe in our marriage we experience an environment that is creative and passionate.
Neuroscientist, Paul McLean, in his book, “Man and His Animal Brain” looks at the three layers of our brain and how they work in our everyday lives. One layer is the brain stem which is our source of physical action controlling vital physical systems from reproduction and sleep to blood circulation and muscle response. A second layer is the limbic system. This is the center of our intense feelings such as sadness, joy, fear, anger, anxiety and aggression. The limbic system is a pathway that links the brain stem and the third layer, the cerebral cortex. These first two layers are the source of automatic reactions.

This third layer, the cerebral cortex, is the center of our cognitive functions. It makes decisions, thinks, observes, plans, anticipates, responds, and creates ideas. It is the logical part of ourselves. This cerebral cortex takes in data from the external world through our five senses; eyes, ears, touch, taste, and feel (our skin). This data is sent through neurological pathways to the limbic system and a determination is developed in an instant as to whether this data is safe or dangerous.
Many psychologists think that, what we know as the unconscious mind, is housed in the limbic system. The unconscious mind has no awareness of time or its environment. It would appear that what it does register is feelings. When we experience an event that is frustrating or hurtful, that data is sent to the limbic system and we unconsciously “knee jerk” our behavior into fight or flight mode. We begin to learn these behaviors as we develop from childhood and until healing happens, we usually take them into our love relationships in adulthood. Remember, our unconscious mind has only one mandate and that is to survive. So when we react to our spouse in a hurtful experience, at an unconscious level, we are trying to survive. Of course, we are not walking around saying, “Oh, this is my unconscious agenda happening, so I am going to scream, throw something, slam a door, or leave.” It is called unconscious because we do not experience a conscious awareness of our decisions. Remember, we are spirit, soul, and body. Our soul is our will, emotions, and mind. The reason the generational curse is so important to break and change the cycle is it affects our very soul: our will, emotions, and our mind.
Our third pathway is the connection pathway. Remember, those who influence our lives the most are our parents or caretakers. A caretaker is an individual who was involved in our development and influenced us either in a positive or negative way. There is a socialization part of this process where we learn how to deal with the outside world and a nurturing part where there was either a warmth and availability or a coldness and unavailability of our caretakers. Whether the negative experiences affect us drastically as we develop seem to depend on various factors such as historical timing of our birth, birth order with our siblings, and our genetic disposition which we are born with. Some individuals seem to react to different negative stimulus while others do not.

Remember, we are raised by untutored parents, who were raised by untutored parents, and so on and so on. Because we really are not prepared for parenting (except what our models were as we grew up), we will make many mistakes and be totally unaware of our child’s emotional needs in certain developmental stages. We will give them far more information rather than affirmations as they develop. This is what we experienced as individuals growing up. Caretakers who knew very little of our developmental needs and in many cases failed at meeting them. If we experienced deficit nurturing or a smothering experience, we will most likely take that into our adult love relationships and ultimately into our marriage. That is, of course, unless those negative experiences were compensated for in our development.
If we did not experience this in our own development, it is never too late to change the cycle in the way we parent our own children or even our grandchildren. It is also not too late to become healed as we learn about ourselves, learn relationship skills, and enter a deeper level with God and our spouse through connection.

Written By: John Wagner, As a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist, John is dedicated to helping couples find the relationship of their dreams. He has received his Imago training from author, Pat Love, Ed.D. in Austin, Texas. Pat is the author of “Hot Monogamy” and “The Truth About Love”. John has received required training to become an "Advanced Clinician" in Imago Relationship Therapy. John has also received training from Pat Love in sexual desire issues, and is a workshop presenter for "Hot Monogamy."Prior to becoming a therapist, he and his wife walked through their own marriage crisis. The healing they received from Imago Relationship Therapy inspired a dream of “saving the children” by healing relationships. John had been in the corporate world with companies like Sears, Merrill Lynch, and W. Clement Stones company. His career involved sales psychology training, sales management and executive positions. He traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada doing seminars on helping individuals reach their potential. John has appeared on the Nashville Network talk show. He has had a radio talk show on reaching your potential.His graduate work is through Troy State University of Alabama. His professional affiliations are with the Institute For Imago Relationship Therapy, International Marriage and Family Therapy Association, American Counseling Association, National Board For Certified Counselors, and the Association of Imago Relationship Therapists. John is presently completing his book for couples called “How Do You Keep The Music Playing” and has written the “Love Can Build A Bridge” workbook. He and his wife, Susan, have three children and seven grandchildren and are continuing the journey.

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