On a recent trip to the beach, I took a quick dip to cool off and ended up getting caught in the current; the more I paddled toward the shore, the further it seemed to drift away. Trying not to panic, I began to scan the vicinity for someone who might be able to help, wondering whether to throw my arms into the air in distress. I spotted my husband on shore with some friends but his back was to me. I thought to call his name, but by this point a dangerous distance separated me from the shoreline and I realized he wouldn’t hear me. So, I took a deep breath and began to swim parallel to the shore: a rip tide survival tip I read years ago. Slowly, but surely, my strokes took me closer to the beach and within a few minutes I was eating lunch with friends and recounting my tale of near-peril at sea.
“If that had been me, I would have been a goner!” My friend Lily said. “But you would come and save me, right, honey?” She turned to her husband, Cliff and pouted jokingly. “Don’t look at me!” He responded. “I can’t swim!” Cliff’s comment made us all laugh, but it also made me think and a few minutes later I stole away to jot down a few ideas to save some marriages. (I’m a sucker for a good work analogy.)
Life and love are often compared to ocean shores; for example, many singles liken being without a mate to treading water and some would surely see parallels between my scary beach experience and the panic of being single in one’s twenties and thirties. This panic often leads scared singles, treading water as they feel the current drawing them farther away from shore, to scan the beach (as I first did) for someone else to save them. All too often, what comes next are frantic marriages between two people who want someone else to rescue them from the deep waters of their single solitude. Yet, when Lily asked her husband if he would save her were she to drift too far from shore, Cliff’s joking response to his wife, albeit sarcastic, perfectly exemplifies the risk in treating marriage like a life saver. What if your partner can’t swim?
By the time I meet some of my coupled clients looking for relationship guidance, both people are often nearly drowning in the personal issues, fears, hang-ups, and obstacles that their relationship could not rescue them from. As I reflected on my scary swim, I realized that the advice I often give my clients is not a far analogy from the rip tide tip I remembered on the beach that day. Save yourself and you will save your marriage; swim parallel to shore! What does this mean? Basically, if love is a beach, your mate is not a life guard. You are responsible for your own rescue! And, the more time you waste signaling for help, the further the tide (of problems, stress, and pain) will draw you away from shore, distance you from your partner, and drown your relationship.
Minutes after my seaside brush with disaster, I was happily eating lunch onshore with friends. Why? Because I was alert enough to remember the swimming tip that allowed me to bring myself back to the beach. Applying this to relationships is easy; taking care of yourself is a powerful way to take care of your marriage at the same time. Relationships are opportunities for joy, growth, and spiritual enrichment but they are not means of escaping reality, hiding from pain, or finding identity. Your partner is a person, not a life guard. Once you recognize that you are your own rescuer, you will be able to enjoy your mate for who they really are, without pressuring them to save you from your sea of problems.
Do you have a survival story? Leave me a comment and tell me how you have been your own hero.
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