Five Books in Five Days (4) The Three Marriages

 This week, five books that have the potential to profoundly change the way you understand yourself, others, and life.

There are three marriages in a human life, says David Whyte in his book of the same name. The first is a marriage – whether we call it marriage or not – to another person. The second is a marriage to a kind of work – whether we choose it, or it chooses us. And the third is the less visible, though no less important, marriage to the strange and shifting something we call our self. Each kind of marriage profoundly shapes us. And each can be a source of great dignity and meaning if we are willing to be patient and curious, and if we pay it the kind of exquisite attention it deserves.

The problem we most quickly get into, in the rush and bustle of our contemporary lives, is seeing each of these marriages as, in some way, at odds with the other. From this vantage point we must struggle always to get balance between competing forces – work is at the expense of the other, the other is at the expense of ourselves, attending to the self is at the expense of both work and relationship. And in this way we add to the sum of our suffering, because the only way out is to try to carve out more time for each, or to let one or more submerge beneath the demands of the other.

But there is another way, says Whyte. To separate the three marriages in order to balance them is to destroy the essence of all of them. Instead, we must lift our eyes to a bigger horizon and start to see how each informs the other.

“I especially want to look at the way that each of these marriages is, at its heart, nonnegotiable…” he says. We have to “start thinking of each marriage conversing with, questioning, or emboldening the other two… We can start to realign our understanding and our efforts away from trading and bartering parts of ourselves as if they were salable commodities and more toward finding a central conversation that can hold all of these three marriages together.”

By refusing to divorce work from relationship from self, Whyte describes a path that dignifies and ennobles all three. Filled with examples from his own life and from the life of artists, poets and novelists, Whyte’s book is beautiful and poetic from start to finish. And it has the power to radically shift the way each of us thinks about, and relates to, the foundational pillars of a human life.

Photo Credit: Noortje Schmit via Compfight cc

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