When two people come together and pledge to spend the rest of their lives together they create a special bond between them and around them. Each marriage has an address, a place and space where love exists and is acted out. A great Jewish philosopher and scholar, Martin Buber, put it eloquently: ‘our relationship lives in a space between us, not in me or you, or even dialogue, but in space between us which is sacred’.
So how would you describe the space between you and your spouse? This sacred space is incredibly special—it is here that you can share your deepest secrets, your greatest yearnings and your innermost self and feel safe. It is here that you feel accepted, heard, understood and, of course, loved. Your relationship lives in the sacred space.
This space can be clean, or it can become polluted and all too often couples live without any conscious awareness of the space between them and the responsibility this entails. When the space between us is good, we feel drawn towards each other; love and affection flow easily. When we fall out, we can create a wall or a chasm that separates. We will all have our own language to describe the gap. When you don’t know about the space it is too easy to add things unintentionally and unconsciously and so this space becomes dangerous or toxic. Spend time with any waring couple and you don’t need to listen to them speak, you can sense their disquiet and even pain, just by being in the same space.
We are both responsible for our sacred space. We need to learn how to keep it safe, comfortable and to honour it. If we do this we can show who we are, we don’t need to hide or protect ourselves. We can open the very essence of ourselves to our spouse, knowing that we will be cherished and loved. We can both grow to our full potential. Consequently, this space of vulnerability must be fiercely protected and cared for if we are to maintain the powerful habitation it provides for couples. Sacred space is very fragile, easily broken, and must be guarded and held purposefully.
This space is also where our children live, grow and mature. They are watching and learning what love looks like as their innocent eyes watch us. They take myriad pictures with the camera of their mind and store pictures deep within them as if they were compiling a photo album. When the space between husband and wife is clear and good our children feel safe, secure and loved. When the space is polluted and dangerous they often feel anxious and slightly bereft without being able to name that which is missing.
Martin Buber was right to call this space sacred. It is set apart, it belongs to just one couple and their family and friends; it is also sacred because the presence of God rests there too.
God is both outside of us and within us. The bible teaches us that each person is a Temple of the Holy Spirit and so the divine presence dwells in us and around us. As we become conscious of the holy we should treat our partner with reverence and respect. Reverence and respect is perhaps dated language but o how pertinent for this day and age! When I treat my beloved as Jesus would treat me, then the space between husband and wife expands with love and launches life, laughter, creativity and joy. By contrast when I lose sight of the divine in my beloved I start to live in a smaller space and when criticism and judgement comes to, the sacred space between us becomes polluted and constrains not just two people but infects a whole family.
The first couple were tasked with tending the garden; we are tasked with tending our own space.
The gardener knows what is growing in his or her garden. The gardener takes out the weeds, tills the soil and plants and invests so that the garden flourishes throughout the seasons of the year and over time. It is no use trying to rest in the cool of the evening if you are distracted by the midges of busyness and the noises and toxic fumes of a recent argument.
We are often asked how to protect and care for the sacred space. In a nutshell you need to remember five things:
- Intentional awareness
- Shared responsibility
- Protect and defend
- Sow in order to reap
- This is where we grow
- God dwells in this space
How do we honour this space and keep it pure and safe?
By being fully present to the other person and constantly adding words and actions of love, affirmation and encouragement. Look at the scriptures, this is where you learn what to put into this space:
Gal 5:22 Fruits of the Spirit are Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control
Whist you are filling the space between you with these good things you are showing your spouse how much you value and appreciate them. You are creating a loving safe environment for both yourselves and your children. Here love will grow, blossom and mature. Here love can stand up to all that life throws at us. We are resilient, we are strong.
It is frighteningly easy to pollute this space: a careless word, a look, a reaction, a withdrawal, a criticism, a judgement. The space then becomes uncomfortable and this causes us to react and withdraw, making matters worse. It no longer feels safe.
Let’s use 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 and by taking the opposite we learn what not to put in.
- Love is patient and kind. But if we put between us unkindness and impatience then we are polluting this space.
- Love is not jealous, boastful or proud or rude. How often do these behaviours come between us?
- It does not demand its own way. Selfishness pulls us apart
- It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. How often are we irritable and unforgiving?
- Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Once you allow defeat, despair and hopelessness to enter your marriage it can all too easily destroy you both. If we are unaware of the power and value of this space or are not taking responsibility for it, these negative behaviours build up and the space between us becomes dangerous. It causes us to become frustrated, critical and judgemental and we will really hurt and wound each other.
We then react into our default behaviour which could be to explode and shout, or we may hide and withdraw, but we now find ourselves in a position when we are reacting together to this dangerous space we have co created. Because it feels so dangerous we pull away from each other and start to exit the relationship. But with God all things are possible. Through His healing love, and His strength we can heal the hurts and draw close to each other again.
Close your eyes and think about the space between you. How comfortable does the space between you feel? Is it polluted? What do I put into this space? Love, kindness, gentleness, grace, valued, appreciated. Or do I put in criticism, frustration, disappointment, judgement, hurt and unforgiveness? Just take a minute to think. Not about your partner’s failings but the times when you have polluted the space between you. Times when you haven’t taken responsibility for it, times when you have been careless.
Write down whatever God shows you so you have a record of the work you need to do moving forward.
We all need to develop our appreciative eyes. Past hurts can blind us to the good qualities of our loved one. Let’s not go through life blinded, but let’s refocus to appreciate that which is good. There is such power in thankfulness.
The bible says to enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Carrying unforgiveness, pain, disappointment, defeat, hopelessness and other negatives separate us from others and more profoundly from God. We need to develop a language of abundance, this helps to change our mindset and refocus our eyes to see the good in others, not just their failures.
Now spend some time thinking about the positive things your spouse puts into the space. Write them down and find time to thank him/her for this.
Each day, before you go to sleep, show your appreciation to your spouse for two or three things that you love about them. Keep this space full of words of love and appreciation. Keep your eyes focussed on being thankful, seeing the good, forgiving the failings.