I picked up Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed on a recent trip to Hong Kong as a guilty pleasure (I listened to Eat Pray Love as a book on CD on my two-hour commute back and forth to church last year). Many of you may know that I’m only two and a half years into my own marriage, so at times it’s been kind of disheartening to bear all of her skepticism and jaded-ness with the institution of marriage, given her messy divorce, depression, etc. But the other night she included the following wisdom from psychologist Shirley P. Glass that, I think, really rings true.
Gilbert describes how marriages are commonly rocked by infidelities that begin as what we think are innocent friendships and affections with others. While Gilbert wonders how good things (friendships) can go so bad (turn into affairs), Glass holds that there are walls and windows to marriage relationships, that without proper maintenance, can let in what is meant to be kept out, and keep out what is meant to be let in. As Gilbert paraphrases,
“The windows are the aspects of your relationship that are open to the world–that is, the necessary gaps through which you interact with family and friends; the walls are the barriers of trust behind which you guard the most intimate secrets of your marriage. What often happens, though, during so-called harmless friendships, is that you begin sharing intimacies with your new friend that belong hidden within your marriage…”
Gilbert goes onto say how good this feels at first, but how, following Glass’s theory, the effect is actually to set up a wall where a window should be, closing off your spouse from your deepest feelings, and opening a window where there should be a wall by inviting another in. Further reflecting on Glass’s “architecture of matrimonial intimacy,” Gilbert writes that while months or years later we are surprised to find our feelings have grown for someone outside our marriage, however intentional said feelings, it is we who built, or rearranged the structure ourselves. With her characteristic wry wit and refreshing honesty, Gilbert then exclaims, “Does all this sound excruciatingly obvious to everybody else? Because it was not excruciatingly obvious to me.”
My wise spiritual director once alerted me to the fact that contrary to what the world would have us believe, it is spiritual, not sexual intimacy that is the deepest form of connection. Hence, forming deep connections with others outside your marriage will not feed your soul if you and your spouse do not enjoy and safeguard a certain kind of spiritual intimacy yourselves. Given my last post on intimacy, I thought these details about walls and windows and spiritual intimacy were important to share–they’ve been insightful for me as I continue to learn about love and intimacy in my own marriage.