I have a “small secret tradition” on the go! Whenever family or close friends get married, I make them a unique painting. The tile of that painting is always “Roadmap For A Happy Marriage!’ And I always  infuse it with high intentions that the couple concerned does indeed find the road to happy marriage.

Some spiritual schools of thought (I am thinking of Zen Buddhism) claim that expectations are the root cause of all suffering in the material world. If you expect nothing – you will never be disappointed. Or so goes the theory! I think that in reality we all harbour many unconscious expectations that we are not even aware of until they are challenged or thwarted – how many people are truly prepared for the sudden diagnosis of a potentially fatal illness (or even the inconvenience of a broken leg?!) Most of us take health for granted until we fall ill. We take the option of having children one day (and using birth control) for granted until we hit infertility issues. Once we have children we assume that they will out-live us. Human existence is riddled with personal and cultural expectations.

So today’s blog is going to be about the expectations we bring to marriage. Years ago, when I was new to shamanism and shamanic journeying (meaning: using drumming , rattling or meditation to move your mind into a mildly altered state of consciousness for the purpose of intentional dreaming and navigating other realms), I once got very upset after my husband told me he had committed another prolonged absence . (He travels the globe for work and I have always been the main carer of our three children, working from home). Having discovered my power animals and wonderful spirit allies in the other worlds I decided to run to them to have a “good cry on their shoulder”. What actually happened is that I arrived at a place in the forest where I usually sit in circle with them. They gathered around me, showed no sympathy at all and gave me the following lecture: “Imelda, on the soul level you have decided to marry a man who is away from home a lot, because you would never ever thrive in a “9 – 5″ marriage with a man who wants company and attention every evening. On the contrary, your weekday evenings, once the children are in bed, are wide open spaces that you use for reading, writing,  talking to Spirit, sketching painting ideas, writing poems and so forth. You would not want things any other way and we are not remotely sorry for you – you married the right man. Run home now and stop complaining !!”

Ouch!!! My power animals are NOT cuddly toys…. they “say it as it is” and they often speak more harshly than my closest friends would dare to. So I raced back to to world of “everyday reality”. I spent some time licking my wounds (I mean: insult had been added to injury, right?!) but ultimately, combing through years of evenings and how I had spent them in blissful solitude reading obscure books and learning foreign languages – I had to admit that they were right: I was in the perfect marriage. Not a marriage without challenges, not a comfortable marriage – but a marriage where I get to grow and learn, feed my lively mind and exercise an uncommon level of independence and self-sufficiency for a married woman.

For me this remains one of the most vivid shamanic journeys of all time: instant revelation – not flattering at all!! But that got me thinking about the cultural filters our society imposes: in our culture, but only since the Romantic Period really, we have chosen to believe in ideas such as  “marrying for love”, finding our “soul mate” and the “perfect partner being out there somewhere’. And I am not advocating that we introduce “arranged marriages”, as things are done in some parts of the our world. No, not quite. What I am asking you to do today is to reflect on the question whether all your ideas about relationships are truly heartfelt – or if this “Romantic Filter” , that we all share, has coloured things to the point where expectations have become unrealistic. There are many such filters in operation. Another example is that we live in a consumerist society. “If something breaks, buy a new one”.  And I am not saying that everyone consciously approaches relationships that way – that is very far from true – but our language shows that a certain amount of “consumerism” has crept into our cultural perception. We speak of “starter marriages” and “footballers’ wives” and “the younger blonder wife” for a man in midlife crisis….

There is an English saying: “Start as you mean to go on!” And I sometimes reflect on the ideas I brought to marriage and how I would change them today. Do I choose to see marriage as a “never-ending zone of Romantic love” or do I see my marriage partner as a great teacher and ally who comes into my life so that we can embark on a great learning voyage together. Do  want marriage to be a comfort zone or place where I am always being asked to grow, change, evolve and find inner resources I didn’t know I had?!!

What are the things you want from marriage?  They are likely to be very different for different people. For me those are: someone who is totally committed to parenting our children together and providing love and a secure home for them. It is someone who can still surprise me and make me laugh after 30 years together. It is someone who is willing to listen as well as express his own emotions – so the channels of communication stay open, no matter what goes down or how furiously we disagree. It is someone who is fully alive and passionate about things (me included please!) It is someone different enough from me to provide a set of complimentary skills for running a family, home and commitments. It is someone who gives me what my soul needs, not what my ego thinks it needs.... Someone to literally grow old and wise (r) with.

Over the years I realised that I had brought a lot of ideas to marriage that I had never examined properly. Such as: he will absolutely always be there when I need him, or he will meet all my emotional needs. But often it is in the place where not all human needs are met, that a great adventure starts, and we allow new things and other people into our lives. Cracks are good places for unexpected seeds to drop and take root.

I think that if we told any bridal couple that marriage is a long voyage where high waves and gale force winds will come and go, that their very differences will provide a seedbed for things neither would attempt or achieve on their own, that they are making a commitment to laugh and learn, as well as love and live together – their expectations might be more realistic, their partnership more likely to stand the tooth of time. And also that tears are sacred and the word sacred is an anagram of the word ‘scared’. That there is no guarantee and no ‘use before date’, only the now.

And if I were to contemplate marriage today, I would seek a spirit consultation. I would consult my spirit allies (or have a shamanic practitioner do this on my behalf if I felt I lacked the detachment to do the job myself) and I would ask many questions: are we spiritually compatible? Are there issues we agreed to work out together in this life before we were even born? Is there any ancestral healing work to be done to give our marriage the best possible start?  If our families do come together and our wish for children comes true, is there anything we need to be aware of or alert to, spiritually speaking?

A good shamanic practitioner can ‘unearth’ answers to these questions. They can talk to your spirit allies on your behalf (but you may not like everything they say!) Why deny yourself access to such information if it can be obtained?

My spirit allies did me a very great favour: they put a stop to my whining and self-pitying frame of mind and they got me asking questions that I have since put to good use in work with clients.

So… what are your expectations of marriage – or a long term relationship, assuming you are interested in having one?

Do your expectations match your family of birth and the young person you once were or the person you have (possibly) spent decades becoming?

And if you were to choose the expectations you base marriage on, and make them conscious, what would they be?!

Imelda Almqvist




The shops are full of maps and travel guides