Saturday, September 10, 2011

Deadly Sin or Lifesaver?

"Vanity well fed is benevolent. Vanity hungry is spiteful.” – Mason Cooley

What is the most important ingredient in a successful marriage?  Some people say love.  Others – communication.  Sex, successful conflict resolution, respect, honesty; they all work together for a harmonious union.  I think that vanity may top the list.

If you stick with a marriage long enough, you will accept that it changes.  Nobody likes moving from a comfortable spot, but it is inevitable.  Human relationships, like the humans that live in them, continually flow and look different today than they did yesterday, two months ago, ten years ago.  My husband and I are past that stage in our marriage when we accuse each other of being different than we were when we first knew each other.  We don’t care much anymore that we don’t ride around screaming with our heads sticking out of the sunroof after a night out.  There was a time when we minded. 

We also muddled through a time when we just couldn’t get it together, when everything that I did and everything that he did was annoying.  We still have those times, but they are fleeting and wearisome, and so considered minor hurdles, attributed to a bad day at work (him) or a hormonal imbalance (me), or in a perfect storm, both. 

This is not to say that we have it all together.  As individuals we are a mess.  Like everyone else in the world, we are only a fraction of what we could be in an ideal state.  Our bad decisions and mental strongholds that keep forgiveness, tolerance and compassion captive, threaten our relationship regularly.  It’s pride that can really do us in.

Stupidly or not, it’s this pride in ourselves that I think might work best to the advantage of both parties in marriage.  I think most of us have a level of vanity that propels us forward, that helps us to get up in the morning and live our lives.  Vanity is pride, however excessive, in one’s self.  If I look at myself at an elevated level, the fact that my husband also views me at an elevated level is important.  Our congruent visions help my sense of worth, my self-esteem, my confidence in my abilities.  If I see myself as a winner and my husband sees me as a loser, my vanity starves.  My ego will be stunted, I will be bitter, and our relationship will suffer. 

On the other hand, if I view myself as nothing yet my husband thinks I am a success, I may blame him for lying to me, for giving me a false sense of confidence.  He will be hurt, convinced that his opinion doesn’t matter, that I am spiteful and difficult.  Our relationship weakens.

All of this is communication, really.  But the heart of communication is giving yourself to another.  Telling someone what's on your mind, who you are, how you feel, is a product of how you view yourself.  It's a product of vanity.  And when my husband tells me that I did well or that he appreciates me, it feeds my vanity.  In return, I feel benevolent, he is fortunate, and we are content.

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