People often ask us, “What is the single most important practice a couple can do for their relationship?” Certainly we have our favorites, like appreciation, inner-parent/inner child balancing, honest communication of feelings, asking for and giving forgiveness, and taking responsibility for our projections. But the most important thing we can do is to find a way to strengthen our spiritual connection, both inside ourselves and with our partner.
Discovering our Source, our divine sustenance, and finding a way to share this with our loved ones, is ultimately what will make the difference between a normal relationship and an extraordinary one.
As many people know, our religious difference was the greatest obstacle to our getting married. Joyce was raised Christian. I was raised Jewish. We tried to change each other, but of course that didn’t work. We tried getting rid of religion, and living on our personal love alone, but that was like throwing out the baby with the bath water. We were trying to deny our spiritual natures. It didn’t work, and our relationship was sinking fast. We tried to fill the spiritual void with a wild lifestyle. It was 1971 in Los Angeles and we experimented as much as a medical student and graduate student could. Finally I had an affair and Joyce left. Our marriage, at least as it was at the time, was over.
Our time apart, which was somewhere between a week and a lifetime, taught us many vital lessons. Most importantly, we learned that we were and are spiritual, deeper than religious, beings. We learned that our spirituality could be shared, even when our religion couldn’t. I remember one evening shortly after getting back together. We were sitting in the living room of our $89/month (including utilities) apartment, when Joyce asked me for the first time to pray with her. It was an awkward moment. We held hands, lightly touched our foreheads together, and Joyce began in a soft but earnest voice. She didn’t speak the prayers she had learned growing up in her Presbyterian Church.
She spoke a simple prayer directly from her heart to the heart of All, giving thanks for the lessons we were learning about life and love, asking for strength and guidance on our new path together. More than her words, it was her open-hearted sincerity and childlike innocence that touched me and opened my own heart.
When she finished praying, I knew it was my turn. The last time I prayed was at my Bar Mitzvah when I was 13. The gate to my soul was a little rusty but it finally opened wide. My voice trembled as I stood naked once again before the vast power and love of the universe.
It felt exhilarating to connect soul to soul. Now, 31 years later, praying with Joyce feels like the cornerstone of our marriage. Some days our prayer connection is only a couple of minutes, but it’s about quality rather than quantity. Some days it almost feels as if prayer is the thread that interconnects every part of our lives.
According to a survey of 657 couples by sociologist Andrew Greeley, 75% of people who pray with their spouses describe their marriages as “very happy,” compared with 57% of those who don’t. Those who pray are also more likely to rate their spouses as skilled lovers.
How, then, can you become “pray-mates?” Once again, praying together has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with spirituality. If you both believe in a Higher Power, simply address that source. If you believe in the power of love, focus on that. If your God is mindfulness or awareness, ask for that. It doesn’t matter what names or labels you use. It is, more than anything, your sincerity, childlikeness, intention, and humility that counts. Give thanks for what you have. Ask for what you need, but ask as a child who knows his mother and father are ready and willing to give anything to him. Ask with a feeling of worthiness, rather than as a beggar who doesn’t know his entitlement. And speak these prayers out loud. It is inspiring to hear your mate’s prayer, and empowering to offer your own.
And for you singles, a good friend or relative can become a “pray-mate.” This is a powerful practice for anyone. When you, at last, become solid as “pray-mates,” you will find that problems are more easily handled, disagreements don’t upset you as much, and the momentum of your soul connection carries you both to higher levels of intimacy and joy.