The word surrender has negative connotations, especially for men. This topic came up with a group of men that were part of a men’s group I was running. The focus of the group was how men could express the love they feel for their spouses/partners.
The topic of surrender led to a vigorous discussion. Some of the group members initially became suspicious of me for even mentioning the word. As they shared, it became apparent that they were concerned that my (hidden) agenda was to get them to give up their power — to turn them into puppets controlled by a puppeteer.
No wonder they became suspicious of me!
Here are a few associations some of the group members had to the idea of surrender:
- To give up;
- To lose;
- To accept defeat;
- To admit that you’re weak;
- To give all your power over to someone else (which is never a good idea, by the way!)
It’s clear that these guys would do everything in their power to avoid feeling like they had to surrender.
But then I suggested that if they were in love (all of them had said that they loved their wives/partners), they’ve probably surrendered without even realizing it. This really got their attention.
Intimate relationships require surrender
Remember when you and your partner first fell in love?
During this time you were probably awash in different emotions, from excitement to joy to anticipation of time spent together. You knew you were falling in love. And to fall in love means to relinquish control and give yourself over to the other and to the self-experiences radiating through you.
You gave yourself over to love. You “surrendered” (didn’t fight or resist) to love.
At that time, it might not have felt like a choice to give yourself over to love. You were riding the waves of intensity. The experiences happened to you. But as marriages and relationships mature, we start to have more deciding power about which experiences we allow in and which we push against.
Surrendering to each other (to the feelings you evoke in one another) now becomes a choice. For example, if your wife is struggling emotionally because of a conflict with a coworker and she wants to talk to you about it, her struggle is going to stir something within you. You might vicariously feel the frustration and helplessness she is feeling. To feel this, you need to remain open and not resist these uncomfortable feelings.
Or you can distance yourself emotionally to protect yourself from her feelings. As you talk to her and listen to her struggles, a part of you remains closed off, unaffected by her struggle. We all do this from time-to-time, especially when we’re feeling overwhelmed and need to keep our emotional footing. But if this is your go-to position, resistance has replaced surrender. And emotional intimacy is going to suffer as a result.
This is because emotionally remaining open to your partner and allowing these feelings to take the shape they need deepens empathy and emotional connection. You must be emotionally present to allow your partner’s feelings to impact you. Your presence is the greatest gift you can give him/her.
2 blocks to surrender
The “I’m-right-and-you-are-wrong” and “I-know-what’s-best-for-you” stances create an asymmetry that blocks mutuality and the emotional surrender that intimacy requires. These positions place you psychologically above your partner in a stance of superiority.
Surrender doesn’t mean losing your voice in the relationship. There are times when you aren’t going to agree with your spouse/partner (for whatever reason). Disagreements are normal and having a voice to speak your truth is important. Surrender shouldn’t turn into passive resignation when you feel unheard or mistreated. Instead, surrender is an ongoing process that gets negotiated throughout the relationship.
Surrender requires trust
There are certain conditions that need to be in place for healthy surrender to become part of your marriage/relationship. First and foremost is trust — trust that you have each other’s best interests in mind and that there are no hidden agendas or malice.
When trust blankets a relationship, we’re able to open ourselves up more fully. Fear of judgment and rejection lessen. And while there may be residue from our past traumas that prevent us from fully trusting in the moment, keeping trust in the forefront of our minds is an important part of self- and relationship-care.
Surrender is the ability to let go, to accept what is unfolding before and within us despite fear and the need for certainty. Nurturing surrender in our relationship requires heightened awareness of all the ways we may be defending and holding ourselves back.
The richness of experience is honored when surrender is allowed. If you consider all the dimensions of your life, you might be surprised at how prevalent the need for surrender is. Spirituality and religion, art, love, sex, relationships (to name a few) all bring us face-to-face with experiences that we may not understand or that may feel overwhelming at times.
And each has the capacity to transform us in meaningful ways…but for this to happen, we must remain open to (and surrender to) what is occurring.
Here’s to a healthy marriage/relationship!
Dr. Richard Nicastro
Psychologist & Marriage Counselor
(Featured images courtesy of Photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)