Marriage, Love, and Death

June 9, 2023
Brett, Alexa, and Tara talk about marriage, commitment, and the fears of loving and losing a life partner.

Episode Intro: Welcome back, everybody. Shortly before our wedding, Alexa and I sat down with Tara to talk about marriage, what commitment means to us and the fear of losing a life partner. This was a sweet and vulnerable episode to record, and I really hope you enjoy it.

Alexa: I feel nervous.

Tara: I welcome your nervousness. I love nervousness.

Alexa: Thank you.

Tara: I look forward to hearing your questions.

Alexa: The curiosity that is coming up first for me is I have so many projections of your relationship with Joe. At this point, it is really, really positive. I know you pretty well now and I love your relationship. I really admire it. There is a lot of curiosity there to begin with, but the thing I am noticing is I've always had a lot of projections since I barely knew you. The question is what it is like to be playing the role of a person who really helps others relate well. You both really help people change the way they interact with all kinds of people but especially the people they really care about. What is it like to be that role pretty publicly, together with your partner who is also your business partner? What is it like to have that much projection on your relationship?

Tara: It feels like there are a lot of questions in there.

Alexa: You are right.

02:40 Tara: I don't even know where to start answering that. Give me a second because I had 40 thoughts run through my head. First of all, I will say that to be doing it publicly is incredibly vulnerable and sometimes incredibly hard for me. It is what we teach, so then I have to walk what we are teaching and remind myself that I have got to walk my talk. That part is hard. There have been retreats where Joe and I have started haggling over what to do next very publicly in front of participants. That's always edgy but I always say that we are going to do this here and we are not going to take this to a back room, not all of it, so we can figure this out in front of people and have them watch our process. You have probably seen that. It can be messy. It is hard. It is also great.

First of all, I love working with Joe, which was a surprise of our marriage. We went in having two very different careers, and at some point they merged. I had always dreaded the idea of working with a loved partner. I had heard horrible stories about it. I would say it has been the greatest surprise, this portion of our marriage, is how much we love working together. We just love working together. We love creating retreats. We love being in the room together. The last two retreats we have done, we haven't always been in the room together. I missed being in the room with him. It has been a surprise.

Having the projections on us, I mean part of being a facilitator is dealing with projections. I would say we are accustomed to it. I always want to shed the golden shadow projections, the golden projections, those positive ones because Joe and I work hard to keep our marriage alive. It has not always been easy. We have hard years. Our first years of marriage were brutally hard. There is that first love. You can get swept away by the energy of love, and then you have to come crashing down. We had to come crashing down and learn who we were without all of that projected bestness on each other and how to climb the mountain together from reality, from authenticity and not just emotion and love but reality. The golden projections don't feel like they do the work Joe and I have done, and they don't feel like they do honor to the reality of marriage. It is work. It is joyful, playful and the most fulfilling self work, having someone else reflect you to yourself. It is work. The golden projections break my heart a little bit. Yes, it is amazing. We are an amazing couple, and we work hard at it. We struggle and we fight. Some of you have seen our fights very publicly. We have to tangle with different parts of our personality to find that sweet balanced spot. We live in that dance.

Brett: It is funny when we use the word 'fight'. What you are referring to as far as anything I have seen that would be referred to as a fight looks, in much of my experience of relationships and what has been to many of us, baby smooth or a bit of ripples here and there. One of you feels unseen, and the other one says yes, you feel unseen. I also feel unseen. You sit in it for a minute, and then something moves. I've never seen you in a big fight, fight. Not to say it doesn't happen and not to say that would be a sign that it is not a beautiful relationship. The different levels of what we could be talking about when we say fight is really interesting.

Tara: Our fights were big. Right after marriage, that first year or two, we had big fights. That's when we started therapy and learning non violent communication and how to say when you did this, I felt. That's where a lot of our work comes from, those lessons, because neither of us had good role models for fighting. It was I am going to take you down. I imagine on the surface our fights look very subtle and calm. They don't feel calm on the inside. They feel equally like aah and this feeling of uncomfortableness, whatever we are haggling over. They are inner haggles.

Brett: I also noticed a fluidity in it and less fleeing from it, less reactivity, and more this is the way I am feeling right now.

Tara: Exactly, we both have a practice of diving into it. We will go at it. We will go do our emotional work separately. I might go hit the pillows or the steering wheel and scream to move my anger, grief and fear and then we can dive in and figure out what the nugget is that wants to be seen or the heart that wants to be held.

08:50 Brett: I had another question. You started out thinking you wouldn't want to work together, and now you work together and very smoothly. I have worked with past partners in my life. It has been commonplace. Sometimes it has worked really well. Sometimes it has been codependent. Sometimes it has been in pattern. I am curious for you how that journey went for you and Joe from not wanting to work together to recognizing you wanted that and doing it from a place that isn't codependence. We are merging now. We are the same person doing the same thing. Our careers are the same. How did that happen?

Tara: It is a great question. It almost happened so smoothly that I can't tell you how it happened. I can't even remember logically how it happened. Give me a second to remember. It is interesting. I am going to contradict what I said earlier. In a way, from day one, we were always doing quote unquote the work together. I very much remember thinking I can marry this man because he is as dedicated to learning about himself and supporting his self development as I am. That was, to me, the number one principle and the most important thing I was looking for in a life partner, someone who would do the work with me. That was in our marriage from day one. Before we even agreed to get married, we agreed to do a ten day meditation retreat together and be in therapy together and then travel through Southeast Asia for six months. Those were three agreements we made to do together before we even decided to get married. It was always there. We were always discussing self development. We were always discussing meditation, awakening, therapy, and self discovery. That was the very foundation of our marriage from day one.

We weren't doing it professionally for the first 20 years or however long, but it was always there, which is why I think I can't even remember when it became professional because it was just always in the field. There was something I wanted to say that I forgot. How is it not to be codependent and mergy? I would say we have had moments of being codependent and mergy. The journey is learning when I am merging and pulling back to myself, to my roots, my backbone and ask what I want here. It is not that it doesn't happen. It is just becoming aware of it when it does happen. The co-dependence piece, once upon a time I had a really negative connotation of co-dependence. I went to a women's college. I am never going to be codependent. When I first became a mom, I very much felt codependent. I am just in service of Joe's career and all I am doing is taking care of the kids. At some point, I had to redefine co-dependence and what was actually happening for me. There was finding my needs and speaking up for them, and then there was tracking inter or intradependence, which I would very much say Joe and I are intradependent. We very much depend on each for different things and support each other, but it is bidirectional. Joe supports me. I support him. It goes both ways, whereas I think codependence just goes one way. One person's needs aren't getting taken care of. There was something else. I don't know if that answers your question, Brett.

Brett: It does. I see codependence being one directional, or maybe another way it can go is if we are both trying to get our own needs met and not seeing how those needs are met, then we could be in an equal dynamic of both feeling unmet. That ties back to a question I had moments ago. Both of you are dedicated to your self development. Both of us feel dedicated to our self development. What failure modes have you found in that? For example, I just thought of this idea of anything that comes up in our relationship might mean that we have to go do some work about it. It might get a bit like navel gazing or self indulgement or it could be that we are fixated on the path in a dogmatic way rather than deeply living everything. Have you and Joe ever found yourself falling into a self development black hole together because you both share that drive and desire and perhaps some of the same blindspots?

Tara: I can't think of one we have fallen in together. I can think of ones I have personally fallen in. One of my biggest learnings was after experiencing a heart opening was I was just in love with everything. I could see what everything was coming from or the care behind it. I could feel the love for it and from it even if it was kind of twisted. I didn't have boundaries, so I had this huge heart opening without access to my own boundaries, which was a huge hole for me with Joe and everybody else not having boundaries. Those heart openings, your boundaries are there to allow the heart opening, not having the heart opening so you don't need any boundaries. I would say that was a good year or two of my life having to find the boundaries so that I was included in the heart opening. It wasn't just for everybody else. That was definitely hard in our marriage because certain things had to change, and Joe had to watch me really struggle to find and hold, not say them but hold them. I could name a boundary but holding it was a very different action. That was a pitfall in the process for me.

There was another one I thought of when you first brought it up but I can't remember what it is now. The second pothole for me was when I first discovered projection work, and this happened right around the time of that heart opening without boundaries. In the projection work, I would think I was projecting and then I assumed it was my responsibility to take care of everything. If I am projecting that this person is crossing my boundaries, then I am crossing my own boundaries and that is about me. I could go into spin on the projection work as opposed to still having my boundaries. It is about me, and I still get to name what I want. I still get to say I don't want that and I can't be around this and I can't be around that person because of X, Y and Z, or I am going to take care of myself this way. Those were my two biggest potholes, and they very much happened in relationship in my marriage.

Alexa: Maybe a different flavor of the same question is what it is like to be in a marriage with the person I assume is your primary spiritual playmate or self development partner.

Tara: Yes, he is primary but I have an entire community of people who I would consider my spiritual senha and self development senha. I have my women's group, my dear women friends. I was just with friends from college when we last talked, Brett, and I very much consider them part of my senha. It is amazing to have Joe as my principal partner, the person I probably spend the most time with, the person I dream next to and that I share that journey with, but he is not the only one, which I think is part of our sanity. I have a very big community, not necessarily huge but a deep community of people who are also my spiritual and self discovery senha. I couldn't be partnered with someone who wasn't. Two of the things I care about except for my kids and being a parent are spirituality and self development. I feel like this is what I was put here to do, whatever that means. This is my soul's journey. I would have to have a partner who met me that way. I don't think I couldn't not.

Alexa: That really resonates for me.

18:35 Tara: I was going to say that I think a lot of what I am speaking to speaks to your relationship, too. It is a shared ocean we want to sail in.

Alexa: That really resonates and it feels really good to me to be on that journey together with Brett. I guess I do have this feeling. It is a little bit of a feeling of. I can't find the right metaphor. This is clearly it because I am all of the way up this roller coaster with you, and nothing could compare to this. This is it. This is the thing. Also, that's kind of scary. It feels like all of my eggs are in this basket.

Tara: I could dive down a rabbit hole on that fear. I am not sure if that's why we are here.

Brett: Yes, that's exactly what we are here for.

Tara: Can you hang out with the fear, Alexa? It is true.

Alexa: Yeah.

Tara: Just breathe and hang out with it.

Alexa: I notice that there is a lot of sadness immediately.

Tara: Just hang out with that and be with it, let your breath go all the way through it. What was that?

Alexa: I feel like I just dropped down deeper.

Tara: Letting yourself be in that down deeper and just hang out, nowhere to go, just hanging with it. What's that?

Alexa: There is this bounciness here, which is I think just a general [breathing sounds]. It is pretty hard to put words to. There is a lot of feeling of grief. It reminds me of course of losing Brian, my former partner who died, and in general of all of the mortality that's really going on around us right now. A feeling of on the one hand there is a deep knowledge that life can be really hard helps me bear the fear that it will be hard in that way again because it probably will. There is no time to waste. There is no reason to try to hold that at bay. After Brian died, I didn't think I had wasted all that time on someone who died on me. It was like I wish I had shown him more love in every moment that I could have/

Tara: What's that feeling?

Alexa: There is a wanting to pour myself out.

Tara: Just curious, if you look at Brett, what does that feeling want to say to him, if anything?

Alexa: I want you to be here with me as much as I want to be here with you.

Brett: I do. I do.

Tara: I think we just found some of your vows. Having named that, how is that feeling in your system? You talked about the fear. Having gone down to those depths and named that to Brett, what is going on with the fear, if anything?

Alexa: It is not currently feeling like fear. It feels like aliveness and kind of like electricity.

Tara: Can you let your whole body have that aliveness and electricity? Exactly. You can't see here, but she is positively glowing. So beautiful.

Brett: What comes up for me in that process is when I heard and this is also true, like other times she has said that she feels like she has all of her eggs in one basket, there is a constriction or fear in me. For her, it traces back to having lost a partner. For me, it traces back to being in an extreme sports world where people were frequently losing partners. At the time, I was in a long term relationship and we both felt that we were each other's person. Nobody else got us like each other, and we were traveling all of the time. We didn't have stable friends other than the ones we saw when we were traveling and jumping, and so we felt this deep eggs in one basket thing. I think that is part of the catalyst that had us open up our relationship and explore polyamory. I wanted there to be somebody else that you felt connected to in case I leave you. We wanted that for each other.

There is something very visceral that comes up for me when I hear Alexa feel like she has all of her eggs in one basket. My initial response was to say no, that's not true. You have got eggs everywhere. There are people who love you. Also, there is the reality of the way that feels for her. There is a way that is fully true, and there is also the way that it is not. In witnessing this process, I feel more capable of being there in the way that it is fully true. There is grief in that that is not just a potentiality. It is a reality that one of us is going to lose the other unless we die at the same time, which is going to feel for all intents and purposes like all eggs in one basket despite the support structures we have.

Tara: That is what makes love so edgy. It is finite, our time here. What you just named, I feel the same way. When I look at Alexa, her eyes are tearing up. It is so beautiful. It is that finite preciousness of love in the heart. The heart has capacity for that knowing that there is an end line. To me, that is just truly amazing that as humans we do that again and again and our hearts can and want to do that. Brett, what I would invite you to do is be with whatever the emotion is when Alexa says all of her eggs are in one basket. You can see the truth and not truth, but what is the emotion that comes up for you? Being with her words, but also staying with yourself.

Brett: Initially, it is a fear of being responsible for her devastation and heartbreak in the event that I depart, which is very clearly some mommy stuff too.

Tara: Can you hang out with the fear? Let's just do the same thing. Just see how it wants to move or be seen or what it wants to do. You are just following it, hanging out with it.

Brett: Inside there, there is the fear of being loved as I am inclusive of my. It is some form of not knowing my risk tolerance, my naivete, not being able to guarantee any form of safety.

Tara: Stay hanging out with that. Let your heart and head hang with that fear.

Brett: Underneath that, there is a grief of feeling like all that has been my responsibility or feeling pinned into my own cage of that I need to be some sort of safe, stable, predictable, alive for someone else.

Tara: Staying with that grief that I need to be safe, stable, dependable for someone else, can you stay with it and see how, if at all, it wants to move? You are letting it move through the system if it wants to.

Brett: There is a slight shaking. It might be more fear.

Tara: If your body wants to have that shake, let it sequence. Exactly, and letting yourself breathe right through it.

Brett: It feels like there is a fear of being alone that I project onto her. I project that she wouldn't be able to handle losing me when she speaks of the eggs in one basket thing when in reality I feel like I wouldn't be able to handle it.

Tara: You want to turn towards here. Make contact with it and see what it wants to share with her.

Brett: What comes up is sort of strange. It is an apology for any way that I have tried to create safety in any way that suppresses myself or us.

Alexa: That's not strange.

Tara: So beautiful. I wish everyone could see what I am seeing. It is so beautiful, the two of you.

Brett: It is breaking my brain a little bit. I am seeing how much I have bought into that. Not that I need to but feeling that I really, really want to create safety. There has been some obligation in it, which is why there has been some tension around that.

Tara: You said the whole mama piece.

Brett: There is still a part of me that wants to go base jumping and thinks about it at some point every day, and then there is a part of me that thinks it has been several years now. I am not current. I haven't done it recently. I feel confident I could go do it safely but also Alexa wouldn't have the context my body has to feel confident with me. I would be putting her through something if I did. Then there are both sides that have felt tension, the tension of not needing to be responsible for someone's emotions about my safety and then the other one of being responsible for the consequences of my safety or lack of safety.

Tara: That's beautifully said, too. When we haven't gone down to the bottom of it with that apology, I am sorry, that you just said to her so beautifully, then we can only pingpong between being responsible and saying fuck responsible. We can only ping pong between the two opposed. We just go back and forth reacting.

Brett: There is an irony here, something funny. Right before we started recording I got a text from my sister in which she said she wanted to skydive with me at some point. I would absolutely love that. Then there is the part of me that asks what if something happens to her. It has happened to friends who have lost their sister on a skydive. There are all these backstories. That could be what happens now. Also, there is still something very alive in me that I have been a little afraid of me for the past number of years. There is something alive in me that still wants to go out and take the risk to be fully out there and exposed. Then there is a part of me that thinks I don't need this story that I need to be fully out there and exposed to fully live, which is true. I don't need that story, but there is still something in there that wants it. That scares me a little bit as we go into this marriage and we have got our eggs in a basket.

Tara: You are doing a podcast where you are just totally fully exposed in front of everybody.

Brett: Right. That's different. Slay my ego, that's fine. My body, that's fine, but it feels less fine if the consequences it has for others, and I can see my identity being wrapped up in others there, like taking responsibility for them.

Alexa: I do want to say something.

Brett: Yeah?

Alexa: You have evidence that I can survive the death of a partner.

Brett: I do. I also have so much evidence of how much that sucked.

Alexa: Yeah, no doubt.

Brett: There is also so much evidence of how much that is done for you in a strange way. There is this way that I feel like part of what has had us both attracted to each other so deeply and also both of us being so committed to self exploration and self understanding is how we have each lost a lot. For me, it was friends, a lot of acquaintances and people more in the inner circle but not a partner and in the periphery of my life regularly happening over the course of decades, and for you, you had one particularly deep loss of a partner. We have both been on journeys with things like survivor's guilt and wondering what we could have done deeply if only we had been seeing more clearly and picking up the pieces and going through the grieving process. I feel like I benefit a lot from the fact that you have lost a partner and gone through that, and yes, I am also very scared of having you go through that again on my account. There is that energy there, not wanting to be the bad guy.

Tara: I don't want to rabbit hole but a question I want to give you for later is what would make you dying be the bad guy.

38:10 Brett: What comes up is a dream I had a couple of years ago. I had this really, really intense dream. In this dream, I basically died in some dream way that was a combination of a number of different ways. The question came up in me of what if my death was a gift. What if you saw it that way? It rippled through my life as though all of the people who were grieving and I could see the gift in it. It was a really powerful dream. There is a way that I am perhaps scared of letting that insight ripple all the way through because it is like if I really see it as a gift, that's one way of seeing it, but if I really see it that way fully and I let that really happen, then what will that mean? Will that make me more likely to leave everybody? In that frame, it would be a gift and perhaps the more tragic, the more of a gift. But I also don't want to fetishize that. I guess the fear is if I really let that all the way in, will I fetishize my own death? Maybe there is a wisdom in that concern, and there is also a way that it prevents the full integration of fully letting myself see the way that it could be a gift if I were to leave Alexa. It doesn't mean that I am going to be more likely to do that. In fact, it might actually be more likely that I stay safe because I am letting myself see all the ways that that could happen. I am not afraid of them.

Tara: What I hear is the fear is if we let the fear fully in, then there is more of a chance of it creating itself. I remember this with birthing. I had a midwife teach me that you have to acknowledge all of the fears you are going into in birthing. I said no, no, no, if I acknowledge them, they are more likely to come true. She said no, not acknowledging them is how they are likely to come true. That's the golden algorithm. Acknowledging them and feeling through the fear is, not ensuring that they don't happen, but you prop yourself up. I forget exactly how she phrased it. That's what I hear you saying when you say this.

Brett: My phrasing would be you process that data.

Tara: Then you are not acting out on it. I am curious what your heart says about it, not the mind. I see the mind, but what does your heart say?

Brett: This might be my mind interpreting the heart, but it says Alexa chose this in me. Those aspects of myself, that I have this feeling that I wrestle with or work through this particular flavor of feeling, is not an inconvenience to Alexa. It is actually something that she is looking for, and so in feeling that, there is a lot of shame that falls away. There is constriction that releases. Of course, I want to check with Alexa if that feels at all true for her.

Tara: Beautiful.

Brett: But there is something in me that moves, the heart opening, softening.

Tara: It even looked like Alexa just softened next to you.

Alexa: I want to own that it doesn't feel like I chose this part of you. That doesn't feel like the thing I am attracted to, but I do feel like I am saying yes to all of you. That's part one of this answer, and part two is I have a partiality towards you not having the feeling of obligation to stick around for me or the resentment that is in there. As Tara said, the sort of ping ponging and swinging back and forth. Part three is I don't really know what makes it that I am so in love with you. On some level, that I chose you is evidence that I absolutely am choosing this even if I am fighting it also.

Brett: I truly, deeply feel your choosing this. There is not a shred of me that doubts that.

Alexa: Don't leave me or else I will be sad and it will be your fault.

Tara: Back to obligation, Brett. Come on.

Brett: Don't worry. I will take care of your feelings. Everything will be okay. I will make sure that your feelings are safe.

Tara: Doesn't that feel so much better. It is so beautiful. Really beautiful work.

Brett: Do you have any other marriage advice, Tara?

Tara: My advice is to go cuddle. You just did deep, beautiful work together. Go cuddle, snuggle, whisper and giggle together. My marriage advice is to integrate.

Alexa: That's really good advice, especially when your partner is your primary spiritual playmate.

Tara: Integration is key, and integrating together is really fun.

Brett: There was a twinkle in your eye when you said that. What kind of integration are you talking about?

Tara: Whatever comes to mind, no, not whatever comes to mind. Snuggles, cuddles, whatever else, all of the above, beautiful integration.

Brett: Thank you.

Tara: Such a pleasure.

Alexa: I love you so much.

Tara: It is quite mutual. I love you so much. I love that I will get to watch your marriage, and I have already watched so much of your partnership. I feel so blessed, even when I didn't know you were a couple.

Thanks again for listening. If you are feeling the love, reach out and let us know how this episode touched you. You can find us on Twitter at artofaccomp or through From our hearts to yours, see you next time.

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