Today, as Graham and I celebrate our 14th anniversary, I ponder the pathways of my relationships. I happily acknowledge that some in my age range are well into 40 or more years of marriage. While I have never experienced this kind of “growing old together” relationship, I have learned a few things.
A lasting relationship is based on respect. I once was married to a man who said things like “There are two kinds of people: math and science people and English and history people. Math and science people are smarter.” and ten minutes later, “Will you please help me write my report?” And ten minutes later, “I hate to write complete sentences. That is so dumb!” I can laugh now, but you who live with someone like this are not laughing. You know.
A lasting relationship is based on some overlap of interests. I learned to cook from my mom and, as soon as they could sit steadily, I positioned my babies on my kitchen counter to participate. Being married to another person who enjoys cooking has given us a common area to explore. If we have a dinner party, we split the workload. If we want to have a fun project, we explore a cuisine we have never attempted before. And, in a day-in-day-out lifestyle, it means the humdrum duty of the family’s meal prep can be shared with no one person burdened day after day to come up with appetizing temptation for all. That sharing of duties, in itself, can save a marriage. And while your partner may not fully understand you, having common interests and activities build other pathways to closeness.
A lasting relationship is based on the knowledge that lust is not the same as love. We crave intimacy. We need touch. We sometimes confuse a satisfactory “itch-scratching session” with another person as a deep emotional bond. Sometimes we rinse and repeat for years before we might swear off sex because it has failed to be THE way to know who to trust. That’s also not a way to find love. It was the long distance of 350 miles that required me to build intimacy with Graham by sharing thoughts, hopes, and dreams; physical touch was of course not possible. It seems to me that most relationships build with talk until we get comfortable enough to move to physical intimacy, but many never take the time to build that emotional intimacy further.
A lasting relationship is based on giving each other space and allowance to improve personal goals. I once was married to an abuser. The short leash was one of the issues that burned hot and made me very aware that the man was an unhealthy partner. I became aware of how important it was to have my own time and space to work on my own interests. A healthy relationship is one where the desire to share time together is balanced with personal time.
A lasting relationship is based on the understanding that each person will always try to bring positives to the relationship. In the human condition, it is reasonable to expect some days don’t go so well. The way each person deals with stressful issues can affect relationships even when the partner has nothing to do with the problem. When one person flows into an emotional whirlwind and only emotes anger or silence, the relationship is in trouble. The other person is buffeted by a storm of emotion and yet, any offer of an ear and an effort to listen tends to diminish over time when that emotional assault is not balanced. Learning to communicate calmly in a time of high emotion is almost impossible. Know when to call for a personal time out and expect your partner to respect that, but get back to the issue. Something swept under the rug and never discussed ends up becoming a mountain that you will trip on again and again.
A lasting relationship is based on wanting a lasting relationship. Bring the best YOU to the relationship. Know what you need and know what you can provide. Talk about that. After failed marriages, I asked Graham “What kind of husband will you be? What kinds of responsibilities will you assume? What kind of time will you give me to nurture our relationship? And then, I asked him what he expected his wife to do and be. He was surprised but then he realized that in failing to think this way before, he also had not discussed with that prior partner what the hopes and expectations were. He understood that while the pathway may not be smooth, at least a basic agreement of roles and responsibilities helps sets some kind of guidelines.
A lasting relationship is based on recognizing that your partner is flawed. No one, even me myself and I, is perfect. After my first two marriages, I recognized I had to do better identifying and analyzing those personality traits of my partner that might irritate me. Sure enough, it does not eliminate my feeling of annoyance, but it does wake me up to the realization that I had recognized and analyzed it and decided it was not “too big a deal.” So, it is not fair for me to pitch a fit at this late date. There are ways to present a way to help reduce any irritant, of course. Knowing how to talk calmly about sensitive issues is so helpful.
So, here we are at FOURTEEN. For me, I am close to my 17 with a prior husband, but there it was 7 good years and 10 dying with cancer years, so in a way, I am “ahead” at this point. I like to also think I am “ahead” with the way Graham and I have learned to talk about uncomfortable things and while there will always be “something”, I do have high confidence that we will continue to walk together in a lasting relationship.