I keep thinking about…

I keep thinking about romantic relationships -- not so long ago, 'til death do us part meant, oh, thirty years or so, because people just didn't live that long. I met Kevin when I was twenty, and we can expect to live 'til eighty or so. Will we manage sixty years of living together? I think so, but it's definitely a challenge some days. :-) This partnership thing can be really tough sometimes. But if a romantic relationship works, it really is one of the best things on the planet, I think. A deep, abiding joy. And well worth working through the inevitable tensions/misunderstandings/frustrations when two very different people (as we are all very different from each other) bump up against each other.

Trying to articulate what seems to help things work makes you sound like a cheesy self-help book. Still -- this is some of what I try to keep in mind as we go on:

  • this stuff is hard; don't hesitate to lean on your community of friends and family for help if (when) things get rocky (pride/embarrassment can easily get in the way here)
  • avoid keeping tally of who's right in every conflict, who's done more work lately, and instead just strive to be as generous and kind as you have the strength to be
  • but also try to accept when your partner (or you) don't manage to be their best self -- we're all human, and all fail to live up to our good intentions sometimes
And...

  • you can't change your partner; attempts along those lines generally lead to heartache and grief
  • but sometimes you can change yourself because you love your partner and want them to be happier
  • and sometimes you find you genuinely like yourself more as a person afterwards. I look back at myself in the first few years with Kevin and am astonished at how whiny and self-centered I was back then. (Of course, I was also twenty. But still. :-)
What about you guys? Have any good relationship advice?

10 thoughts on “I keep thinking about…”

  1. 1) Relationships are exactly as healthy as we are.
    2) Seek out people who have had successful relationships for thirty years+. Find out what they do, how they feel, what they think about relationships. After you have interviewed at least three of them, look at what they are saying in common. ESPECIALLY note the beliefs and behaviors that are very different from the people you know with unsuccessful, or short-term relationships. What you have found might be considered a “critical path” to successful human relationships.

  2. What I’ve noticed in healthy long-term relationships is that the two people involved are autonomous. They have been able to maintain whatever happiness they had before the relationship. Like you said, they lean on friends and family. They also make time for activities outside the relationship. When they are with their partner they make each moment count.

  3. I’ve noticed that as well..even in triad relationships, the ones that seem to WORK long-term are the ones where they have lives and personalities of their own. Interestingly (yes, I like inventing words) in my somewhat limited exposure to polyamory and poly groups, the stable triads seem to be 1 woman/2 men. I’m sure it depends on the people thereof as well, but that is my perspective as a basically monogamous woman.

    In my past relationships, I’ve always tried to change to fit the relationship (which is why they are PAST). I am very, very leery of changing deliberately for the sake of a relationship. I do think one changes and grows within a relationship, don’t get me wrong, but you can’t FORCE change on yourself or others.

    I think you have to give 100% of yourself to the relationship. And the other person needs to be equally as committed.

    But you don’t have to share all the same interests/opinions/friends/etc.

    I’ve met some wonderful couples at church who have been married for years and years. They support each other, they do things together and apart, but you can tell that they share a similar value system/ideals/etc.

    Granted, all this advice is coming from someone currently single, because the only men out there now are gay or married (or creepazoids-no offense to any single, hot, eligible straight bachelor reading MaryAnne’s blog).

  4. I married at 18 and am still married (to the same man) at 58. How did we manage it? I haven’t a clue. We love each other, that’s a given. We like each other too which is probably every bit as important. Yes, we argue. Yes, we have huge areas of disagreement. (I’m Oscar. He’s Felix. He was raised Jewish. I was raised Catholic. I’m anti-gun. He’s pro-Second Amendment.) But he has never once, not in the 42 years since we met, been less than the person I know him to be. He has my back same as I have his. He’s the one person on the planet I feel secure enough to 1) argue with and 2) be totally myself with. (He wouldn’t say a word about that preposition hanging out there.)

    Mainly though it’s luck. I wish I could tell you that it’s the result of careful consideration and counseling and schedules but for us it isn’t. At each point where it looked like we would fall out of balance (when I sold my first book was one of those points; when I was diagnosed with cancer was another) some god of good fortune made an adjustment and put us back in balance again.

    These are rambling thoughts on a subject near to my heart and one I’ll admit I don’t fully understand. Why do some relationships last forever and others don’t? Damned if I know. Sometimes you just get lucky.

  5. I agree with all of the advice that you offered, Mary Anne. I would also add the following.
    Avoid bad-mouthing and negative commentary about your mate to others outside of the relationship. This seems like common courtesy, but I am repeatedly amazed at the terrible things that people say about their loved ones. It’s just ugly really, and always makes me think that the communication within the relationship must not be very good. Yes, we all have our occasional gripes and may need to talk them through with others, but sometimes it’s overdone. Both my spouse and I have noticed this behavior in others and have commented on it to each other.

  6. I’m torn between wanting to opine about relationships and wanting to say “Relationships are all different, and what works in one may not work in another.”

    Also wanting to take apart the question of what it means for a relationship to work. If a couple are together and at least reasonably happy for 25 years and raise kids together, and then divorce, did that relationship work, or not? (Um, in case that sounds antagonistic, not meant that way — just musing. And thinking about the number of times I’ve heard people say things like “That poly relationship only lasted ten years; now it’s over, which confirms my belief that poly relationships are inevitably doomed.” I keep expecting some day to hear someone say “That poly relationship only lasted eighty years before it ended, which proves once again that poly relationships are inevitably doomed.”)

    Example of differences in relationships: My grandparents were married for over sixty years; I don’t know a lot about how (or how well) their relationship worked, but my impression was that (especially in their later years) they didn’t spend much time apart, and didn’t have many friends who weren’t friends of both of them, and didn’t do many activities without each other. (My grandfather once made a (positive) comment about getting to spend the rest of his life with his best friend.) I could be wrong, though; I don’t really know a lot about what their day-to-day lives were like. Still, it makes me hesitant to say that having individual/separate lives/friends/activities is necessary to making a long-term relationship last.

  7. I married later than most to a woman who is just as stubborn as I am. Ten years into this adventure I can sum it up in two sentences. When it’s smooth sailing, “why” isn’t something that comes to mind. When it’s rough I find myself thinking “this too shall pass”. I know 50 plus years together is possible with strong personalities (my grandparents did it), but I sometimes wonder about the paths I chose not to take.

  8. I married my best friend. I never got what people were saying when they said they married their best friend. I never thought of my boyfriends as best friends. They were, my boyfriend. My husband and I never dated. We literally went from being best friends to engaged. Because we were best friends and not dating, we were far more honest about who we were. Hmmm…

    For me, that piece of paper is what helps keep it together. During my 15 yr dating career, I never managed to be in a relationship longer than 3 yrs without someone cheating. I do have a better relationship with my husband than I did with the boyfriends, so potentially we might have been able to make it without the paper.

    I do know I prefer being married than when I was single. There is a sense of comfort and safety I feel that I didn’t feel before. Something about knowing that person is legally required to be there.

  9. Jed made a very interesting comment about his grandparents that I couldn’t let pass. My husband and I spend most of our time together since he took a buyout eight years ago. If you told me I could live this closely on a 24 hour basis with any other human being I would have said it was impossible but these years have been the absolute best of our marriage. This much togetherness isn’t for everybody but it works for us.

    I’m not sure who mentioned keeping the details of your relationship/marriage private but I concur. I take my complaints to the man I married. He brings his complaints to me. They’re nobody else’s business. Sharing the details feels, to me, like a breach of intimacy.

    Again, your mileage may vary.

  10. I find it interesting that I’ve been pondering these exact same issues recently. My brother and sister-in-law haven’t been married for that long (5 years or so) but I would say that it’s a love that will last forever. They are both solidly individual. Yet at the same time, they rely on each other, are intertwined with each other, are completely committed to each other. They are a joy to be around. Everyone feels their love for each other and is enriched by it. They’re amazing.

    That being said, could I have (or would I want to have) their type of relationship? Absolutely not. That isn’t who I am. So I’m looking for different models of successful relationships — real life not media based.

    I think, though, that more than love, respect has to be there. And communication. Beyond that, I’m still trying to figure it out. Best of luck!

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