Disclaimer - you are likely not going to like what I am about to say. I certainly don’t. It flies in the face of everything I have ever wanted or believed or wanted to believe. But, I have come to see the truth in it...and I am now doing my best to change the way I think about relationships...it is quite a lot of work to be honest.
Having a ring side seat to relationships that fail for the past 28 years, it would be easy to be jaded and come to value them less. I mean over half of them don’t work out so what is the point? Contrarily, I have come to value them more. They have become not unlike the great white whale in Moby Dick. I think I have seen it so many times, that now, perhaps, I have become somewhat obsessed with it. Can I find workable, loving relationships in this world? Can I participate in one?
That, as it turns out, is a million fucking dollar question.
What I have learned is that all relationships are work. Oh, they get you in the beginning with all those endorphins and dopamine hits. All relationships start off with this idea that:
THIS ONE WILL BE THE ONE!
THIS ONE WILL BE THE ONE THAT YOU HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR YOUR WHOLE LIFE! THIS ONE WILL BE THE ONE THAT COMPLETES YOU.
What I have learned, because I have observed this, is that all relationships require work. And the earlier the couple looks at their union as a proving ground for the love and life they are trying to build together, the better.
No one would look for the “perfect” car, find it and then think that it would need no maintenance, no upkeep. The car communicates with the owner letting them know when the oil needs to be changed, when it is due for service, when it needs new tires. Wait, this is a bad analogy...
Unlike a relationship between the owner and car, communication in relationships must be a two way street. It isn’t a caretaker situation like a car. Where the car lets the owner know what it needs, and the owner’s needs are wholly unimportant. Although, I think a lot of people’s relationships operate in this manner.
I think one the smartest things I have ever thought about relationships is that when I found a good partner, that I loved, wanted, desired and enjoyed, that this person was the one that I wanted to do the work with...this person was someone I could rely upon to meet me where I am, be honest with me, share themselves, their fears, their insecurities, finances, love, commitment, integrity, their lives with me. But that all of that sharing would be done as we both undertook personal and relational work together. The union will never be perfect, and it is going to require a lot of effort and work on both of our parts to keep moving together forward in a healthy manner.
Ok, this is not a very romantic thought. But it is reality. We look to love and partnership and marriage to be this place where we are seen, heard, loved but then we behave in ways and manners that assure that all that wonderful stuff we started off with, ends because we don’t care for it. And, quite inconveniently, loving and relating takes a great deal of care and work.
What I have seen most often is that there is usually one person that is willing to work: to own their stuff, to be responsible, to be fair, to be open and trusting. And then there is the other person who doesn’t want or can’t or lacks the capacity to do that. And then those roles shift. The worker gets resentful at being the only one doing the work and so they stop. They insist that it is the other person’s problem. And the relationship falls further into disregulation and disrepair. Then the marriage or union founders. Running aground more and more often and there is so much work to be done to get the marital vessel going again.
There is a wonderful book about marriage by Anne Morrow Lindbergh “A Gift from the Sea." She does an excellent job of breaking down the stations of a long term relationship, comparing them to shells and sea life. It is a beautiful book written by a wise woman who had more than her share of tragedy. She found peace within her marriage, by tending to her own needs and seeing that she was the person responsible for making sure those needs were met. I highly recommend this book. Her experience may be more historical than en vogue today but she knows herself and she knows marriage with all its attendant highs and lows.
Given my Army brat upbringing, I see marriage as more of a proving ground. We are all out there in our parade dress, marching around, showing off our skills and good looks for each other. Showing off our tactics and strategies and vehicles for change. Only to find that what is really going on is that we have been summoned to this relational proving ground in order to show off the skills and attributes needed and required for the coming battles...and I think most of us, if we are honest, show up deficient and woefully short of having what we need to keep the relationship steady, even and moving forward without a lot of collateral damage.
But I also will own that I am jaded. 28 years is a long time to sit ring side to marital strife, strafe, shrapnel and one undignified battle after another.
I will also state here that I am still here, doing the work, attempting to help others right the course of their lives and relationships all while I attempt to do the same. And I will claim progress, for myself and for others.
My thoughts about marriage and relationships has changed. It has grown and with this growth, I have had to find some new definitions for love and marriage and commitment and desire. It isn’t a Hallmark movie, it isn’t something that is peddled and sold on the big screen, it certainly isn’t Disney. Thank God, because as a mother I would have been killed off years ago.
Today I think of my relationships, all of them, as proving grounds. Places where I show up in my most authentic skin and do the work that shows up to be done. I evaluate my partner and why I chose them. I see where I need to do some inner personal work, because I am falling way short of my own ideals, beliefs and standards. And then I endeavor to do that work. It is hard. It is often un-fun. It is tiring and difficult and sometimes it seems like there really is no pay off.
But I know this isn’t true. I have moved from a person who used to wish there was a tape recording of what was said so that I could prove I was right. And have now instead become a person who wishes there was a camcorder aimed solely at me so that I could really view how I show up. What I say. How I act. What I do. How exactly I love.
It isn’t about the other person. I mean, it is, but only a little bit. It is about me. And I know that I often cannot see how I really am because I often do not want to look. So easy it is to project this image of ourselves that we believe that is only loosely based on truth. I know that I show up poorly, often. And that is where I need to do the work. And I trust that if I continue to do that work, the people I pick to be in relationships with will change and improve. And I will make better selections and increase my chances for a partnership that feels worth all the effort. And finally, I will bury once and for all this septer of an idea that finding the right person is all I have to do. And instead commit to being the right person and leaving the rest of it up to timing, universal timing and good fortune of which I have been blessed with a great deal. And then when you meet that person, the one that makes your heart skip a beat, that you enjoy that moment and prepare for the work, the real heart felt, down in the dirt hard work that is committing and marrying up your life with another.