07 April, 2011

Creating an Enduring Relationship

During my Christmas vacation this past year, I was engaged in a conversation with my oldest niece. In the course of that conversation she informed me that she was not going to get married. When I asked why, she told me that it was because “fifty percent of all marriages (in America) end in divorce” and went on to explain that she had no interest in becoming part of the divorce-rate statistic. I shared with her my perspective that she could get married and not add to the divorce statistic. Implying that I didn’t understand her point-of-view, she asserted the significance of the statistics previously cited.

It may be of help for you to know that she and I entered this conversation with very different personal backgrounds. My parents have been married almost fifty years and remain happily together. But my niece’s parents divorced several years ago and she has been subject to, and a witness of, the pain, emotional turmoil, and heartache that this decision has had on her parents, her sister, and herself.

Since that original conversation, I’ve replayed it many times over in my head. And I’ve wondered how this (statistic) could be viewed differently and how I might be able to make a difference for her. Is there another, possibly more powerful, point-of-view from which we might view these astounding statistics?

Over this past weekend, I awoke to a thought that I now view as the answer to this question. And I believe that this concept holds a powerful perspective from which we can all learn so that we might make better choices in those we choose as significant others and even as friends. The thought to which I awakened was to “marry someone whom you don’t want to change.” The concept sounds simple enough and it’s certainly easy to say. But I believe that we all fall prey, at one time or another, to this hazardous, slippery-slope.

When I awoke with this thought, I began to think back over my partnership. Next month I will be celebrating my 13-year anniversary with my significant other. Most couples experience their first major difficulties around the two-year mark of being together. The first year or two of relationships are often referred to as “the honeymoon phase” because partners are generally still enchanted with one another during this time. However, around the two-year mark, partners generally begin to view each other from a more realistic point-of-view.

Behavior or habits once viewed as cute or entertaining, many times becomes annoying to us. We begin to start recommending “small” changes to the other and suggesting how he could better himself! Your girlfriend’s consistent behavior of being 15 minutes late is no longer viewed as her taking care of herself or wanting to look good for you. Instead, it now takes on new meaning, such as a lack of respect for you and your time or a lack of time-management skills. Your husband’s behavior of leaving his clothes wherever they fall when he removes them from his body may have once been viewed as carefree. Now, the same behavior becomes an anathema to you who likes to have a tidy home and feels the responsibility to clean up after him.

To borrow a popular American colloquial phrase, this is where the “rubber meets the road.” The hard work of a relationship only starts when you begin to see what you may view as flaws in your partner. After all, no one has a difficult time relating to another when the two are in total agreement. It’s only in discord, or in differing points-of-view that we find we need to walk in grace with one another. Only when we can find the grace to allow another to be who he is without requesting, or even desiring, that he change behaviors or habits will we find that we have the capacity to love another unconditionally. This is what it takes to stay together for “the long haul.”

Of course I’m not suggesting that anyone stay in a relationship where there is physical or emotional abuse or where another’s actions threaten our well-being in any way. However, outside of these types of circumstances, the ability to create a lasting relationship that works comes down to our individual abilities to accept another exactly as he is, and exactly as he isn’t. This requires that we adopt a new perspective for our relationships—one where we view nothing as missing or in disrepair.
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