Lengthy-term relationships are now not modeled because the norm, however they need to be
(Photo: Unsplash / Gabby Orcutt)
I recently discussed my forty-plus year marriage to a young person. He said he couldn't imagine being with someone for so long.
I've been thinking about the impact television and media have on young people. Long-term relationships are no longer modeled as the norm. When people change their careers, hobbies, or opinions, they instead choose between current and new relationships in which they hope to have more in common with their new partner.
There is a lot of emotional pain and grief in this process that is never acknowledged. It results in people not fully committing to a relationship as it may not be permanent and not worth investing in. It promotes self-protection and leads to selfishness. The possibility of a long-term relationship is lower in this context, as expectations are limited and people are not invested.
The benefits of having a long-term relationship with a person are not celebrated, but knowing someone for a long time and being able to relax with the security that comes with it is comforting. Being able to remember common events, milestones and holidays brings joy. Common experiences can be laughed at or saddened together.
It is an asset to our lives to be able to say to our spouse: "Do you remember when we were young and …?" Fun to browse photo albums and laugh at our selection of clothes and hair fashions over the years.
I remember reading the story of a couple whose marriage was in crisis, but during a conversation a friend mentioned something that caused the couple to recall a funny incident from the earliest days of their marriage. Suddenly they both burst out laughing. The unhappy friend had no idea why they were laughing.
It was the turning point in the couple's relationship and brought them back together. A story of shared experiences is powerful, yet it is greatly underestimated.
The challenge of long-term relationships is that over time, most people mature and their priorities change. What was important at a young age can become less important as you get older. Perhaps as a young person they had strong political, theological, or social ideals, but time and history have softened their views, or perhaps life events and health challenges have changed them.
How do you stay in relationship with someone who is different from the person you married?
To maintain a long-term relationship, you need to focus on what you have in common and make areas where you differ a little less of a priority, while leaving the other person free to pursue those interests. This requires tolerance. Couples don't always spend the weekend doing the same activities together, but they share enough interests in common to maintain a healthy relationship.
I find that the older couples I know in long-term relationships have common interests, but also individually have their own hobbies. There are big differences, however. Some couples do a lot of things together, some do a few. All of these couples enjoy the time they spend together but are not so dependent on one another that they cannot be apart.
If we don't invest in our relationships now, making the necessary adjustments and sacrifices, we might find ourselves without someone important to share our lives with. We may have had many exciting and memorable experiences in our lives, but if we don't have someone to share them with, they will prove to be unrewarded.
Good relationships take time, effort, and sacrifice. There are cases when we give up our first preference of sharing an experience with another and build a nest egg of memories to refer to as we age.