(Thoughts on enduring relationships, from Carol & Paul)
When we began our love affair, we weren’t a couple of teenagers in love – although we acted that way sometimes. We were both 55; we had four marriages behind us that had ended in divorce or death; and we wanted this marriage to last.
We did the math: if we are married for 35 years, we will be 90 years old! We will clearly have changed by then, and so will our relationship.
In fact, you could hold this to be a “self-evident” truth:
Every relationship that lasts will change.
Some changes will come no matter what we do – like growing older year by year. Other changes will come because we choose to grow, evolve and expand.If we anticipate and accept the inevitability of change, we can design a relationship that is “built to last.”
Often, people focus on fixing a relationship so that it returns to something they liked in the past. Designing a relationship is not about preserving or restoring the past; it’s about putting something in place now that will endure and also will respond to change in the future.
When you design a relationship, you recognize that it is up to you – the “we” in the relationship – to put in the “design features” that will give you the relationship you desire. Your relationship is not something that’s happening to you, but something you are inventing.
If you were going to design a relationship that can change and grow over time, you might ask questions like these:
What is the purpose of this relationship? (This may be quite different from why you began this relationship in the first place.)
Who benefits from this relationship, besides us?
What qualities or practices allow us to respond to change (for example, curiosity and trust)?
What promises have we put in place as the basis of our relationship?
What expectations do we have that we have not promised each other to fulfill?
What occasions will we create for looking at what is really going on in our relationship?
As for us, falling in love in our fifties, we were fairly intentional about designing our marriage. We made some clear promises and wrote statements of our vision for our marriage, which are hanging on the wall in our home. We found other couples with whom we could receive and offer support, encouragement and insight.
We recognize, too, that designing a relationship for inevitable change must include a willingness to re-design it if we see that the design we made a while ago no longer serves us.
If you have asked yourselves some of the questions above, what did you notice? Do you have other questions that illuminate what’s going on in your relationships?
We would love to hear what you’ve discovered about designing a relationship – whether it’s a marriage, a friendship, a business partnership or a family.
With lots of love,
Carol & Paul