Having a conversation with a friend of mine, Crystal Marie over at A Word or Three, got me to thinking about something that I’m not sure why I never thought of before. I've thought a lot about relationships. I've thought a lot about love and lust. I've thought a lot about married couples and how in the hell people are able to stand each other for 20, 30, 40, 50+ years. And I've also thought about what causes marriages to fail. But in all that time about thinking of relationships, I’m not sure why it never occurred to me to actually put the question in front of people who have not only been married for a long time, but have been happily married for a long time. I didn't do this (although I would like to at some point).
I don’t want to create a matrix, or do some empirical study, per se, but rather get real answers from couples to open-ended questions about how they've stayed true and happy with one another for so long (I suppose this doesn't have to include married couples, because that would preclude gay and lesbian couples that have been together for a long time, prior to the “turning of the tide” we’re seeing finally happening in this country).
However, I digress.
While I haven’t done this study yet, I’m going to make a conjecture about what I think are the strongest factors that determine not only a lasting, but a happy marriage as well. I’m no expert – hell, I’m not even married – but here goes:
HONESTY. Honestly is the single most important thing in a relationship. And while brutal honestly can at times be hurtful, I think that people develop and understanding of their partner, and therefore know how to deal with them in an honest, and yet unhurtful way. Honestly can be as simple as letting your partner know where you are going, whether you’re upset about something (important one), or especially if you’re beginning to feel as though you’re drifting apart. While honestly won’t save every marriage, it’ll make the relationships that do last a lot closer.
MUTUAL ENJOYMENT. This should be a no-brainer, but it doesn't seem to be so these days. I’m not saying that people have to marry (or date long-term) someone that excites them like no one else, but in order to stay interested in one another you should have both independent and shared interests. Independent interests (and friends, for that matter) allows for each person to continue developing outside of the relationship, and keeps the conversation fresh when they come back together. Shared interests are important, because it gives a couple something to do together, and it’s those shared interests that can also help to break through those tough times when things might have become distant.
INTIMACY. This might have been more of what people were thinking when I said “mutual enjoyment”, but I think intimacy is separate. While sex and intimacy is certainly part of “shared interests” (I guess it works as an “independent interest” for some couples, as well), I think it deserves its own category. I’m not so naïve to believe that a couple is going to have passion throughout their relationship; however, they should have intimacy. Intimacy includes a whole range of things; sex, talking together, taking a walk together, enjoying just sitting with one another, and sharing information with your partner that you wouldn't share with anyone else. I guess for me, it would be assumed that I would know my partner better than anyone else does – I think the term is warts and all.
ALLOWING EACH OTHER TO CHANGE. Next to honestly, this is probably the most important thing to maintaining a happy, healthy, long-lasting relationship. The reality is that we as people are going to change throughout our lives. The way we look is going to change, the way we act is going to change, and the way we interact is going to change. So expecting that the person you married today is going to be the same person in 50 years is absurd. However, there should be an expectation that as each of you change, you will be open and honest about the way you’re feeling, and don’t change apart, but grow together. This allows you develop the relationship instead of doom it. I've heard it said that people wake up after 25 years of marriage and say they don’t know the person they’re married to anymore. Well where the hell were you during all that time when they were changing? If you don’t know them, then chances are they probably don’t know you. Couldn't you have, at any point along the way, stopped and asked the person how they were feeling about their lives, about your relationship, about whether they thought they were changing? It’s better to grow together than to grow separate; because while growing together makes you stronger, growing separate makes you grow apart.
Alright, that is all from me, the relationship expert (who’s not in a relationship). I don’t know everything, and you probably shouldn't listen to me, but these are just things I've come up with from watching relationships and listening to intelligent people I know.