The goal of making a relationship sustainable should not just be to stay, but rather, to find and cultivate the places in the relationship that are worth staying for. Re-imagining your commitment into a healthy curiosity about the mystery of the other person and allowing for the ebb and flow of intimacy that is a normal part of loving relationships. Here are a few thoughts to help you explore where to look for what can sustain your connections.
The other day I ran into an old friend while dropping off my son for a basketball practice. The last time we talked had been over a year ago, when she was celebrating her first anniversary to her second husband. After a tragic ending to her first marriage, she seemed radiant- they both did. Her boys were in transition but welcomed having a father again… Now just a year later, she was in the final stages of divorce. I asked her what had happened- she said, it was a difficult transition for him- He wasn’t happy not long after they were married, marriage and her ready made growing family had taken a toll on his music career, and they both decided it would be easier to split. I expressed my sorrow for her, but she replied, almost cheerfully, she was fine, better actually than when they were struggling to make it work.
I left that encounter with sadness and resolve. What could I learn from all the leaving that I see going on around me? When should relationships be ended? What amount of time and work constitutes enough? These are the questions that encircle many of my conversations with friends in various stages of leaving their relationships.
Two things come to mind when I talk to my friends about these endings- First, the quote I have hanging on my wall- “You never fail until you quit.” This has been a primary premise in maintaining all of my relationships. If communication is the currency of relationships than walking away from the communication is certainly it’s death. My husband and I went for years to counselors who taught us to speak to each other so we could hear one another. It is not a skill that most people have- especially across genders, each sex having entirely different ways of communicating and hearing. (For more info on this read “Why Men never remember and Women never forget” by M. Legato). Painful as it can often be, the work of learning to listen and speak lovingly is at its base the promise we make to stay.
The second thing that occurs to me, all the more so, at the onset of spring, as all of nature’s little miracles show themselves, reinventing the cycle of birth and renewal is that sustaining love, and not only romantic love- requires acknowledging and accepting all of the “seasons” of a relationship as they come to you. It isn’t reasonable to walk away from the winters in love- not the snuggly by the fire winter, but the barren emptiness of wondering how you could have said yes to this….Sustaining love is about learning to wait for the spring- trusting that it will come, sowing the seeds that will help the thaw to begin. Largely, this is a decision to give up the fantasy that relationships exist to make us happy- they have moments of deep and profound joy- like a jump in the lake on a hot summer day. But that is not what they are there for. They exist to teach us to love.