I don’t pretend to be an authority of any kind, but I’ve learned a lot about living with and loving people by doing it. I have been married three times. I did, at least, make different mistakes each time! I enjoyed a fourteen-year life partnership with Sam that was the deepest and healthiest relationship I had ever experienced up until that time. I learned a great deal from it. My relationship with Rick is even healthier and grows deeper day by day. Of course, there were other relationships, too. My life has been blessed with an abundance of love.
Over the course of time, I’ve been a custodial and non-custodial mother and stepmother, then a step-grandmother, and now a grandmother. I’ve lived in nuclear families (my parents are still married to each other after all these years) and blended families and on my own (before and after becoming a parent) with and without kids and as part of a couple without kids or one with kids visiting on the weekends. I’ve been in monogamous and intentionally non-monogamous relationships. I’ve been through the remarriage, divorce, and death of my daughter’s father. All this stuff adds up to a lot of life lived in 53 years, and that’s before all that I’ve learned from observing others’ relationships. Oh—did I mention that I am apparently related to the entire population of Alabama and most of north Georgia? Lots of material right there in the family.
Anyway, I’ve come to the conclusion that relationships that end or change are not failures. I realize that there is a school of belief that says every romantic relationship is supposed to be “happily ever after.” That’s right up there with the whole “soulmates” myth for causing harm, as far as I’m concerned.
People change. Sometimes they change in ways that cause them to no longer be compatible with their partners. The healthiest way to deal with that is to admit that things have changed, mourn the loss, and try to change the relationship to one that does work for all involved. That avoids the drama and hard feelings that come with assuming that such relationships have “failed” and the concomitant harm from the people involved considering themselves failures.
Relationships are not about winning, losing, or keeping score in any way. They are successful if they contribute to the well-being of those involved in them. They don’t have to last forever to do so.
Healthy relationships can only be built by healthy people who know what they want, ask for it, fulfill their commitments, and live a very conscious, intentional life. Relationships take work. They take skills that are the same across all types of relationships, whether romantic, familial, business, academic, social—you name it. At one time my dear friend Ron and I were talking about the “life curriculum” Sam and I had set up for our kids, and one of the things that he brought up were relationship skills. That wasn’t on my list before Ron suggested it. Such skills are a major contributor to a person’s overall functionality and happiness in life.
Children are best raised surrounded by people with whom they can have long-lasting relationships. People of all ages, related by blood or not, who care about them. In fact, the more diversity the better, as far as I’m concerned. They’ll be able to connect with people who aren’t their parents, they’ll see how other families live and love, they’ll see how other people parent, they’ll see what other people with different kinds of jobs or educations live. They can ask questions they might not wish to ask their parents. I grew up with a very large extended family. My and Sam’s children didn’t have that much blood family nearby, but they were surrounded by our family of choice, as we were truly blessed with deep friendships with incredible people.
Is there one true, right way to “do” relationships? No, I don’t think so. The “right” way is the way that works for the people involved at any given time. The common element is always love.