Relationships & Love

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.

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