I’m stating this up front: I’m going to write on the state of relationships. Really, I have to bring this up because I’ve started laughing about two statements that have changed with time.
Statement 1: “This relationship is no longer serving me well.”
In the past this would have been put into words such as this: “I don’t think we’re right for each other.”
Here are some other things the statement could be about: We all grow, and hopefully grow together. In saying that, I must also state that a couple’s growth is most likely at varying speeds, and in differing areas. When we merge, it is unifying, and then the growth and exploration cycle begins anew. There is no end to growth, as it is the stuff life is made of.
Growth in a relationship stops when both partners fail to hold space for the other to explore. When we fail to consider the needs of our partner and understand that they are on their own schedule, and so are we, we prevent progress and halt the growth process. When we stop wanting to expand our knowledge base, we might fall out of sync with the one we’re with.
Jon and I shared a value of self-improvement. For us it was important to be in motion in this area. The relationship might not work if you are mismatched in this area.
Can people change? Yes. Can relationships end? Yes. My experience in seeing relationships end is that they got together for the wrong reasons in the first place. This also falls into the “We may not be right for each other” category.
While going through my own faith deconstruction, I witnessed couples who had married for the wrong reason: a church. As beliefs and values were explored, these couples awoke to the sad reality that, while they might be friends, the marriage they were in was all wrong because the reason for its existence was wrong. It wasn’t that they grew apart: they had never been together. They were a mismatched couple, and getting out changed it all.
I think there is a difference between a relationship not serving you well and a relationship that you’ve come to understand is based on differing values. Meeting each other’s needs, and communicating that to each other, is a major part of the relationship process. It is a dance of weaving in and out. It is a dance of joy and celebration, and it is difficult to make it happen correctly. Each dancer must do their part.
We enter relationships as individuals and slowly come to understand the needs of each other because we talk, learn, and ask questions. We come to understand how to meet each other’s needs. Assume nothing until you inquire of the person.
I believe that one of the things that has happened in the past two decades is that people have become complacent. We’ve forgotten that good things take time and there are no shortcuts. We’ve settled for fast or instant everything instead of savoring a slow-cooked soup that has simmered for hours. This fast pace has caused relationships to end rapidly. The “getting to know you process” is like the slow cooker that spreads its scent throughout the entire house. It creates anticipation and desire, as well as curiosity. Slow cooking a relationship is a wonderful thing!
Relationships, no matter what type they may be, should create healthy spaces for all, and when those spaces are not there, the reasons for the lack thereof need to be explored by everyone involved. This is why a healthy understanding of red-flag issues for ourselves, and for others, is an essential part of the relationship formation process.
The notion that opposites attract comes to mind here. Personally, I’ve never seen that to be the case in a deep and long-lasting relationship. Healthy relationships are built on common values and hold space for differing views. We can come to respect a person for challenging us in constructive ways. One of the things that I appreciated about Jon was that he would challenge my thinking, and it was the type of challenge that enabled me to clarify my own thoughts and values. I was confronted with my own need to do some deep exploration into my own thoughts and beliefs about my past faith tradition. We both did this, and it enriched our relationship.
I take all of my relationships seriously. I value them, and have chosen a small group of people that I take delight in rather than many who I can’t know well. I’ll admit that finding that things aren’t a match is usually a sad place to have to go to for me.
Statement 2: “We need to take our relationship to the next level.”
This one really makes me laugh and cry at the same time. What? What does this mean anyway? Are you playing a game? Does it mean that you are going exclusive, or that you want to move in together or marry? Twenty years ago you might have sat down and asked each other about how you felt about the other person.
I have a cousin who was dating five guys at the same time. She liked them all. The guys, on the other hand, wanted to spend more time with her. Back in the late ’70s, that meant “dropping” someone. And so, she got honest with herself, cut it to three guys, then two, and then one. Her ability to face the issue honestly created a lifelong relationship. Her ability to sort out what she wanted and needed in a vetting process enabled her to make a choice she was happy with.
It isn’t a game. Deepening our relationships is, as I’ve stated above, a process. It is two sided.
US relationship culture is different from European relationship culture. For some reason, maybe it was my father’s relative proximity to a German community that held those values for our family, even though we were in the US. My older siblings and I were fairly exclusive in our relationships from the beginning of each. Jon and I were exclusive from the beginning. We set some ground rules. We were also in our mid thirties when we met, and then married four years later.
Like my cousin, US culture tends to promote fun and loose connections at first. Putting yourself out on the “market” is a thing. Is it any wonder that people struggle with finding a match?
This brings me to my confession: I’m doing my work so that I can find someone new. I expect that I’ll go exclusive as I did before. For me, it’s about values. It’s about saying it straight. I do exclusive, one at a time. I’m not playing a game here because relationships are not a game.