Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ebb & Flow in Relationships

Living together is a huge experiment. When we are single, we have ways of doing things and we get used to it. Then when we live with someone, we make adjustments, and some of those adjustments are easier to commit to and stick to than others.

Although being in a relationship is desirable, for a great many people, being single works for others, in the same way that some people love being parents and some do not want to have children.

We are perhaps caught between visions and realities in our concept of relationships. The romantic idea of relationships still looks like two people who fall in love and stay together forever. But how many people do you know who have only been married one time, and to the same person?

The world we really live in is that we ebb and flow in our relationships. We meet someone we really like and decide to become a couple. Then somewhere down the road a few years, we decide that we really want a different situation or a different person. Most of us have now had more than one marriage, live in, or long term relationship. It seems that it would be more realistic to think of our relationships as arrangements that fit us for a certain period of our lives.

Our friendships mirror this too. Think back on how people you called your friends in grammar school or high school seemed like they would be part of your life forever, but then when you got to college, there were new friends who you had a lot in common with, and they became the ones you spent a lot of time with. Later in life again, as you worked in one career or job, you became friends with people from your work life. But then a little later, you changed jobs or careers and those people changed again. Or perhaps there were people you saw all the time when you went dancing, but now that you are not dancing any more, you rarely run into them. Or perhaps you used to see them at the gym, but now you have moved and no longer go to that gym. Or there were people you always talked to when you were walking your dog, but now you live in a different neighborhood or city and you meet different peole when you are walking the dog.

So it goes with our relationships. Our life changes, our relationship changes, and the relationship is just as subject to change as our friendships and the people we met on the job who we like. We no longer stay in one relationship for a lifetime any more than we stay in one job for a lifetime.

Parting of the ways does not have to be bitter or acrimonious. It can be amicable and simply recognize the fact that each person has different wants or needs that the other cannot fulfill.

Today there are many different models to operate from. Some have open relationships. Others continue to live in the same house, although they have separate bedrooms, and separate social lives. In recent years, there are people who were divorced but unable to sell their house, so they found themselves living like roommates, or apartment dwellers in the same building. If a parting is on good terms, these kinds of adjustments can work.

Hope frequently triumphs over wisdom when we try and adjust to living with another person because we love them, even though we may have vast differences about issues that we feel are important.

Perhaps the one conceptual difference that will help us better adjust to changes in our life is to recognize that there are ebbs and flows in relationships and instead of labeling them good or bad, simply recognize that they are. We often do not differentiate until later which differences are deal breakers and which ones are just interesting. One truth is that our lives are made up of a series of relationships, rather than just one that lasts forever. Embracing that reality can ease the pains of transitions. That is not to say that there will not be any pain, but the transition may be a lot easier to adjust to and continue on with our lives if we reflect on our lives and see them in this light.

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