Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How Normal is Normal?

What we all really want are relationships that work. How we define what works can vary greatly from the models that are held up as normal. There are all kinds of ways of making a relationship that works. Couples are creative in forging a partnership that works for them, although it varies from what is considered to be the norm. What's important is that it works for the couple.

Although the model that is still presented in our culture of a successful marriage, for example, is one where a couple gets married and stays married. But even the actors who play such roles in movies have each been married more than once.

In real life, we discover that some of our relatives had lovers other than their spouses, and that we have cousins or step siblings that we never knew we had. How many women either had abortions or went away and had their kids and then gave them up for adaption? We find out that grandma or grandpa had another marriage that they just never got around to mentioning because they didn't feel like talking about it. How many of our families had someone who was referred to as a "confirmed bachelor" or a "spinster" and how many of those people were really players, how many were really gay or lesbian, and how many were people who just didn't care about sex or relationships?

Each such discovery presents a vivid example of a relationship that varied from the standard that we were presented. When such instances are unearthed in the archeology of family history, the truth takes on a little different perspective.

One of the processes that changed during our lifetimes is that divorces became easier to obtain and so couples that really are not getting along well can change their legal status. In our parents and grandparents time, couples often stayed together for a variety of externally imposed reasons: to keep up appearances, because they feared that they could not do better, because they simply did not have the resources to move on, or because the divorce laws were so stringent that they felt that they really didn't have a choice, or because the social stigma attached to it was discouraging. Still, there are the stories of those who simply walked away from a bad situation and started over somewhere else.

So what are people doing differently now? For at least a few decades, retirees have declined to get married and simply live together because remarriage might result in forfitting pension or social security checks.

Some couples whose professions require lots of travel have maintained separate residences while continuing to have a relationship. Some couples have open relationships which are not exclusive.

Even the model that was held up to us as what was normal is now seen in a different light. With the divorce rate around 50%, even those who live together in exclusive relationships might be on their second or third marriages. And those who did marry only once and are still together many years later are very much in the minority. All of which raises the question of how normal is normal?

There are all kinds of ways for couples to make relationships work and they do not all look alike. In fact, there is a lot of variety in the ways they find to make it work.

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