Is a Life-Long Relationship Natural?
A client asked my opinion: "Is it natural for a couple to stay together throughout their adult life?"
My reply: "There isn't a single answer to this question."
I offered the following explanation for my reply.
Though we all know of examples of couples who have been happily married for 50 years or more, they seem to be the exception to the norm. Most older people I know have had at least two relationship marital relationships. That seems to be the norm.
My client's question was based on this observation and two underlying ideas. The first is that one has to try two or more times to get the relationship thing "right," that is, to learn how to sustain a relationship. The second underlying idea is that people are constantly changing their interests, values and needs. Therefore, a partner who is perfect at one time may cease to be later.
We're not talking here about making poor choices. We're talking about having what it takes to sustain a relationship, and about how people change over time and thus how difficult it is for two people to stay in sync over the course of a lifetime.
Developing and sustaining a relationship requires personal integrity (knowing who you are and what you want), skill in communication, the ability to empathize, an unlimited capacity for accepting a partner as they are, enormous patience, seemingly infinite flexibility and, perhaps most importantly, enduring commitment. These skills develop over time. We learn through experience, hence the notion that one has to have more than one marital relationship to get it right. We can also learn from others through reading, seminars, etc. One partner may get "ahead" of the other from participating in educational programs or just through growth from personal experience. If change in one's ability to relate stimulates the other partner, then things may go well. If the other partner is threatened, then things may go poorly.
Needs and interests change over time as well. If partners cannot meet each other's needs, they may seek validation and gratification elsewhere. That may or may not threaten the relationship. Boredom is another factor in any relationship, as cleverly illustrated in the song Bad Jokes by Woody Harrelson & John C. Reilly in the movie, A Prairie Home Companion. In the lyrics: "the farmer said [in reference to his wife and their mating behavior] 'That's a heck of a bull, but it wasn't with the same old cow.'" It takes some real skill to keep a relationship fresh. I must note too that most of us have a primary relationship and numerous secondary relationships that meet needs not met in the primary relationship. These other relationships contribute to the web of life that comprises the circle of life. That's the subject of my September 13, 2016 webinar.
How to keep a relationship fresh is beyond the scope of this discussion. The point here is that we must adapt to change. Indeed, we must possess what Maharishi Mahesh Yogi called the five fundamentals of progress, which are: stability, adaptability, integration, purification and growth.
Stability comes from unconditional love, which itself requires acceptance and empathy.
Adaptability comes from emotional flexibility, the opposite of rigidity or resistance to change.
Integration comes from the capacity to absorb new things without disrupting one's sense of self (ego). Our circumstances constantly undergo change. New things come into our lives and other things leave our lives. Integration means incorporating what's new so that we create a new wholeness of ourselves. This ability to constantly create a new wholeness is based on Being, on one's transcendent, immutable Self, which witnesses all experience.
Purification is a less familiar concept. It means removing impressions of experience — physical, mental and emotional impressions that derive from an excessive pressure of experience. Stress management falls in this category, though it relates to all the other categories too.
Growth is essential and almost inevitable. We grow by integrating our experience, by learning and adapting. We gain skills and wisdom over the course of our lives. For some, growth comes rapidly, though not always easily or comfortably. Others may not grow much in their lives as they seemingly opt more for stability — non-change.
This brings me back to my reply to my client's question, namely, that there is no single answer to the question of whether a life-long relationship is the natural way of life. Having one relationship works for some people either because they don't change much or because they have the ability to work together as circumstances change. For others, change in circumstances is more than they can handle in their relationship, so they part.
All the aspects influencing a couple are themselves natural. They create complexity, even contradictions, that cannot be explained simply. Therefore, there is no simple answer to the question.
However, there is a solution. Paraphrasing Maharishi: Accept life as it comes to you moment by moment. Accept and do not resist change. Take what life provides with simplicity and innocence. Enjoy and be happy. Mindfulness teaching admonishes us to be present in the moment, to observe what happens in one's mind. This develops awareness of the relationship between the observer and what is observed. By analogy, one learns the difference between the screen in the movie theater and what is projected upon that screen, i.e., the movie. Ho'oponopono offers four steps for creating wholeness: accept, forgive, love and be grateful for everything because what is outside is inside. The solution ultimately is to think and act from the level of BEING.
Personally, I'm grateful for having access to so many lessons and so many techniques for facilitating change and growth, and for the opportunity to assist many folks along their path. It's good work. I'm grateful too for having a relationship that supports and nourishes learning and change, and that is ever fresh and fascinating.