Sometimes it seems like SSDD, Same Stuff Different Day in our marriage, but whether we notice it or not, the relationship is always changing. It may be that changes are subtle and not directly observable, but more likely it is a case of our attention is elsewhere. The question is are you being proactive or reactive in the changes your marriage is going through?
Our children are growing rapidly and changing moment by moment with cellular activity and energy that rivals a nuclear reactor, and yet, we only notice changes in them when we stop long enough to catch our own breath, or when we pick them up and notice they feel heavier. It is not so much that there is no change, as our attention is elsewhere.
There are multiple influencers on our relationship, It is a composite of our commitment, love, view of what marriage is and should be, family influences, friends, society, etc. Additionally, that the relationship is a composite of these from both us and our partner. With both of us changing moment by moment and all the inputs from other sources shifting as well, how can the relationship itself not change? At the same time, we all expect our relationship to be the bedrock upon which we build our lives together, a source of stability in a world that is constantly delivering the unexpected. The question becomes, how can our relationship remain stable and changing at the same time? This raises the deeper question of what is the stability for which we are truly craving?
It is our desire to believe that our relationship will be a constant source of stability that is often the starting point for our relationship problems. Our first hope is that we will be in love forever, riding the wave of our partners experience of us as amazing, outstanding, inspirational, and so on. Our true hope is that we can rely on the security of their love as we experience it, while we are “ in love” , or a state of Eros (Greek word for passion based love).
Then it gets real, we realize that they do fart, burp, bleed, splatter and are in some regard too messy, too picky, a nag, dont care, whatever starts showing up for us as we slip out of “in love” and into day to day life together. We have a choice at this point, redefine the stability we seek and build it with our spouse OR built stability that meets the demands of the world as they show up. The former usually leads to an alternative relationship, divorce or both. The latter is being proactive vs. reactive in our lives and marriage.
I don’t know about y’all, but no one told me I could be proactive in my marriage, in fact up until the last couple of years I always figured “our love” would carry us through any situation. Though that may be true, it left us in a strictly reactive stance. Reacting to the needs that come up in relationship to the world inevitably means that our relationships stability became, like almost every other couple I have ever met, based in who is going to shop, cook, clean, get the kids to school, manage vacay time, earn more, work less, and almost never about how we were going to learn to communicate better, spend time making sure we each felt loved in our own special ways, are both satisfied in our work, spiritual, social and marital lives (proactive). The end result was we ended up being highly effective at managing our families concrete needs and as a couple began to live parallel lives finding satisfaction in our work more than our marriage.
Marriages that evolve on these lines are at risk even though everything seems to be copacetic on the surface. Most of my clients have been highly functional as a couple in the world and are surprised when there is breakdown on the emotional level. One member wakes up and smells the relationship coffee, they get it that thought all the gears of their lives are turning, that something that was present in the beginning of the marriage is no longer there and they either look inwards or outwards for what’s missing. GIven that all the focus has been outward, in reaction to the world, nine times out of ten they decide the problem is their spouse and look for satisfaction in other people, drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, work, spiritualism, you name it.
Because the couple has been living in reaction to the world and measuring success of the relationship by how well they negotiate what is being thrown at them as they work towards their goals in that context, they often begin to lose sight of why it is they fell “in love”. They chalk up this new way of living to what naturally happens to marriages over time, that the “romance” becomes less as life gets more real.
Alternately, they wig out because they are no longer “in love” and seek to return to that state. They figure they married the wrong person, because true love is eternal Eros and with the right person they will have that. These folks either become repeat marriers, or they give up on marriage altogether, because guess what, Love is meant to evolve with our marriage and Eros is only one facet of love. If we live in Eros forever, its being an eternal adolescent and that’s just now how we are wired. We are constantly growing and changing as individuals and we are meant to! Love also grows and develops with us OR it withers on the vine because we get so wrapped up in the concrete day to day affairs of life, that we forget to nurture our spirits, our live, and therefore our relationship.
In order to make our marriage sustainable and something we can rely on, we will become proactive in nurturing ourselves and it. Yes of course we need routines to meet our concrete commitments in life and we also need a battle plan for developing our love and our relationship, for protecting it and nurturing it as we both develop and grow with it.