After so many years together, my partner and I are reaching a level of understanding and intimacy that I never dreamed possible. When people learn how long we’ve been together, they want to know “What’s your secret?” That’s a topic for a long story we would have to write together, but today I’d like to share a few thoughts.
Like any long-term relationship, we’ve “had our share of ups and downs”. Wonderful romantic moments, travels, joyous and rewarding times with our daughters, personal successes to celebrate together; and on the other side, times when we came very close to breaking up. Our bank of good feelings would become depleted with the stresses and strains of child-rearing, work, and our individual demons. At such times, relationships can easily become the scapegoat: “this marriage isn’t good for me”, or “if only he would change, he’s never going to change”. But somehow, with some luck, some wisdom, some blessings from above, we have managed to keep going forward together. We’ve had some amazing help. Once in a while (on average about once a decade) we sought help in the form of counselors, books, workshops, or just taking time out together. This allowed us get back on track and continue our journey, usually at a higher level of understanding and intimacy. Whenever conflict arises, (and hooray for that: if there’s no conflict how much intellectual stimulation, fun and passion is left anyway?), at least one of us manages to take the high road. Here’s three tips I’d like to share about how that works for us.
- ACCEPT: Remember that you don’t always have to understand what’s gong on with him or her. They have their own sacred landscape, parts you have not yet been privileged to see. Your job is to accept and stay the course. As long as you feel safe and you have openings for communication, you can stay committed to the journey of living and growing together “till death doth you part”.
- WALK AWAY: When you are ready to react badly, saying or doing things you will regret, just walk away, but not too far away or for too long. Just take your leave, with a few words about your intention and find a place to yell, ruminate, call a friend, get a meal, pray, whatever you need to do to weather this particular storm. With luck and a few tools, it should pass within hours.
- COME BACK: Someone has to break the deadlock. It might as well be you. You can be the hero. You don’t know how it will go, so you want to have all that anger, frustration and self-righteousness drained away before approaching. Perhaps you need to make amends? Once you have found some humility a genuine desire to understand and be kind, remembering the goodness, the good times and the future you want together, then you are ready to approach. The reunion is a tender time to walk gently, reach out and listen.
My partner and I are so different we will likely always have occasional conflicts. I accept them as a gift, much preferred to denial and disconnection. This spring, we are attending a marriage retreat down in Washington that my guy has taken the lead on. I can’t help but fall in love with him over and over again.
We have learned that our differences are a strength in the partnership, that we don’t always have to agree or understand the other’s way of thinking or of doing something. That we can each go our own way for a while, take a breather from the closeness and then come back ready to go further, deeper, richer. To stay the course takes effort, and it’s been worth it! Oh, we were married in 1966.