(inspired by this post on Movable Peechie)
Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of relationships. I’ve dated homebodies, party gals, nurses, musicians, students, techie geeks and many other types of women. I’ve dated women older than me and younger than me. Women who are better traveled, better educated or better cooks. Richer, poorer, more introverted, more extroverted. Taller, shorter, bigger, smaller. A rather varied assortment.
When reviewing all of the relationships, what made some stand out, last longer, and/or be more rewarding than others?
There was some kind of mutual challenging going on within the relationship.
In the case of my marriage, we manufactured many of our challenges. We moved in together, started looking for homes, planning the wedding, built (and designed a bit) our own home. I had professional challenges during this time; I started a new job that on my first weekend required two 12-hour days and many, many hours afterward. My wife had the same kinds of personal/professional challenges the whole time. Within a month we moved out of our apartment, got married on a cruise ship in the middle of the Caribbean, closed on our new home, unpacked, had Thanksgiving bringing together both families AND had a celebratory open house for the extended family to house warm and share the joy of the wedding.
After the holidays, we had trouble manufacturing the same challenges. Work slowed down and became more predictable for both of us, the house was in our hands and while we had stuff to do, we didn’t have tons of cash to finish many of the things we wanted to at the time. Everything became predictable and regular; I don’t think either of us could stand it. In our idleness, we realized that we really had very little in common…and what we did have in common became contests to see who knew more about what. Not the kind of healthy challenge that builds strong bonds, for sure. A year after we got married, we decided to divorce.
How do I avoid falling into a similar trap again? The key, I think, is to look for a certain challenging environment within the relationship. Challenges outside the relationship bring us together, but they will eventually pass. Although things change, I hope the two of us will be together forever. Our partner needs to hold our attention, our interest for the remainder of our lives.
While it is a good idea to have a certain amount of shared interests, it is just as important to have interests that you each retain possession. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t share your interests with a partner - that’s where part of the challenge comes in. Introduce me to things I’ve never done or experienced before. If you’re into art, share with me the results of your labor so I may appreciate and shower you with praise. The other side of the challenge is to feel safe enough to accept the criticism of the other. I may not enjoy all of your work, I may not enjoy going to monster truck rallies. However, life will continue to be more and more interesting as it is explored. Things won’t get boring. Idleness will be something to be enjoyed together on a cold January weekend, not to be avoided in an uncomfortable way.