“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” -Robert Heinlein
Momentously. Fantastically. Stupendously… We are now all in it together. Hooray! Everyone can now be legally married- if only the right to marriage was sufficient for sustaining marital bliss. But alas, making a life together that works over time remains one of the elusive goals for our culture and it doesn’t seem to matter much whether the people are heterosexual or homosexual, men or women. My hope is that we can now focus our attention on the real issue of what makes the union between two people work. How do those people successfully create and sustain a family strong enough to provide a foundation for whatever progeny comes out of the union? But even more, how do they create something that sustains the original pair?
The question is complicated – first and foremost because we are human, and we bring with us, into all of our relationships, all that is unresolved and often unseen in our heart. Honestly, not one of us escapes the wounds of growing up and growing old; so it is no surprise that when we combine our invisible unmet needs with that of another’s we create either an opportunity for healing and growth or a frustrating, painful experience of missing each other. Layered on top of this essential healing work is the misbegotten ideal that there is some traditional way, i.e. unchanging way that relationships or marriage should work. The truth is that like everything else that humans do, the ideal of relationship and how it works or should work has and continues to change.
So the question is not whether marriage will or has changed, but rather how can we proactively work towards change that makes our relationships a more resilient and inspiring container to live within? Here are four points of departure to re-think your relationship container:
Get over falling in love
This is the point of premature death for a huge percentage of relationships and is really tied to the fact that the human body can only sustain the high hormone production time of falling in love for so long, then the body reverts to a different kind of hormonal production that allows the couple to find a stable, healthy ongoing attachment. Just because it feels different than the falling phase, doesn’t make it less love.
Rather, it becomes a different kind of love in which attachment and intimacy deepens as you work at it. It isn’t the free ride kind of love that falling gives you, but it is a rewarding substitute that is sustainable.
Grow your brain by exerting your will
Neuroplasticity is the capacity for the brain to change, not only the kinds of thoughts you have, but even the physical structure itself. And this kind of monumental change is subject to one’s will. Human willpower once set in a direction changes lives. Decide to change yours and witness the miraculous shifts that can and will occur in your relationship container. Start with something easy, like never saying a mean thing to your partner again and see what happens. I promise, you will be amazed. And like giving up sugar or any other addictive substance, the first few days are the hardest.
Strive for witnessing and creating equality
The deepest aspects of our being crave fairness and nowhere more persistently than with the people we love the most. Despite our best efforts, things rarely fall 50-50 whether in financial, household chores or parenting, but recognizing and working towards equity is a powerful bonding agent that grows trust in the relationship you are creating. Start by acknowledging one place in your relationship that needs more balance and have the courage to say it out loud. See what happens.
Commit to making sex the glue that holds you
Long-term relationships are the safest space to satisfy sexual desires and grow our capacity for erotic intrigue. And yet, getting over the hump between falling in love and being love is often a barrier that eliminates the physical intimacy that relationships need to stay strong. Making a commitment to yourself to creating a sex life that works for both partners seems so simple, but is harder than it looks on face value. When your sexual commitment becomes firm like another aspect of basic hygiene or self-care, then excuses fall away and what you are left with is the naked challenge of evolving your erotic capacity and giving it to the person you promised to love.
Sustaining a long-term relationship is not always easy, but it is the most important work we will do, for ourselves, for each other and for our families. Commit to trying these things and watch your love grow stronger than ever.