Is my relationship working?
Why do relationships break down? And if they do is it necessarily a bad thing?
Most of us have an idea of what we want from a relationship but is it an ideal or a realistic hope? How often do we share our thoughts on relationships with the woman or man who may become our partner?
As you may have noticed the first two paragraphs consist of questions. Perhaps a reflection of a therapist writing an article (always wondering) or maybe it’s how we all generally approach relationships, with concerns, worries - will we get it right and what happens if it goes wrong?
What I do know is that I have yet to come across a fairytale relationship. You know the one - we never argue; he/she is always thinking about my needs first; we have a lovely home and we earn enough to get the kids into a good school and, of course, the kids, his/her parents are divine and the neighbours are no problem.
Unfortunately life happens and our fairytales are challenged. We all make mistakes. The ability of our relationship to survive, I believe, is not based on our sexual attraction but our respect for the other. It is based on whether we can forgive the other and importantly it is based on how we communicate. Not just talking, but also listening to each other.
Relationships usually start because we fancy the other person - hormone driven I’m afraid. We call it ‘falling in love’. But to be realistic it is actually our animal instincts taking over and we are actually falling ‘in lust’. These first few months are great (and for some can become addictive and hence they fall in love with falling in love). Nature has programmed us to find a suitable mate, pair up and produce offspring.
Society, however, needs us to do more. Which is where the pressure comes in. We are expected to pair up for life and to be monogamous. This can be achieved but it needs work and commitment. And realism. The ideal that we will be all lovey-dovey for the next 40 years is unlikely. But we can remain in love. We can want to be with each other.
But it is important to remember that at 50 you’re not the same hormone-fuelled, sex-focused 20 year-old that you may subconsciously still think you are. Physical intimacy is different after being with the same person for some time. Celebrate and enjoy this. We change over our lifetime and so expect your partner to do so too. Talk and listen to each other and don’t expect him/her to be a mind-reader just because you have lived together for 15 years.
Sometimes your relationship may reach a diversion sign and you can’t figure your way forward from your life’s experience map. Talking to friends and learning from their experiences may help but be conscious of their potential bias. Counsellors, because they have studied life maps as professionals, may also be able to discuss different new routes with you. But remember it’s your life, your decision and although the counsellor will work with you, they won’t tell you what to do.
This can be scary but it’s part of growing up - even if you are 50 years old! And usually, even if it is painful, we find the best way forward for us. That may mean a road by yourself or it could mean a changing relationship that you and your partner work together on.