There is a common cartoon, with many variations, showing a woman making a pie. The man is commenting that she made the pie for years thinking all the time that he liked this kind of pie. And now, after 30 years he was hardly going to tell her the truth which was no, he did not like the pie.
We might ponder the myriad of reasons why he never told her before. Or, why she did not check it out to see if he still liked it. Or, why did she still do it? What else did this mutual lie cover up? And, could it be a metaphor for the rest of their relationship?
From this example, we can see that long-term relationships acquire different challenges as they go along. People get into ruts and routines that can be damaging. People might forget kindness and consideration. Perhaps they talk to each other like they would never talk to anyone else. They are like the proverbial old shoes and do not change into the ones needing care and carefulness. Their interactions are old and boring. They are both unconscious and maybe unable to get out of the golden handcuffs they rely upon. They are trapped by their mutual construction. The relationship no longer can hobble along. What seemed like security is choking both out. Creativity halts. Mutual dreams are on hold. Sex has long gone by the wayside.
Obviously they could leave. But equally and obviously they could stay. They could do the growth and development path that will lead to greater personal and relationship. They could share dreams, set aside time to talk daily, focus on emotions not merely on events, create a surprise, do the spontaneous and unexpected and help each other. And, intentionally re-engage in affection and sexual attention.
When a relationship retains its viability partners are able to switch roles, on both outer and inner levels. The one who was not overtly emotional may become more so. The partner, who did the books, may not want to continue on and prefers to plan the trip or make a new garden. In other words, through life we come to use and develop those characteristics we loved in our partner that also lays within ourselves. We become more whole by using these parts and this becomes a means to access the development of our personality. Why else are we in relationships? Love quite necessarily includes the expansion of who we are.
We can keep a relationship full of life by treating each day as if it was the beginning that it actually is. The challenge to this is that you approach your partner with new eyes. This means the preconceived notions and emotions of how that person will react or respond are tabled and we begin to listen with open ears. You and your partner have a chance to participate with each other in a cleaner fashion. And, the change in actions and attitudes brings with it focus and attention, closely and carefully and lovingly.
It is through the problems that we come to see how things can be bettered. As we attend to places within ourselves that need growth we become closer to our partner. Our reliance on each other becomes the kind of dependence that is mutual and mutually rewarding. This makes a relationship of many years a renewed one that holds mutual support to keep on growing.
Susan E. Schwartz, Ph.D.