Recently I discussed my forty plus years of marriage with a young person. He said he couldn't imagine being with one person for that length of time.
It caused me to think about the impact that television and the media is having on young people. No longer are long-term relationships modelled as the norm. Instead, as people change their careers, their hobbies or their opinions, they opt out of current relationships and into new ones where they hope to have more in common with their new partner.
There is a lot of emotional pain and grief in this process which is never acknowledged. It causes people not to fully commit to a relationship as it may not be permanent and not worth investing in. It encourages self-protection and leads to selfishness. The possibility of a long-term relationship is diminished in this context because expectation is limited and people aren't invested.
The advantages of being in a long-term relationship with one person aren't celebrated, but knowing someone over a long time and being able to relax in the security this brings is comforting. Being able to reminisce over shared events, milestones and holidays brings joy. Shared experiences can be laughed over or grieved over together.
It's enriching to our lives to be able to say to our spouse, "do you remember when we were young and ...?" It's enjoyable looking through photo albums and laugh at our clothes and hair fashion choices over the years.
I remember reading the story of a couple whose marriage was in crisis, but during a conversation, a friend mentioned something which caused the couple to remember a funny incident from the earliest days of their marriage. Suddenly they both burst into laughter. The unfortunate friend had no idea why they were laughing.
It was the turning point in the couple's relationship and brought them back together. A history of shared experiences is powerful yet highly underrated.
The challenge of long-term relationships is that over time, most people mature and their priorities change. What was important when they were young, may grow less important as they grow older. Perhaps they had strong political, theological or social ideals as a young person but time and history have mellowed their views, or perhaps life events and health challenges have changed them.
How do you remain in relationship with someone who is different to the person you married?
To maintain a long-term relationship requires focussing on what you have in common and making areas where you differ a lesser priority, while still allowing the other person freedom to pursue these interests. This requires tolerance. Couples won't always spend the entire weekend doing the same activities together but will have enough shared interests to maintain a healthy relationship.
I notice that the older couples I know in long-term relationships have shared interests but, also, individually, they have their own hobbies. Yet, there is a vast variation. Some couples do many things together, while others only a few. All these couples enjoy the time they do spend together but aren't so dependant on each other they can't be apart.
If we don't invest in our relationships now and make the necessary adjustments and sacrifices, we could find ourselves without an important other to share our life with. We may have had a lot of exciting and memorable experiences throughout our lives but if we have no one to share them with, they will prove unrewarding.
Good relationships take time, effort and sacrifice. There are occasions when we give up our first preference to share an experience with another and built a nest egg of memories that we can draw upon as we age.