I hear it all the time: marriage, or any form of long term commitment is so hard! In popular media, in adult gatherings, or on Facebook, the lament seems to run along predictable lines: people get bored with one another, people want more excitement and diversity as time goes on, why have children if divorce is so commonplace, etc.
Few people talk about it from the other point of view. What if, instead of instilling boredom, people can actually get more energy and engagement with each other , the longer they stay together? What if it is possible, as we change, grow, and develop as individuals, to actually increase the curiosity and level of discovery in the relationship? What if it is more interesting – and less humdrum – to get to know more and more facets of each other, than to contemplate “moving on” to a new relationship, or opening the marriage to multiple partners?
Not very modern, you say. Perhaps. Or, perhaps this is a neglected dimension in evaluating the benefits of a long term relationship. What if it is more important to cultivate depth and diversity in yourself and others, than to seek excitement or stimulation in new partners?
You are skeptical. Fair enough. Certainly some relationships do need to end. People do out grow each other, or grow in different directions, and need to part ways. This is all quite true, but if you make a commitment first to your own individuation and development, I believe it is entirely possible to find great joy in observing and nurturing a parallel evolution in your significant other.
I have seen many examples of this, in my own life and in my work. It is particularly touching to see a couple who share similar scars of emotional wounding learn to trust and to open up to each other. I was told years ago, “water seeks its own level”. We think we select a mate based on compatible values or physical attraction. In fact, while this has a hand in it, the real “glue” of love is something unspoken, and often unconscious. We choose a mate who will help us work through our emotional barriers and blind spots, one who will give us the space, the love, the respect to do our own work, and develop the trust to share our vulnerabilities.
In the process of peeling away layers of a defensive, proud or false self, we suddenly see deeply into the other person. “Oh, you feel that?” “Really? I always thought you were so confident.” “I had no idea you were so afraid”…..
From this place of evolving trust, sharing, and openness, the wounds of childhood can be healed. Not by depending on the other to do our work for us, but by healing ourselves, and becoming an independent whole person who can reveal himself/herself in all of our dimensions.
Does this mean perfection? Absolutely not. In every individual, in every partnership, there is shadow: the dark side of the personality, or simply that which is unseen. But if the foundation is based on the positive aspects of growth, openness, and joy, patience and stamina emerge, and the tough stuff can be worked through.
From a Jungian perspective, we all have many archetypal personalities within us. Another way of framing this is that we all have multiple personalities or character traits, which vie for dominance in any given situation. In a trusting, long term relationship, as the armor melts, we get to know each other in every possible dimension. Changes and new directions in your partner are not threatening because you are committed to your own growth. Say a woman of middle age drops her career as an engineer to become a landscape designer (trading her inner Athena for the earth goddess, Demeter), or a man who has devoted every ounce of energy to family and profession embraces his inner Orpheus and picks up a guitar. Rather than be threatened when a new archetype surfaces, these transitions can be embraced with enthusiasm and support.
“I love you,” a partner might say, “I never know what magical new adventure you will discover next!”
Not that the changes have to be terribly dramatic. The most delightful, devoted, and animated couple I know had a very quiet life together, raising children, loving their grandchildren, spending their senior years reading to each other from the New York Times, or simply watching birds and butterflies cross their back yard. These people loved life on an equal scale, and lived every moment as an opportunity for discovery, humor, and hope. They shared this approach together, for forty wonderful years.
A role model for us all in the modern, creative possibilities of long term love.