As I mentioned in a previous post, I will be returning to the topic of commitment and relationships as I process the experiences of those around me lately. I shared my original post on Facebook, and the comments I received were enlightening:
A fellow teacher connected the way we coddle children to relationships later in life: "One thought which popped into my head was a question I ask my students and a unit we write on in class...ARE WE RAISING A NATION OF WIMPS? Society doesn't allow kids to learn through failure and work through adversity. I can't write about what we see constantly at work! Bottom line...kids are learning and being raised in a society where all the bumps are smoothed out for them. We have to let kids FALL so they can learn."
The wife of my youth pastor as a child remarked, "Love is a commitment, an act of the will. Not an emotion. I think that is where many marriages run into trouble. When we get married or say yes to any worthwhile relationship we are saying we are here for you, we are here to serve, we are here to sacrifice, we are here to work through things alongside of."
Another friend added that the marriage vow comes with grace to work through challenging times because "it surely doesn’t feel like wine and roses sometimes and those times can last for extended periods."
That last concept -- that it's not all wine and roses -- is my focus today. I recently listened to a Super Soul podcast in which Oprah Winfrey interviewed happiness expert Shawn Achor. Achor's spent twelve years at Harvard teaching and studying the concept of happiness, especially in connection with success. The topic of his and Oprah's conversation was not specifically marriage, but as I listened, I couldn't help but make my own connection to the topic of relationships that has been rattling around in my brain for a while.
Achor uses the ancient Greek definition of happiness, which is: "the joy you feel striving toward your potential."
Let's unpack this, because it's gold. First of all, happiness is not a static state, a place of arrival. Instead of a destination, happiness is a journey; joy is a journey. I think too often we have a concept of happiness as a state in which we have no problems, no stress, no discomfort. And we expect our partner to provide that for us. That alone is placing an unreasonable expectation on someone we are supposed to love -- we are setting them up to disappoint us if we expect them to create a utopia for us.
Next, joy journey is not just a capricious road trip -- it's "striving toward your potential." It's consciously wanting to become a better person. The soulmate by your side helps us see that potential, helps us to reach that potential, becomes part of that potential. But it takes more than illustrated quote posters shared on social media and anniversary cards once a year. It takes rolling up your sleeves and having tough conversations. It takes being open and vulnerable with someone you can trust with your heart and soul -- broken and battered as they may be. It also takes being a trusted caretaker of their heart and soul, too.
Many times when a couple breaks up, we hear one (or both) say, "I wasn't happy." I have to wonder if our definition of happiness could affect our expectations in marriage. I believe there is a real difference between doing the work of love day in and day out and getting nowhere with a partner who isn't trying -- and whimsically leaving a relationship to trade in for something that seems more fun in the moment. I believe this because I did the real work of love for years and the result was feeling alone and used. When I said I wasn't happy, it wasn't on a whim -- it was a monumental decision that took me months to finally articulate and execute. I was not striving toward my potential -- I was striving toward my demise.
And I am even more aware of these distinctions now that I am in a healthy, loving relationship with a partner who is as committed to our success as he is to his own. This leads me to a second point that might truly need its own post, but I will move on anyway. :)
I have written about this before as well, but I have become increasingly aware of rampant selfishness in our society, and the effects on relationships can be deadly. In this i-Generation, we are losing our ability to listen without distraction, our willingness to put others first, and our appreciation of community. Instead, we see people who pride themselves on being "antisocial" or we hear people boldly proclaim that they are "self-centered." In a relationship, if both people are only focused on themselves and their own desires, the result is a disjointed, disconnected, dysfunctional mess.
More often, it seems as though one person tends to want the relationship to work while the other wants the relationship to benefit them. When you are unequally yoked with a partner who is only focused on themselves, then it's impossible to pursue your potential.
SO... if we humans have these flaws, what can we do to make them right? I will be the first to admit that I do not have all the right answers. Ask my fiancé -- I apologize for being selfish, weak, jealous, insecure, petty, and impatient on a regular (and I mean regular!) basis. But, maybe that's part of the answer, too. If you can't admit your worst flaws to you partner, what else aren't you sharing? If you can't share who you really are, then the journey isn't authentic.
I had a great chat with a friend I don't get to see nearly enough yesterday, and our conversation turned to the topic of marriage. We both agreed that a crucial part of making a relationship work is finding -- and making -- moments of intimacy with each other. In our hectic lives, we can easily fall into the trap of the to-do list and the me-centeredness that fool us into thinking we are successful. As we raise children, alone time seems to be non-existent, but when your partner is a priority, you find moments, even if it's just a text message expressing how you feel or a few moments of talking before falling asleep together.
I can only hope, Dear Reader, that as I have rambled on for a few posts now, that something I've said resonated with you. I, too, am trying to make sense of the world around me, and I thank you for listening. May the coming new year bring you joy in the journey, in the pursuit of happiness, in the striving for your potential.