I don’t pretend to be an authority of any kind, but I’ve learned a lot about living with and loving people by doing it. I have been married three times. All three marriages ended in divorce. I did, at least, make different mistakes each time! And I’ve certainly been involved with people who I did not marry. No, really!
I am honored to have enjoyed a fourteen-year life partnership with Sam that was, for most of that time, the deepest and healthiest relationship I ever experienced. I learned a great deal from it.
And over the course of time, I’ve been a custodial and non-custodial mother and stepmother, as well as a step-grandmother. I’ve lived in nuclear families (my parents are still married to each other after all these years) and blended families and on my own (before and after becoming a parent) with and without kids and as part of a couple without kids or one with kids visiting on the weekends. I’ve been in monogamous and intentionally non-monogamous relationships (and those that weren’t intentially non-monogamous, but in which my partner strayed). I’ve been through the remarriage, divorce and death of my daughter’s father. All this stuff adds up to a lot of life lived in 36 years, and that’s before all that I’ve learned from observing others’ relationships. Oh — did I mention that I am apparently related to the entire population of Alabama and most of that of north Georgia? Lots of material right there in the family.
I don’t consider relationships that end or change to be failures. I realize that there is a school of belief that says every romantic relationship is supposed to be “happily ever after.” That’s right up there with the whole “soulmates” meme for causing harm, as far as I’m concerned. (Yes, I’ll address that one at some point.)
People change. Sometimes they change in ways that cause them to no longer be compatible with their partners as partners. The healthiest way to deal with that, I think, is to admit it, mourn the loss, and try to change the relationship to one that does work for all involved. That avoids the drama and hard feelings that come with assuming that such relationships have “failed,” and the concomitant harm from the people involved considering themselves failures.
Relationships are not about winning and losing, or keeping score in any way. They are successful if they contribute to the well-being of those involved in them. That don’t have to last forever to do so.
I am more and more convinced that healthy relationships can only be built by healthy people who know what they want, ask for it (and hold out for it), fulfill their commitments, and are living a very conscious, intentional life. They take work. They take skills that are the same across all relationships, romantic, familial, business, academic, social, you name it. My dear friend Ron and I were talking about the “life curriculum” Sam and I had set up for our kids, and one of the things that he brought up were relationship skills. That wasn’t on my list before, and I realized that their presence is a major contributor to a person’s overall functionality and happiness in life. I’ve been mulling over those, and plan to write up a list of what I consider truly essential and some of the resources that have been most helpful to me some time soon.
I also believe that children are best raised surrounded by people with whom they can have long-lasting relationships. People of all ages, related by blood or not, who care about them. In fact, the more diversity the better, as far as I’m concerned. They’ll be able to connect with people who aren’t their parents, they’ll see how other families live and love, they’ll see how other people parent, they’ll see what other people with different kinds of jobs or educations live. They can ask questions they might not wish to ask their parents. I grew up with a very large extended family. Our children didn’t have that much blood family nearby, but they were surrounded by our family of choice, as we were truly blessed with deep friendships with incredible people.