Hanging in There—Joy and Pain from Long-Term Relationships
New people are easy. You meet them, you chat, you get to know each other—there’s no long-term baggage or expectations. There’s also no lingering bad blood or long-term irritants. It’s a fresh canvas and you’re both painting. But as time goes on, you develop a history. Much of that history is likely very good—you wouldn’t stay connected so long if it wasn’t. You may have periods where you don’t see each other that much, but when you do get back together it seems that no time has passed. You pick up right where you left off. You have a true and solid connection with each other, and it’s part of who you are. But there are also elements of the relationship that aren’t ideal. It may be a personality quirk that irritates you (and irritates you more over time). It may be a certain belief or opinion they have that doesn’t jibe with your worldview, and they have to bring it up. It may be some incident in your past that’s hard for you to let go. The relationship is not all wine and roses, but ultimately, no relationship is.
Hanging in there—when the pot boils over
In any long-term relationship, there will be times when things go south. Something about a person may irritate or anger you, and circumstances can collude to make that part of your dynamic the overriding influence on your relationship. A certain attribute of a person or an incident between you may override any other aspects of the relationship. One of those aspects gets under your skin and that’s all you can think about. All of the stability that came from relationship building is forgotten, and for the present, all that’s left is the negative part that’s in your face. This happened to someone close to me just recently. She and a good friend had a disagreement and each had a different perception of events. Feelings were hurt and they both felt great anger. At the time of this writing, there’s still a great rift between them, and neither is willing to step forward and try to heal the breach yet. Although they have a long history of friendship, trust, and affection, all they can focus on now is the circumstances surrounding the argument. This happens all the time, but very often, once they get through these difficult moments, the friendship becomes stronger than it was before. When people go through difficult times like this, they form the mortar that makes their bond stronger.
When they’re no longer part of your day-to-day
Some people stay in your life, but not in your day-to-day life. It’s natural to think that the people you see every day are the people you’re closest to, but that’s not always the case. You might have people you see because it’s easy or convenient, but easy doesn’t always mean close, and close doesn’t always mean frequent. I only see some of my best friends once or twice a year, and sometimes even less. When you get to a certain point in some relationships, time spent in their company almost becomes less important. They become part of who you are, and so they’re with you all the time, even if they’re not physically present. My best friend from high school is one of those people. We’ve gone years without seeing each other, but when we get back together, it’s like no time has passed, and his influence on my life has been significant enough that he is always present for me. When we do get together, it’s like icing on the cake.
Connected at the hip
On the other side of the coin are relationships that are day-to-day and very close. These include family, partnerships, and marriages. Some of these, such as family members, are not chosen. We can choose our friends, but we can’t choose our family. People strive to keep family ties strong, and a lot of the time it works. A shared culture and context often makes for like-minded people who enjoy each other’s company and see each other all the time. Long-term partnerships and marriages are also close relationships, but these we enter into by choice. Ideally, we have developed these relationships over time, nurtured them as they evolved, and ultimately decided to formalize them in a long-term commitment. We see these people every day and spend more time with them than anyone else.
In any of these kinds of relationships, there will be joy, but by their very nature, there will also be strife—it’s part of the bargain. Sometimes that strife seems to be the most significant part of the dynamic, and it can even seem that it is all that is left in the relationship. It may be difficult to face. But it’s also possible to rethink the strife in those relationships as a necessary step in honing them into something more—something better. Through disagreements and even anger, you’re learning more about each other and laying the foundation for a relationship that’s even more special—IF you’re willing to be patient, keep an open mind, and keep communication channels open. It doesn’t mean the hard times will be fun, but like anything in your life that’s worthwhile, it takes hard work and sacrifice.
Not all relationships last, nor should they, but those that do last are special. They’ve lasted through the challenges and heartache and come out the other side as something that is an integral part of both of you.