Five Lessons I’ve Learned About Relationships by Bob Lowry
After 40 years of marriage I have learned a few things along the way that have proven helpful. Actually, there are a lot more than five lessons, but I know your time is limited, so I will stick with a few of the biggies. You are welcome to try them out. If you don’t, you can’t say I didn’t warn you!
1. You can’t change another person, only how you react and relate to that person. One of the myths of marriage that engaged and newlywed folks fall for every time is that you can change the person you are planning on spending the rest of your life with. He or she may have some habits that annoy you, or character traits that aren’t all that warm and fuzzy. Given enough time and energy, you can remake that person into the model spouse you want.
Reality check: that is not going to happen. Assuming you are a functioning adult, there are traits and habits that you have brought with you into a new relationship. Sure, you can learn to put the toilet seat down, or not chew with your mouth open. You can take some hints about your choice of pairing plaid pants with striped shirts. Purple highlights in your hair may have been cool in college, but can be distracting at the PTA meeting.
A solid relationship is built on one person relating and accepting another. If you look upon the other half of your team as a project, I wouldn’t plan on making it to 40 years together. Acceptance and compromise are the keys.
2. Each person requires private time. Retirement often exposes an inconvenient truth: 24/7 of you is too much of you. No matter how much you are in love, how compatible the two of you are, or how much you find each other’s quirks endearing, an individual must have some private time and space.
Think of a relationship sort of like raising a kid. When the relationship first starts (the child is born) he or she wants and needs to be with you all the time. Normally around 8 or 9 years old, that child begins to become his own person. He needs you in his life, but he also needs to develop his own friends, interests, and abilities. Smothering a youngster doesn’t work well. Neither does a relationship. “Us” time and “Me” time are both required for a relationship to last.
3. A static relationship is one that is dying. You have heard the line in countless movies or TV shows: “You’ve changed. You aren’t the person I married!” Well, let’s hope not. Life is designed to change us, hopefully for the better, but change is going to happen. A relationship must change with it.
Echoing point #1, accepting and relating to someone else as they mature and develop is part of the bargain, and part of the excitement. You and your significant other will change how you feel, how you think about things, even how you want to live. Some of this will occur together, some as individuals. Moving forward is inevitable, so it is best to jump on board.
4. The little things always matter. Whether your relationship is 4 months or 40 years old, certain things never grow old. Appreciation for a well-cooked meal, a thorough cleaning of the garage, or even a kind word to an in-law remain important. So does common courtesy, a flower arrangement for no particular reason, dinner out after a hard day, a foot massage…you get the point. Something that shows you are thinking of the other person enough to take that extra, unprompted step always matter.
5. Please and Thank You are still the magic words. We are never too old or too comfortable in a relationship to not use the “magic words” we learned in kindergarten or from mom and dad. I am not sure how this was measured, but a study shows a 50% increase in effort among co-workers who are graced with these words during the course of a project. A relationship benefits as well. Beyond simply being polite, using these words shows an awareness of their importance as a human being, worthy of appreciation.
By Bob Lowry