By Marcee Murray King
“God gave us our spouses to work out our own salvation,” one of my favorite priests, Father Dennis, told me during my confession.
My confession had something to do with my partnership. Often, I was either frustrated with him or frustrated with myself for always feeling whiny, selfish and all about me. Really, Fr. Dennis’ words are the best summation of the work in a long-term relationship: it is truly our spiritual playground where we each work out our own karma.
Our relationship a very loving one and I feel so fortunate, but it is truly hard work…and we have both grown and changed so much over the years.
I watch folks break up after 7 years, 15 years, 20 years and longer…and while sometimes I think, “Oh thank GOD! Why did that train wreck take so long to end?”, I mostly have the opposite reaction: one of sadness. I wonder why they didn’t wait, work through it and grow more. Often these folks quickly end up re-partnered with someone new, and when the New Relationship Energy wears off and the real work begins again, the same issues also appear again…as does the same desire to escape the new relationship and move on.
Being “devoutly” Eastern Orthodox Christian Hindu Buddhist Pagan-ish, I draw upon spiritual guidance from many resources when it comes to life and relationships. And, after being in a long-term relationship for almost 35 years, let me be honest with you—it is the hardest damned spiritual work I have ever done.
I have gone back and forth between not being able to imagine life without him, to not being able to imagine how I will ever make it through another year with him, and he is truly a sweet, kind man. I have heard over the years from others how lucky I am to have him and how jealous they are of our relationship. I often laugh and say, “Ah, if you only knew!”
Long-term relationships are truly challenging, nothing like the romantic fantasy we were all fed when we were young, and if we had known 35 years ago what we know now, I think it would have been so much easier for both of us.
1. Partner Up With Your Best Friend
Long-term relationships that people always seem to want but rarely can stick with these days are hard work. It is often far easier to break up with or divorce a partner or spouse than to go through the pain, suffering and work that is needed. But if that person is your best friend, how do you leave them? Who will you do your crossword puzzle with in the morning while drinking hot coffee and tea?
True friendship will carry you through those times when passion and attraction won’t. It goes without saying that jumping into a relationship with someone you don’t know well doesn’t usually work out well at any age! Our close friendship has carried us through the darker times over the years and has been our anchor.
2. Expect to Be Disappointed OR Expect Nothing and You Won’t Be Disappointed
It’s that simple. You will both disappoint each other over and over. The more expectations you have of how the other person should behave in order to make you happy, the more disappointed you will be. Ultimately, your happiness depends upon you and the decisions you make, growing yourself more. And relationships are the perfect playground for growing yourself more.
3. Help and Support the Other, but Don’t Be a Fixer
This advice holds true with everyone: We need to help and support each other in life, but it is not our place to fix another person. That is their work to do, and our job is to support them on this journey. That being said, sometimes our partners—or ourselves—get into such a deep dark hole that we do need to do a bit more than help and support to get out of that hole. It’s tossing out a lifeline, but the lifeline still needs to be grabbed onto by the other person.
4. Before You React, WAIT!
This comes from YogiRaj Charles and Vivi Bates’ work.It invites us to look at all situations, especially those with conflict, and ask ourselves, “Where Am I In This?” We try to discover the role we are playing in the dynamic or why it is a trigger for us and tease it out. It doesn’t mean we are taking on full responsibility for another’s actions, but it does allow us a closer look into our part in and response to whatever is happening or the triggers for us. This helps us communicate in a more open and loving manner.
5. “Look For The Love, Not For The Answers”
Penelope Stokes wrote this in a book I read years ago. I can’t remember the book, but the quote was important enough that I wrote it on our kitchen cabinet, and honestly remind myself of this daily in all my relationships, in my work life, when I am out running errands, etc. It is so important to try and focus on finding where the love is in all situations, because in the middle of the darkness, there is still always love to be found.
6. (Again) God Gave Us Our Spouses to Work Out Our Own Salvation
Damned karma! Really though, in all situations, our life’s lessons and work are found in our relationships with others. We just can’t learn in isolation, but in relationships. With patience, love and humor we grow into the people we always have wanted to be.
And we can grow old together, still in love.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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