We live in a culture sprinkled with “easy” and sure-thing formulas. When an article or ad starts with “secret” or a prescribed number of single digit steps— run for the hills. This approach is nothing new. Some form of this seduction has always been present to separate people from their money, responsibility or reason. The lure appeals to the emotions and hooks the need to feel like Mozart, accomplishing so much with so little effort. If only we got the whole story and a glimpse of all the blood, sweat, and tears that lead to the sublime efforts of “genius.” We’d change our tune.
When you are in your fourth decade as a couple, sometimes a brave young person (usually trying to be nice or make conversation or is considering taking the vow or has one foot in and one foot out of his/her current relationship) asks, “what is the secret to making the relationship last?”
The secret here is to smile and quickly change the subject. If you don’t you may contribute to the same feeling most middle school boys experience upon receiving a summer reading list focusing on great Russian literature. Hold on! That’s heavy stuff! Rescue me, Captain Underpants!
But the question makes me think. And I’m thankful for the asking. But the answers can’t be simplified and continue to pile in on top of the new questions. For much like the higher reaches of living and competence, new lessons abound, and complexity enjoys a warm spot next to you in bed. Kicks you in the middle of the night like your faithful dog having a dream.
So, in keeping with the art of simplicity, here’s a partial list. Sorry it’s double digits and like my “To Do” list it’s really just something that gets added to. The secret is…
- Sincerely apologize (offering specific reasons) to all the people you had relationships before this one. But don’t do it in person.
- Thank all the people you had relationships before this one—they, hopefully, were your teachers. But don’t do it in person.
- Listen much more than you speak. Then listen some more because you probably didn’t get it right the first time.
- Be humble because you are a work in progress.
- Most of the time things will not go your way.
- Keep learning and growing—and wait for each other.
- Much like driving: know where you are heading; don’t let the tank get low; it will always take more time than expected; everyone else out there on the journey is not out to get you or make you miserable; notice the wheel is always adjusting since going places is never a straight line; enjoy the sights; take the long way; don’t text and drive, and keep the radio silent when your partner is a passenger.
- Avoid using driving as a metaphor for significant relationships as you will crash and burn.
- Keep date nights. Always.
- Avoid using always and never.
- Have a place to talk in your home with no electronics.
- Try your best to take “Are you going to wear that?” seriously.
- Call when you are going to be late.
- Keep your promises.
- Embrace aging for in a long-term relationship you will not be young most of the journey.
- Forget 1-16 and just read The Prophet (not The Profit).
- If you don’t want to do 17, then forget everything and read this (then all you will have to do is figure out who is the oak and who is the cypress):
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
Photo credit: Simon Matzinger–Unsplash