Whether it was your first heart-break in middle school, your first big misunderstanding with the one you thought-was-the-one or reality moving in along with your partner, at some point you learned that relationships aren’t easy.
That staying together requires a lot more effort than getting together.
And that relationships are a challenge no matter what the circumstances.
So what is it that makes relationships so hard?
Most of us walk around like an M&M, safely tucked inside a hard shell that is resistant to melting. Yet, melt is exactly what we must do if we want to establish an intimate connection. And it’s scary to reveal yourself in all your inner glory; you risk wounding or even worse, rejection. Maintaining vulnerability is a continual task. It takes sustained effort and intention to refrain from becoming closed off.
The best relationships are when both partners aren’t afraid to call the other out on their sh*t and when each is willing to listen. A relationship won’t make it far if you think you have nothing to learn. It’s not easy to lay down your defenses and admit your wrongdoings. It’s difficult to apologize and release the ego. It’s even harder to utter, “You’re right” and be happy saying it because it means you learned something.
One of the most humbling realizations in any relationship is that your partner is an individual, with his or her own free will. Unlike those thousands of (mostly young and always naive) Twitter followers that declare, “I don’t believe in divorce. You mad? Go to the other room and we’re going to talk this out.” Because the truth is, apart from kidnapping, your partner may not want to go to the other room and talk it out. Relationships require that you share a life while accepting that you also live separate lives. Not an easy balance.
We all carry wounds and patterns from the past into our relationships. Whether you were the peacemaking middle child in your family and now you try to avoid conflict in your marriage or you experienced infidelity and now you have trouble trusting, your past experiences shape your current situation. If those issues aren’t addressed and tamed, they will choke out the relationship with their tenacity. It’s difficult to face these problems; often we would rather pretend they are absent or inconsequential. It takes courage to unpack your past.
We all have expectations of what relationships look like. We grew up watching marriages play out on television and watched our parents’ marriage evolve (or devolve) in front of our eyes. We often makes assumptions that our partners have the same expectations for marriage without taking the time to ask and find out (After all, what if they have a different image? That’s a scary reality to face.). When different expectations collide, the fallout can be devastating.
In the beginning, your partner was probably on a pedestal only because you didn’t know any better. Then at some point, you learned that this one wasn’t perfect either. In fact, you realized that he or she had all kinds of quirks and irritating traits. But you know what? You do too. And a successful relationship means accepting the messy, imperfect and often infuriating humanness of your partner. Without rubbing their noses in it.
Relationships are not stagnant. Just when you finally learn how to talk with your partner about money without falling into a blame/defensive pattern, something changes. And then you have to change in kind. There is no status quo. It takes energy and effort to grow. And the most difficult reality you may find you have to adapt to is that your relationship may not have staying power. And the lessons learned from one relationship may be applied in the next.
Yes, relationships are challenging.
And it is that challenge that also makes them so wonderful.
Because they push us to become stronger.
Teach us to become wiser.
And humble us to become kinder.