How long does it take to create a shared history?
I think I finally have an answer.
In many ways, losing the shared history that I had with my first husband was even harder than losing my first husband. Because a shared history is something distinctive. The best and most memorable moments coexisting in both people, creating an intimacy unique to the couple. Time has eroded all of the rough edges of the reality, leaving only the pearls.
A year after he left, I no longer missed him at all.
But I desperately missed the existence of a shared history.
And that’s a terribly isolating feeling.
Even as I was falling in love with my now-husband, I was lonely. I wasn’t sure why at first. We spent a great deal of quality time together, he was attentive and we were having a great time getting to know each other and taking the baby steps towards a shared life.
So why did I sometimes look at him and feel as though he was miles away?
It’s because he didn’t speak the language of my former shared history. I would have the overwhelming urge to bring up an old inside joke or remember a former shared experience. And even though I was falling for this man, this was a particular language he would never know.
In good relationships, the shared history is near the surface. Stories told and retold. Memories remembered. It’s a way to snug the laces holding two people together by recalling the happy times, the times of overcoming and the times you’re glad are over.
And that urge to share doesn’t end as soon as the relationship does. Leaving you feeling as though you’ve abruptly dropped in a foreign country and nobody else understands your native tongue.
As time when on, I slowly forgot some of my earlier language. The urge to speak it lessened as my old shared history became less important and less in the forefront.
There was space to create a new shared history – one with my new partner. I was ready. But the creation of a shared history cannot be rushed.
So how long does it take to fully form a shared history?
The kind that has fully developed rituals to reflect back on and look forward to?
The kind that can provide an abundance of happy moments to recall?
The kind that has shared words and shared jokes that prompt a feeling of intimacy and love?
The kind that possesses narratives of the partners overcoming adversity together?
Right around five years.
Now, obviously a shared history is not operated by a switch – now you don’t have it, now you do. It grows over time, like a savings account with consistent deposits. But just like like savings account, there comes a moment when you step back and realize that all of those small additions have built up to something significant.
Five years is enough time for holiday rituals to become established. Five years is long enough to have a wealth of good memories to pull from and enough adversity to recall the overcoming of it. It’s a span where change is evident – in bodies, in homes, in goals – and reminiscing about the earlier versions can occur. After five years, you have amassed enough photographs and cards and texts to tell the story of your relationship. Now just how it began, but how it evolved.
Five years may feel like a long time. But it’s much shorter than never.
If you’re feeling lonely and isolated after the loss of a shared history, try the following-
-Reconnect with people from your past. It will refresh a different shared history and lessen some of that loneliness.
-If you have kids, be aware that you are helping to build their first shared history. Be intentional and find joy in the history you’re creating with them.
-In the beginning, it’s hard not to voice the shared memories that surface. Be patient with yourself. And then work to lessen their presence. No need to eradicate them, just don’t keep them in the file folder in the front of the mental drawer.
-If you’re starting a new relationship, be patient. It takes time to develop a full shared history. As it is created, nurture it by interacting with it. For example, revisit special restaurants, use nicknames and remind your partner of a time when they really shined.
-Stay busy and engaged. Love your moments and you won’t worry as much about your memories.