April 15, 2017

5 lessons I've Learned About Relationships


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.


11 comments:

  1. Now that B and I live in a one-bedroom condo, I certainly agree with #2. But don't #1 and #3 contradict each other a little bit? It seems to me that people change over time, and if they love each other and (perhaps even more importantly) like each other, they kind of merge, as you suggest, in many of their approaches to life, even in their daily activities.

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    1. I think the difference is, who is initiating the change? If I attempt to change Betty in some important way, that isn't going to work. But, if she changes how she thinks about something or how she chooses to use her time, my choice is to accept and support those changes as best as I can, or resist. I contend that the latter won't work. Yes, points ! and 3 are related, but the difference is the point of origin.

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  2. Dave and I grew up with change. His dad was transferred fairly often and my mother married a lot. Neither of us have ever been able to relate to someone who never moved in their life. Dave followed in his dad's footsteps and we moved frequently. Fortunately, we were used to change and that included the changes in each other. Retirement does challenge some of your points, for sure. Thankfully we do have different interests that make life interesting.
    b

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    1. Like you, I moved a lot growing up. After marriage, Betty and I changed homes seven times in the first ten years, but then became much more rooted: 3 moves in the next 30 years. Adapting to new communities and each other, plus two kids along the way, does have a tendency to get one to accept change.

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  3. After 55 years of marriage, I've learned the golden rule for men seeking harmony in the relationship: Say, "Yes, dear. You're right" as often as possible.

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    1. 55 years....congrats to you and your wife, Dick. You obviously have taken that golden rule to heart.

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  4. Dealing with #2 now with 12/31/16 retiree husband of 43 years - hope he finds something to do when not fishing weather!

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    1. Trust me, you are not alone. The newly retired spouse can be overly dependent for awhile.

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  5. I asked a friend about what her secret was to such a long and successful marriage. She said, "I realized that I need to say thank you for things that I didn't think I need to say thank you for." That seemed like great advice for relationships and also for life in general!

    About the little things, I remember so fondly that a special person in my life would offer to clean my glasses. Such a little thing, but it always touched my heart.

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    1. Those two examples are perfect. It is the little things that make such a big difference.

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  6. These are great, Bob. And I think Number One should be taught in the schools. :-) The private time thing (#2) has always mattered to me, but it's particularly relevant now that we're both retired. I still see it in my 85 yo mother and her husband. Too much togetherness is lethal.
    --Hope

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