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Parting Before Til Death Do Us Part – The Challenges of Sustaining Relationships in Today’s World
There was a time when people could make an “until death” promise and actually think it was a meaningful promise. Sadly, today words that once meant “lifelong relationship security” now feel more like childhood fairy tales like “Sleeping Beauty” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”
The society where the story of “Until Death” takes place does not have a 62% divorce rate. In those long gone days, 51% of adults were not alone at any point or involved in a primary relationship. (This summer, Psychology Today ran an article with the 51% stat).
Hubert Humphrey once commented that he had married many women in his life, all named Muriel – which is sweet and true to the way we grow and change over time Reflect, including in long-term relationships. People often get married before they know who they are, so the reasons for choosing a partner are not the same as those that are sustainable in the long run.
People also lack the skills and tools to form long-term relationships. I also believe that it takes the strength of a village to maintain a relationship, just as it takes the strength of a village to raise a child. But our village structure has collapsed. Too many of us—children and adults alike—try to survive the emotional streets of life like savages.
So when I read personal growth and social awareness publishing pioneer Nina Utne’s personal essays and even her marriage breakdown in the March-April 2007 issue of Utne Magazine, I thought I needed to do some deeper reflection if anyone could Count on maintaining long-term relationships in today’s world.
“Eric and I both considered our marriage to be a spiritual one, and its dissolution … made us feel ashamed and required serious spiritual practice,” Utney wrote.
“In all of us, we have spent most of our lives exploring the relationship between personal growth and social change, and having weathered many storms that have led to broken marriages, we should be able to navigate this transition gracefully. But this does not take into account the ‘shenpa,’ which is a Tibetan word for something that triggers us and makes us burst and shut down.”
Sadly, we don’t get the relationship roadmap that lets us know that after we pass through the neurochemical enrichment phase of “new relationship energy” we will enter the shadowlands where our deeper selves will indeed be triggered. Triggers are invitations to learn, grow, heal – emotionally, spiritually and relationally. However, too many relationships break down and fail due to a lack of road maps and navigation tools.
Nina Utne cites a conversation someone had with Margaret Mead about how she felt about a failed marriage. “She responded that she had no failed marriage; she had extraordinary partnerships for different stages of her life.”
While, this may be true for many of us, and it is a very compassionate and perhaps helpful way of dealing with broken partnerships and divorces, seeing part of the contemporary truth still feels in my heart sad.
There is profound value in having another human being by our side in our journey through life. I went through this with one of my mentors who supported my life as it unfolded for 17 years. He was my spiritual father and I can say with complete honesty that our relationship did last until his sudden and unexpected death separated us. While I was saddened by his death, it was easier for me because of our rich 17-year relationship. I feel like I have so much to be thankful for and my tears of sadness are tempered by tears of love.
I am a divorced single mother myself. I’ve been like this throughout my life with my son, more than I can imagine. On the one hand, my ex-husband and I are still “working on things,” which few couples do before a divorce, let alone a divorce. For about 9 years we have been working regularly with a family therapist to help create a safer environment to raise our now 11 year old son.
People are amazed at the commitment we’ve made. However, to me, this is more important than any other agreement on our divorce contract. Our agreement is to participate in this family therapy until our son is in his early 20s. I know this is a promise we will keep.
I believe with all my heart that if two people have children, they have a duty to maintain their relationship for life in the interest of the children. If a couple divorces, they usually have more work to do than married couples. The issues that lead to divorce don’t magically disappear in court. In fact, they often require a little more attention so they don’t turn into something loud and loud day and night.
Sadly, it seems so easy for people to alienate each other, or even run away, without looking at the skeletons in our closets, including the personal closets that accompany us in our committed partnerships. Having a road map, a third party who commits to helping a partner succeed, and a role model for someone who takes the time and the emotional work to maintain and deepen a long-term relationship should be a right into adulthood.
I’ve come to realize that, for me, having a period of intimacy and then not having it is more painful than a long-term relationship ending in the death of my partner.
I had to face this head on a few years ago when a guy I started to see as a potential long-term partner was diagnosed with cancer 6 weeks into our relationship. I remember my therapist asking me, “Do you want to continue working with this person who might die?” I found myself saying, “I’m not afraid he’s going to die. We’re all going to die eventually. In fact, I really want to Chance to do it until death do us part. I’m more afraid it won’t be me losing him to death. I’m more afraid I won’t be able to do anything until death do us part.”
Sadly, after only being a partner for about 2 years after becoming one with our family and life, he decided he didn’t want a long term partner at all. I literally walked by his side during cancer surgery and treatment. While cancer became a long-term chronic disease, our relationship didn’t stay with him for long.
I feel both sad and paradoxical that I have the opportunity to use my deep relationship skills to help other couples navigate the shadow realm with great success. I have been praying to God to give me a partner who is ready, willing and able to do this work with me. I don’t want to be a shoemaker whose kids don’t have shoes. I’m definitely using my relationship skills in parenting my son, maintaining my strong long-term friendships, and just about every aspect of my life.
I truly pray that I actually have the opportunity to “until death do us part” and to set an example to my son of a healthy, ongoing, mutual, loving partnership between me and the people I love. It’s a lot more complicated than I imagined growing up…even at this middle age in my life.
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