“I’m in a relationship.” What does that really mean?

I hear it all the time, from young and old, couples newly met to spouses celebrating Golden anniversaries.  I wonder sometimes, as I listen to both the starry eyed and the disillusioned, if they knew what they were committing to when they exclaimed, giddy or resigned, “I’m in a relationship.”

Did they fully know the effort (and rewards) it takes to lovingly regard and behave toward each other when times are good and when times are bad?

It may be the trigger that initiates it, but relationships are not about chemistry, or fate or parents’ approval.  The capacity to form healthy, loving relationships is learned.

When one is younger, perhaps ‘observed’ is the better reference.  Typically, a sense of what characterizes a stable relationship starts with early experiences with parents.  It is their responsibility to provide and demonstrate nurturing care, security, encouragement, and congenial social interaction.  The pattern for relating to others is embedded during these formative years… for the better or the worse.

Sadly, if your household lacked the necessary traits for fostering healthy communication, safety and tight knit bonds, the failures experienced in childhood and adolescence often reappear in your adult relationships.   But change is possible; the bad habits that corrode relationships can be unlearned; they are not genetic.

But it takes work.

Both partners must be willing to devote time and attention to the other, accommodating the inevitable differences, even as they change over time.  Trust is essential and that demands unbending honesty about what is the to-the-bone truth about one’s self.  Resentments must be aired; they cannot be left to smolder.

There’s more to the bundle: be patient, tolerant, and keep your sense of humor; treat yourself and your partner with kindness, caring, and compassion; view your relationship as an amazing opportunity to achieve wholeness.

There is no way around it, maintaining a fulfilling relationship is not easy.  It is a job.   But as the axiom goes, if you love your job, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.

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