“Congratulations on your seventy-fifth wedding anniversary! Tell us, how did you do it?”
To that the old couple replied, “Well, we got married at a time when people took relationships seriously. We didn’t walk away from love at the first sign of trouble. We take the commitments we make to heart.”
This is a story we love to perpetuate in the media. Memes are shared on Instagram and Facebook all the time that speak to how the generations of today are doomed and that they don’t know how to love.
There are a lot of mixed emotions on this subject.
First, adopting the point of view that a relationship ending is a failure makes being in a relationship more important and celebrated than being true to ourselves.
We also start to live the narrative that all relationships need to last and that leaving even the worst of relationships means we “don’t take our commitments seriously.” We don’t see the impact of the belief systems we form just through the inundation of information and belief structures that get shoved into our psyche through media, religion and culture.
Relationships of today are very different. Before the 19th and 20th century people didn’t marry for love. And even a lot of the marriages of the mid twentieth century were based on bread-winner models. They were born of necessity and dependence. Couples stayed together, because, well, they had to. So, if we say that the people of today leave relationships too soon, one could argue that in a lot of the relationships of the past, people stayed too long. It wasn’t until the divorce act that this changed, and people (especially women) could leave because they actually wanted to.
So when we perpetuate messages about “taking our commitments seriously,” we shame the people who left who weren’t feeling fulfilled in relationships they never would’ve chosen with the awareness and freedom of choice some of us get to experience today.
Also, in general, what we want from relationships has changed dramatically too.
We want love, support, nurturing, and companionship. We want partnership, freedom, and independence within the relationship. And along with these higher standards, we also have more options than ever before.
Of course, there’s a positive and negative to having more options. One, we can hold the bar higher as to the types of people we’re agreeing to enter into a relationship with. Because of that, our relationships today can give us more than they ever have.
They, if navigated and nurtured properly, can allow us to thrive, love, and connect, in deeper and more profound ways than we ever have. On the flip side though, more options can mean more difficulty making choices. It can mean that, in the face of having to do the work, we may choose to opt out and start fresh with someone more exciting, beautiful, and with whom we share less history and emotional baggage.
So how do we know when we should be stay or leave? Are there times when we should stick it out, and other times when we should pull the chute? What determines whether we’re taking our relationships seriously or not?
It’s a challenging subject to broach because often the opinion we have and the opinions of those around us are framed by our own life experiences. If we have had a parent leave, or someone leave us, then we often feel people leave too early.
If we have mustered up the strength to leave someone who no longer fulfills us, or have seen our mother or father escape an unhealthy relationship, we’ll likely believe we want and expect more from relationships, and that leaving when compelled to is ok.
Because of this, there’s really no magical answer.
Of course it’s a romantic ideal that all relationships, if navigated perfectly, will result in lifelong marital bliss. But, if we’re being honest about it, most relationships won’t last forever where both people are still very much in love. So, knowing that fact, what is the ‘right’ thing to do? Does it make it all hopeless?
Relationships of the past and today share one very common challenge: No one has ever taught us how to exist in and maintain great relationships. For this reason alone, most of our interactions in romantic affairs throughout history lack the consistent rituals that separate great couples from mediocre ones. Our attention is often misguided though as we focus on people leaving, but divorce isn’t the problem–bad relationships are.
So, no matter our age or how “seriously” we supposedly take relationships, what makes for a fulfilling relationship is the result of the two people within it. And further that, we are the only ones who know the answer to what we should do when it comes to love. We are in charge of our outcomes and how we show up. All we can ever know is what our truth is and be congruent with that. If we’re not happy in our relationship, it’s important we voice that and then put in the proper plans to get our relationship back on track. But that doesn’t always work. It’s important to invite our partners to grow and change with us, and if they decide not to join or participate, that’s ok.
Because, if people won’t meet us where we’re at or where we’re headed, then leaving is ok too. We can’t give our lives away because we’re afraid someone else thinks we’re not taking our commitments seriously.
At the end of the day, our commitment must always be to ourselves. To speaking our truth and honouring our hearts. We cannot choose our lives and how we love based on the opinions and expectations of others, because they will always give us advice based on their lens of the world. And no one really has any clue what they’re doing. Because if they gave their life away to unfulfilling love and relationships, they’ll want others to do the same. Then it makes their choices and existence seem safe.
One of the most challenging things any and all of us will ever have to do is to accept and realize that there is no “right” way, and only “our” way. Because from that space we can see that we are free to learn, grow, and make mistakes. We’re free to choose one thing, and then decide on another. We live from a place of learning rather than a place of pleasing.
Maybe the secret to seventy-years of wedded bliss is not expecting that we have to achieve it, but instead subscribing to learning how.