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Parting before death do us part: the challenges of maintaining relationships in today’s world

Once upon a time, one could make a commitment “till death do us part”, and actually consider it a meaningful promise. Sadly, today the same words that used to stand for “lifelong relational security” now feel more like a fairy tale read in childhood, like “Sleeping Beauty” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

The society in which the “till death do us part” story was set did not have a 62% divorce rate. In those far-off days of yore, 51% of adults at some point were not alone and not involved in a primary relationship. (This summer, Psychology Today published an article with that 51% statistic.)

Hubert Humphrey once commented that he had married many women throughout his life, all named Muriel, a sweet and genuine reflection on the ways we grow and change over time, even in long-term relationships. People often get married before they know who they really are and therefore choose partners for reasons other than what would be sustainable in the long run.

Also, people lack the skills and tools to build a long-term relationship. I also believe that it takes a town to maintain a relationship, just like it takes a town to raise a child. But the structures of our village have collapsed. Too many of us, children and adults, live like wild humans trying to survive in the emotional streets of life.

So when I read Nina Utne’s personal essay, a pioneer in personal growth and social awareness publishing, on the dissolution of even her marriage in the March-April 2007 issue of Utne magazine, I felt I needed to do a lot more thinking. insight into whether someone can count on maintaining a long-term relationship in today’s world.

Utne writes, “Eric and I have viewed our marriage as a spiritual journey, and its dissolution…is humiliating us and requiring serious spiritual practices.”

“And we of all people, who have spent most of our lives exploring the nexus of personal growth and social change, who have weathered many of the storms that ruin marriages, should be able to navigate this transition with grace. But That’s disregarding ‘shenpa,’ a Tibetan word for things that shoot us up and make us snap and shut down.”

Unfortunately, we are not given a relational road map that allows us to know that after passing through the neurochemically rich stages of the “new relationship energy”, we will enter the shadowlands, where our deepest selves will be activated. Triggers are an invitation to learn, grow, heal, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. But lacking both the road map and the tools to navigate the territory, too many relationships break down and fail.

Nina Utne cites a conversation someone had with Margaret Mead about how she felt about failing in her marriages. “She responded that she did not have failed marriages; she had remarkable associations that were appropriate for different stages of her life.”

While, for many of us, that may be true, and it is a very compassionate and perhaps helpful way to contain breakups and divorce, a part of my heart still feels sad to hold that grain of contemporary truth.

There is profound value in having another walk by our side throughout our life’s journey. I experienced this with a mentor of mine, who supported the development of my life for 17 years. He was a spiritual father to me, and I can honestly say that our relationship lasted until his sudden and unexpected death tore us apart. Although I mourned his death, it was easier to accept because of the richness of our relationship of 17 years. I felt that I had a lot to be thankful for, my tears of sadness were tempered with tears of love.

I myself am a divorced single mother. And I have been for more years of my life and my son’s life than I could have imagined. For one thing, my ex-husband and I are still “working the pieces” in a way few couples do before, let alone after, 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 marvel at this commitment that we have made. And yet it was more important to me than any other agreement in 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 together, they have a responsibility to work on their lifelong relationship for the good of their children. If a couple gets divorced, they usually have more work to do than a married couple. The issues that caused the divorce do not magically disappear in court. In fact, they often need more attention so that they don’t become things that hit very hard during the night and day.

Sadly, it seems easy for people to walk away from each other, or even run away, without having looked at the skeletons in the closet, including the very personal closet that accompanied us in our committed partnerships. Receiving a roadmap, a third party who is committed to helping partners succeed, and role models from people who take the time and do the emotional work to maintain and deepen long-term relationships should be a right of passage. to adulthood.

I have found that, for me, having a close relationship for a period of time and then not having it is more painful than a long-term relationship that ends with the death of a partner.

I had to face this same problem head on several years ago, when a man whom I had begun to view 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 to be involved with this man who may die?” I found myself saying, “I’m not afraid of the fact that he might die. We all die eventually. In fact, I’d really like the chance to do it until death do us part. I’m more afraid that it won’t.” death for which I lose it. I’m more afraid of not being able to do it until death do us part.

Sadly, after only 2 years as a couple, integrating our families and lives, she decided she didn’t want a long-term partner after all. In fact, I walked by his side during surgeries and cancer treatment. And while the cancer became a long-term chronic condition, our relationship wasn’t something she carried with her long-term.

I find it sad and paradoxical that I am given the opportunity to use my deeply refined relationship skills to help other couples navigate the darklands, and with great success. I have been praying for God to give me a partner ready, willing and able to do this work with me. I have no desire to be the shoemaker whose children have no shoes. And I surely apply my relationship skills in raising my son, maintaining my deep, long-term friendships, and just about every other facet of my life.

I truly pray for the opportunity to “till death do us part” and model for my son a healthy, sustained, mutual, loving relationship between me and a man I love. This is much more complex than I could have imagined growing up…and even at this middle age point in my life.

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