Some of them have a whole new perspective after hearing that, others push back. One of the common push-backs is “Well, I don’t believe a relationship should be work! I don’t have the patience for it.”
Being in a new relationship (and admittedly the easiest and most healing), I wondered what the “experts”, at least the ones that were well-known outside my circle of influence, had to say about how much WORK relationships are supposed to be. In particular, new relationships…because no matter your age, it seems these days all anyone wants to focus on are sparks, chemistry and fireworks.
What I found was that there are arguments for both sides, naturally. One camp said it is supposed to be fun, with crazy-ass chemistry for the first two years and if you felt anything like work, you should move on to the next. The other camp said yes, there’s work…you are two different people trying to merge into a unit, while maintaining your own identity. Honestly, knowing what I know, especially about singles over the age of 40, every problem in dating…not finding who you want/need in a mate and how you relate in relationships…comes back to two fear-based issues. Those are lack of communication and lack of vulnerability, both are a focal point in my coaching program. But therein lies the work….being vulnerable and really seen….admitting to yourself and your mate that you have flaws and past hurts…and then communicating clearly about your needs, boundaries, flaws and more.
Because I am quite tired of seeing this current trend in dating where people chase those fireworks and then move on the second shit gets real, I decided to use facebook to ask some real experts…my friends in GREAT long-term relationships. Here’s the question I posed:
“Long term HAPPY couples...here's a poll for you. You can read both these things in advice columns and if you are very happy with your relationship, I want to know what you think. One bit of advice to singles is that relationships take work, another is that they should be easy and if they aren't then you should move on. I want to know, even amidst the joy of a new relationship, was there "work?" And please say how long you've been together and how much is "work" now?”
I got some great replies! I have friends from all walks of life…both conservatives and liberals, fun and serious, who have pretty cool life experiences and all but one of the respondents were over 40. They were doing this “relationship thing” pretty well and guess what, they were all still working at it. The one-sentence gist of what most everyone said? Anything worth wanting was worth working for….boy isn’t that true in most every aspect of life.
Laura, married 23 years says “I think it’s both easy and takes work. And to simplify who the right person is to share your life with down it should be easy or it takes work I just setting folks up for disappointment and looking for greener grass if they buy one school or thought and it’s actually both.”
Donna, who is celebrating her 30th anniversary soon said “The best things in life are not free. They take work. It’s not fair to say if it’s not easy, it’s not worth it. Work brings trust and appreciation. Sometimes you want to give up, but it’s an investment that grows with time, and patience.
Jolene, who I can personally say, from all appearances seems to have such a supportive husband of 14 years says “If you are passionate about it, there is work involved sometimes. On the harder days I always remind myself he is my best friend and a partner in crime, that there are bound to be tough days and that is okay. If life was easy, I think it would be kind of boring.”
Maria who married her husband 17 years ago (I happened to be her wedding coordinator, my job in a different life), said “The hard work is understanding that the times you aren’t close are part of a cycle, and constantly forgiving the stuff that is really small in the long run, and continuing to love. When everything was new in our relationship, there was still work, but of a different kind—learning where the lines were that were to be crossed, driving up the household responsibilities and just sucking it up and doing the dishes anyway!”
Becky, married 26 years simply said “It is work, but its work that you never tire of getting up for! If it was easy, everyone be happily married. I believe all good relationships require trust, honesty and communication and that takes both sides working for it.”
Penny, married 17 years said, “Anything you are committed to requires work. I wouldn’t say its any more or less work (than the beginning), it just changes as the seasons of life change.”
Sande, married 18 years said “If you really love and are passionate about your job—you tend to work hard and give it everything. The term work can have a negative connotation, I work hard for my relationship and some days are easier. My relationship with Ted is the best investment I ever made.”
Mande says “So much work, even at the beginning. Learning to communicate effectively was a huge hurdle. But when you know this person is who you want to spend your life with, the work, the fights, the frustrations are all worth it.”
Leigh shared “I’ve been with my boyfriend for two years now. I do think having a good relationships takes work, but I think we are both happy to do that work. How and when our relationship needs work-and what that work looks like- varies. Sometimes its easier than others. I have found that when our relationship needs work, I find it helps to identify something concrete we can do to solve the problem.”
Julie and David have been together 33 years and she writes “During the ebbs and flows of our marriage, we’ve had extremely easy times and at least two off-the-chart difficult years. We’ve endured infertility, adoption, job loss, addiction, growing pains at different levels/ages. We’ve admitted that we haven’t always “liked” each other, but through it all we have always truly loved each other. Self-sacrifice is paramount as long as it not at the expense of your self-esteem. You truly do have to be willing to put another’s needs ahead of your own…the beauty is, if you’re both willing to do that, you BOTH win!”
Amanda, married 8 years shared this “He is military so we had to communicate to each other or else there wouldn’t be a marriage. Even though most of our marriage we have spent apart, because we are great communicators of what’s bothering us, we listen to each other and come to an agreement in the middle. There is no 50/50, its 100% on both ends. I think there is always going to be ‘work’ in the marriage…if not, your marriage isn’t growing.”
Donna said “33 years…only by the grace of God. Lots of work and lots of joys, tears and struggles and what ifs. It’s like climbing a mountain. At some point, you start really enjoying the view.”
Michelle, married 21 years says “You have to learn along the way to be a fighter…that doing whatever you can is what it will take to be happy long-term. If someone has to give up moral values, passions or dreams for that person, I do think that they might need to re-evaluate the person/relationship.”
Deborah shares some really good stuff for our post-divorce daters: “I’ve been with my guy for two and a half years, we are both dating after very long marriages and it’s so different than dating before marriage. There are learned relationship behaviors that don’t always mesh—children, assets, distance and a whole lot of life experience that differ thrown into the mix of what is “us.” Taking time out of the lovey-dovey part of the relationship, to sit down and seriously talk about the logistics and making sure we both want the same thing is necessary now and then. Is that work? I think any relationship takes giving of yourself—its time out of your days, space in your head and heart on your sleeve kind of stuff. Is that work? I don’t know, I just think living your life could be considered work and if you want to find an out, you could find any number of things in a relationship to call hard work. But to answer your question, no, I don’t think my relationship is work at all, effort yes, work? No.”
Perhaps because Deborah is in the stage that most of my clients are, she precisely nails the number one surface problem I see in dating today…lack of effort. If you have a lack of effort in dating itself, for one thing, you aren’t so likely to find a quality person who is going to pursue you like you want, or you are going to attract someone who is also not putting in effort, so it’s doomed before it starts. If you do find someone agreeable and you still aren’t doing the work and putting in the effort, then you will move on to the next person once it all get real… and until you fix your mindset, you will do this over and over again.
What I have learned most in my relationship is that it is quite easy…he’s easy to be with, we are both pretty simplistic and compatible, with plenty of sparks and building intimacy in all areas...but our already-set-up lives aren’t always easy. We have commitments that force us to get creative about how and when we will see each other, sometimes its quick lunches or after kids are in bed and there’s not a lot of mental energy left in us, which might make some people give up completely. But even when we are too tired to talk about philosophy and ethics (which is often), it’s who you are snuggled up to…knowing someone cares about how your day went, what’s really on your mind and who makes your heart jump when you get a text from them.
And guess what else? Most of the work I’ve had to do since meeting my guy…begins and ends with me. The privilege of being in a new relationship is learning to deal with myself, my own insecurities and healing my old wounds. I’m the one who needs to sit with my feelings that are almost always traced back to an old wound and something someone else did long ago. The effort, active communication and creatively thinking about the logistics that makes up "us"...it’s worth it at the end of the day snuggling on the couch and growing both together and as me.