Posted on August 29th, 2019
There’s a lot to choose from at the Relationship Store: being a couple, living together, life partnerships, marriage. Platonic, uni-sexual, and bi-sexual relationships. Monogamous, polyamorous, and open relationships. Love relationships, legally- or religiously-defined relationships, relationships of convenience, temporary relationships, illicit relationships.
We create and live in so many different forms of relationship because relationships are the great experiment of our lives, our most intimate opportunity for learning about ourselves and growing as human beings.
We get into relationships for many reasons. Sometimes we fall in love. Sometimes the impetus is biological, our drive to procreate and to start a family. Sometimes it is financial—two people together really can live less expensively than both alone. Sometimes a relationship is a prop against loneliness (although some relationships can be exceedingly lonely). Sometimes we want to be in a relationship to make a place for ourselves in a couple- and family-oriented society.
These can all pull us toward relationships, but regardless of how we get there, the deepest purpose of relationships goes beyond these drives.
We are relational creatures. Everything we know about who we are and all the meanings we find in our experiences are derived from our relationships with other people, starting with the families we grow up in. Being in an adult relationship continues this process, providing us with an ongoing stream of often challenging situations which can become opportunities to further develop the full range of who we are.
Being in a relationship requires work, because relationships push us to grow in two opposing ways at the same time.
First, we are repeatedly pushed to expand and deepen our experience of loving and belonging. It’s one thing to promise to love someone forever, and another to be loving in the aftermath of a heated conflict.
The second way we need to grow is in increasing our independence and individuation. It doesn’t work long term to merely go along with whatever our partner wants—“We’re going to spend our vacation painting my cousin’s house, right?” The further we go in life, the more we have to become aware of and stick up for what matters to us, even when it matters only to us.
Being for others and being for ourselves frequently contradict each other, maddeningly and purposefully. The challenge of developing both at the same time is exactly what brings out our deepest humanity. The closeness of our relationships keeps us at it no matter how much we want to avoid it. New conflicts pop up all the time. They show up in every seemingly petty interaction about the toothpaste tube or clutter or bill paying, not to mention the larger conflicts every couple develops. These irritants can potentially help us grow, separately and collectively.
The largest obstacle to achieving the full potential of a relationship is the inability or unwillingness to see past the conflict to the new opportunity it presents. This opportunity for growth is the key element that makes relationship matter.
Posted in Marriage and Couples