What does it take to make a long-term relationship work once the intensely hormonal oxytocin attachment fades in relatively short order, leaving the relentless crush of daily demands to take control of what remains to bind things together?
I'm certainly no authority on the question, although it's one I've pondered over the years. I'd wager many others have, too, considering it's normal for humans to desire fulfilling companionship with the "right" person.
I believe most people seek common traits in an enduring relationship: appreciation, trust, happiness, respect, empathy, responsibility, humor, kindness, communication, affection, thoughtfulness, compassion, forgiveness and willingness to share.
That being the case, I also wonder why the divorce rate for years has been high. After all, I doubt any of us take vows expecting to break them.
It's been written that an authentic relationship exists between two imperfect people refusing to give up on one another, and a person who isn't happy by nature likely won't be happy in a relationship since happiness is a state of heart and mind.
Among my favorite descriptions: Relationships endure not because they were destined, but because both people made a conscious choice to keep, fight for and work on it.
So where else would I turn for answers but to the self-described brain trust that gathers daily for morning coffee and fellowship at the TownHouse Cafe on the Harrison Square? A majority in the group have been in long-term marriages and understand what's required to preserve them.
I passed a sheet of paper around, asking each to write one aspect they believe is key to success in their relationship. The responses were wildly varied, even humorous. One wrote "trust," another the words, "yes dear." The third scribbled "our basement," while the fourth said his "man cave." Those were followed by: "Separate vacations, "cherishing," "perseverance" and "hearing aids." Yet another later said he believes "respecting each other's privacy" is crucial.
Harold McEntire added that something as simple as weekend drives together where he and Jo Ann, his wife of 50 years, can converse in peace while enjoying each other's company plays a big role in maintaining the closeness they share.
My 93-year-old Uncle Kenneth Masterson, married to his wife, Bobbie, more than 70 years, believes always placing their mutual faith in God at the center of their relationship has unquestionably been the fundamental factor.
Based on my own life, I preferred the response that said cherishing each another was fundamental. That seldom-used word expresses so much more than throwing the vague "love" word around, as we're prone to do. The things in life we value most are indeed those we cherish. It's a term of endearment obviously reserved solely for that purpose since I've never heard of anyone "cherishing" a pizza or other objects we so readily claim to love.
I've come to believe forging meaningful and successful relationships can be the most complex experience of our lifetimes. Trying to mesh two diverse universes into our troubled world in a way that meets everyone's needs while negotiating day-to-day lives to hopefully mesh can prove impossible in this self-centered culture.
Some of the best advice I've read from so-called experts in the field helps explain how best to preserve the enduring closeness necessary to cement a long-term relationship. They include sharing common interests, making sure the one to catch your eye has interests compatible with your own beyond what you share superficially and initially.
Then we need to accept each other's imperfections. None of us is perfect. To recognize that fact is fundamental to staying together for the long term. Intimately linking one's life with another's in hopes of changing them, or never admitting when you are mistaken, is a recipe for failure.
Mutual laughter isn't only rewarding in a relationship, but a bonding factor. Laughter (including at ourselves) can make us feel good and relaxed through the inevitable stresses. If we tie our star to another who doesn't make us laugh, we risk a relationship that can quickly become tedious or boring.
It's important to be different enough from one another while sharing mutual interests. As complex animals we need partners who, while willing to compromise, also challenge us to try new things and experiences. Two identical mates living 24/7 together can become boring since life is about constant change and adaptation.
A long-term partner worth having should be supportive of the other's career and goals while maintaining their sense of independence. A major threat to a relationship occurs when one crushes the other's dreams in a consuming desire to fulfill their own.
Finally, simple communication is the biggest key to any healthy and enduring relationship. A partner who can communicate is valuable to longevity, particularly when it involves one's emotions. Someone who can communicate is worth keeping because that ability keeps things from becoming stifled and arguments from boiling up unexpectedly.
Best of luck finding the best long-term fit for your universe.
Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected]
Editorial on 01/14/2020
Print Headline: MIKE MASTERSON: A complex thing