Changing the rules

March 5, 2009

I know someone in a long-term relationship–a marriage of some 25 years, with kids, mostly grown. Actually, I know a few people like that (but fewer than you’d imagine), but I’m talking about one in particular.

It’s been somewhat of a traditional relationship. Not completely, but in the sense of the wife having responsibility for facilitating the life of the husband, and less vice versa, it’s traditional.

Now in her 50s, she wants to do something different with her life. The problem is that doing something different means adding responsibilities, without any significant sharing by her husband. Since there are only so many hours in a day, something has to give. And that something is the new thing she wants to do.

I think it’s always hard to change the rules in a long-term relationship. People, and especially men, get comfortable. They don’t want a different deal. They want things to stay the same. Especially if they are the ones who are primarily benefiting.

It’s easy for resentment to grow if one person is always the giver, the compromiser. It’s also easy for the beneficiary to get defensive. “What do you mean? We share!” And to the traditionalist, they do.

But not really. Not by any objective measure.

I don’t have any answers. I’ve never been in that long-term a relationship and probably would not have done well in one that lop-sided.

I just know that change is hard, especially at this stage of our lives. And I also know that for me to be happy in a relationship, we need to be a team, we need to share and we need a common understanding of our roles and responsibilities.

A great relationship takes empathy and great communication skills. That’s the secret, I believe. Especially if you want to change the rules.

Easier said than done.

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