What makes a relationship work. Or not.

October 9, 2010

I‘ve had good relationships and I’ve had bad ones. But one thing is certain about relationships: it’s not about what the couple has in common.

Or whether or not they argue.

It’s about growth.

In the best of relationships, we grow. Great relationships challenge us to become our best selves.

Safe in the arms of love, we are free to be who we are, but also to become someone even better. That’s something we should want for ourselves, of course. But we should also want to be the best possible mate for our partners. Our children.

It has to begin with dialogue. We must be able to speak, even of the unspeakable. And especially about the things from which we’d like to hide, the things that prevent a healthy relationship and that prevent us from being all we can be. That make it nearly impossible to connect with another in a meaningful way.

A functional relationship requires discussion. About everything. Most things, anyway.

This can be really hard and especially hard for men. We women love discussions. But men? Not so much.

For a long time I was with a man who felt it was enough that we walked on parallel paths, heading generally in the same direction. It took a long time for him to come out with that belief — years, in fact. Years that he wouldn’t or couldn’t articulate his wants and needs. Years that we could never get back.

Of course, it’s hard to be in relationship if the individuals aren’t on the same path. The word itself means “connection” and it’s hard to connect if you aren’t walking together. We both missed out on important opportunities to grow by creating a joint life from the roots of our individual strengths.

I was with another man who had no defined path at all. He was ok with that. In fact, preferred it. He didn’t create his life; he responded to outside forces that pushed him on one path or another. It was a neat trick because it allowed him to avoid taking responsibility for his life. It was impossible to discuss anything with him because he couldn’t be held accountable. Clever.

But not so clever, really, because it destroyed the relationship. There is really no way to have a functional relationship if either of you is afraid to face issues openly.

Good men, both. But men whose growth was stunted. They were who they were and while they felt it worked for them, it didn’t work for me.

Like most men, M. doesn’t like to discuss. Oh, he’s a lawyer and can debate like crazy. And I debate back. (Stop laughing, people who know me IRL.) But here’s the thing:

1. He’s willing to have the dialogue. And he’s willing to push me to be a better listener.
2. Even if he’s got that almost inherent male fear of growth, he’s willing to give it a go. We’ve got a second chance and we both want to be our best selves in this marriage.
2. No parallel paths for us: we both walk on the same path, happily.

Today’s questions:

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