It seems all week long, in one fashion or another, I’ve found myself in the midst of discussions about relationships. And while all of these conversations have had their own varying details, the one through-line that surfaced time and time again was the idea that relationships take work.
Now, we’ve all heard this adage repeatedly, but this week it occurred to me how basic this observation is. What exactly does it mean? What kind of work? How do you know you’re doing the right work? What work is healthy and “par for the course” and what kind of work is too much? I’m not sure I have solutions, but it became apparent that this saying left me with more questions than answers.
Anyone who has been in a relationship for an extended period of time knows that the ‘honeymoon’ doesn’t last forever. That feeling that it’s just you two and no one else exists is temporary. If you haven’t been through this experience yet, I’m sorry to break the news, but the butterflies, the not being able to keep your hands to yourself, the belief that your schmoopie can do no wrong, the desire to write love letters that solely entail wanting to bone, that doesn’t last. For those of you that think that your love will always be like that by itself…here’s a picture of Ryan Gosling laughing at you:
Now that we have all had a laugh at your expense, I will offer up a caveat to say that your relationship won’t always be like this without you being intentional about it. And this is the crux of what I think is meant by “work”, the heart of what I think that idea really means.
If we think about our best friends, how do they continue to hold that status? What do we do to keep that connection alive? We intentionally schedule dinner dates where we make the effort to keep the conversation going, we text and call regularly, we share goofy moments and office craziness throughout the day, we let them in on the minutia, we carefully pick their gifts, we purposefully set aside time just to visit with them.
If you think back to the beginning of your relationship with your significant other, you intentionally did these same things while you were dating. But then something happens when we move in together. It’s easy when you see someone daily to assume that you have all the time in the world to connect with them. When someone is right next to us, we start to think we have plenty of time to communicate with this person anytime, so we choose a TV show over a conversation. We assume that because they are right next to us, they know how we feel, so we skip telling them out-loud, buying the flowers, writing the love note, making the favorite cookies. And before we know it, instead of our closest friend and lover, our partners have become nothing more than our roommates.
As we’ve already discussed above, we haven’t forgotten how to be intentional about all of our long-term relationships because we still actively give attention (and intention) to our friendships, which is what keeps them healthy and strong. We have to get back to being intentional about our interactions with our significant others. Building intimacy in relationships takes intentional action; relationships take connecting on purpose. We have to be purposeful about sharing our thoughts, setting up quality date time, prioritizing and building intimacy with each other. And this includes arguing and disagreeing fairly, too. In the beginning, there are things we would have never in a million years said to our spouses, or used that tone; but unless we are being careful, those lines are easy to cross and leave in our wake. But every time we do, that connection, the intimacy dies just a little bit too.
All in all, it’s helped me recently to focus on the idea that what you had to do to get ’em, you gotta do to keep ’em. And remember, the grass isn’t greener on the other side, my friends, it’s green where you water it.