When we think about falling in love it is often in terms of “forever.” We imagine living with this special person, possibly having children together, and it drives us insane when we can’t be together or a fight goes unresolved. We think we cannot live without the other person.
You know what? We can. Not only that, but they can live without us, no matter how fabulous we are.
The evidence is everywhere. In fact, it is more common to break up than it is to stay together. If that weren’t true you would still be partnered with your first high-school love right now (yeah, I know, kinda freaks you out to think about that one, doesn’t it?).
If the odds are that we will break up, why do we still think in terms of “happily ever after?”
Don’t worry, this post is not going in the direction you think. I love love! But I think we often forget why we fell in love, what it takes to make the other person happy, and how much daily effort it takes to make a relationship a priority. It’s hard work in between work, school, household chores, social functions, and family obligations. I know I’ve let my relationships take a backseat to all of those things at one time or another, and I’ll bet you have, too. Or you’ve been on the other side of the equation, which is no fun either.
So what is the solution?
I like the idea of the annual marriage contract as described in the excellent book Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. The story is about the relationship between an unusual set of twins, but the marriage contract is between two supporting characters. Ghosh and Hema are both Indian doctors working in Ethiopia, and he has been in love with her independent spirit for years. She is also in love her independent spirit and has no desire to get married. When circumstances finally make it right for Ghosh to propose, she has an interesting reply:
“Hema, will you marry me?”
He was unprepared for her response, and later he wondered how she could have been so ready with an answer, one that would never have occurred to him.
“Yes, but only for a year.”
“Face it. The situation…threw us together. I don’t want you to feel obliged. I will marry you for a year and then we are done.”
“But that is absurd,” Ghosh sputtered.
“We have the option to renew for another year. Or not.”
“I know what I want, Hema. I want this forever. I have always wanted this forever and ever. I know that at the end of the year I will want to renew.”
“Well, you may know, my sweet man. But what if I don’t?”
If you read the book you’ll know that they have a lifelong love affair, and every year on their anniversary they decide whether they will renew for another year. It is not the main story in the book, but it is one piece that stayed with me. He loved her so deeply and openly, and she loved him just as deeply, but with a very practical nature.
Can you imagine renegotiating your love contract every year with your mate? How would your relationship fare? Does your partner feel loved and supported by you, and do you feel the same way?
It is easy to let a relationship float along out of habit, and only when hard times come, or boredom outweighs the safety of routine that we break free from a long-standing relationship that has been neglected. But if you take care now to make sure you are both being fulfilled, your chances of breaking up go down significantly.
Negotiating a One-Year Love Contract
Whether you are just starting your relationship in a more permanent way or you have been together for years, here are some steps to get on an annual plan:
- Recognize the joys and successes of your relationship. We focus on the negative so much because it irritates us right then, and we forget about the good that is there all the time. Use the same energy you would to complain to compliment your partner’s good attributes and contributions to your relationship.
- Tell your partner what is working for you, the things you want to continue. We like to know when we’re doing something right, and when appreciation is shown we’re inclined to continue doing it. Or even do it more.
- Ask your partner what is working for him or her. You might be surprised by this answer. As above, make sure that you keep this top of mind so you can continue to delight your partner this way.
- Discuss the things that are not working in your relationship. The perfect time to talk about these things is right after you’ve given and received compliments. Your frame of mind is a loving one, and you are geared more toward teamwork than going on offense or defense. Find out what is not working and how you can improve it. You can’t always solve a problem right away, but you can always take steps to improve it.
- Decide if the good outweighs the bad. You know it does. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t have made it this far down the list.
- Commit to continue the good stuff and be mindful of improving the not-so-good stuff for the coming year. You can even schedule a few “check-ins” throughout the year if you want.
I shouldn’t have to spell out this next step, but this is usually where the clothes come off and things get hot and heavy. You can file this activity under “what is working for you.”
And now I leave you with proof that anyone can find love, even Dr. Evil. (If you are viewing through a feed and do not see the video you can click here.)