The Ageing of Relationships
“Why is it that we sometimes can’t feel close to someone we’ve lived with for a long period of time?” This was the heartfelt question from a young woman and mother who was struggling in a relationship with her partner. The relationship had been going sideways for years, but she was reluctant to break up the marriage for a number of good reasons, including her concern for the children and of course finances.
At the heart of her question was this feeling of alienation and distance from her partner. Having been together since a very young age, they had found that as they matured and had children, they had grown apart. Young people often gravitate towards each other because they fall in love with someone who they see as different – someone who seems to offer something they are lacking, or seems to complement them in some important way. Positive projections just happen – it can feel like a god force moving through you, and it carries a feeling of uplifting excitement and intoxication with it. Falling in love is a beautiful thing and I am loathe to analyze it, unless it becomes problematic in some way.
The problem in this and similar cases, is that when the glorious projection has fallen off and we are faced with the stark reality of what we have gotten into, we have to deal with some hard or bitter realizations. I remember Marion Woodman once saying that this was when you have the hard task of learning to really love someone. By this she meant, can you learn to love and accept them just the way they are without trying to change them?
Sometimes you can and do learn to love that ‘other’, and sometimes it doesn’t mean that you have to live with them for the rest of your lives. Sometimes it is about learning to co-parent in a loving and mutually supportive way. These are different values from the values of my parents’ generation when people just stuck it out through thick and thin until death parted them. Some people met the challenge and were transformed by that experience. Others shriveled up and died. But times do change, and the collective psyche also changes as new values rise to the fore.
When the positive projection falls off, the loss of the exhilarating ‘in love’ feeling can feel like a huge disappointment. “Is this it?” you may ask yourself, or “this isn’t what I bargained for!” or “I didn’t sign up for this!” or “I thought it was going to be different!” or “I can’t deal with this!”. The spoiled inner child, or the disappointed romantic, or the young puer or puella (see blog on Inner Community) starts up its inner rant.
Don’t get me wrong. I know what this feels like. Most adults have faced this confrontation with themselves and their partners at some point in their lives. And I don’t have the answer. There isn’t any one answer. When we have had children in that relationship, it becomes (or should become) a much tougher question. It forces you to carry the cross and to suffer the dilemma. Relationships without children (or other in-built responsibilities) are often easier to walk away from.
When we have to suffer the consequences of our choices, it forces us to grow and deepen in ways that are not there for us when we are in La La Land. Remember Odysseus? He was delayed from returning Home for a long time because he kept getting sidetracked on the islands of sense pleasures and addictions. “Falling in love” can become very addictive, and you will see some people bounce from relationship to relationship, always looking for that fix. But with the dawning of consciousness, the getting sidetracked eventually becomes a part of the over-arching journey.
So I wish I had the easy answer for this wonderful young woman and mother. She is an absolute gem. I wish I could alleviate her suffering and make it all better for her. But then again, I know that this journey will take her to the other side. I have no idea where she will end up, but I trust her process and her Life. And I hope she does too, because that is what will be her guiding light.
Listen to a great teacher, Jean Houston, talk about the myth of Odysseus:
About the myth: