Friday, April 10, 2015

Working Relationships

For those who are fans of Sex and the City, do you remember when Samantha asked Charlotte how often she was happy in her relationship?  Well, do you remember Charlotte’s answer?  If not, here it is: “Every day. Well, not all day every day but yes, every day.”

It always makes me pause when someone says that a marriage or a relationship is hard work.  I find it odd to equate a partnership to a job.  Unless what you do for money is your dream job, I seriously doubt that going to another pointless meeting at work is comparable to having a conversation with your loved one. 

I have to imagine that if you are happy in your relationship, you probably aren’t going to refer to it as hard work.  I have found that happiness makes me value what I have.  Happy people don’t generally trudge through things because it’s their job.  They usually just naturally resolve conflict and go about their day, staying positive and holding high the values of what they cherish in their lives.

Are there hard times in relationships?  Sure.  But is getting through those times considered “work”?  For that matter, if the hard times are considered “work”, should we start calling the good times “vacations”?

Maybe it’s just the negative connotation about the terminology that bothers me. Now, I’ve been divorced, so I understand that relationships aren’t perfect.  In fact, there were a few people who uttered the “marriage is hard work” to me during that specific time.  But even then, I didn’t think of my failing marriage as work, or even as something that needed to be “worked on”.  In my mind, we were just two people who weren’t ultimately compatible.  Period.  End of story.  Some relationships are successful and some aren’t.  So, when a relationship becomes “work”, is it healthy for the two people who are involved?

I think this fictitious “relationships are hard work” mantra permits couples to dismiss their issues, because it allows for excuses like, “well, everyone works at their marriage”.  And if everyone does it, then it’s normal, right? 

But let’s really get down to it. What exactly is this “work” that everyone is talking about? 

In the “marriage takes effort” camp, things like communication, being nice to each other, being thoughtful, being considerate and being affectionate are all considered things that require work when you have been in a relationship for a long time.  But when you really take a deeper look -shouldn’t we be doing these things on a daily basis as adults anyway-just to be good human beings, regardless of whether or not you are in a relationship?  Do these simplicities really require effort?  Is it “work” to just say how you feel in order to communicate?  Is it “work” to accept a hug or a butt squeeze from your husband or wife?  Is it “work” to send a love text on your lunch hour to let your lover know you are thinking about him/her?   If it is “work” for you to extend the simplest pleasures that you could possibly offer the one you love, maybe you should consider being single for a while until you can do some “work” on yourself.

Sorry for the bluntness, but I am now in the healthiest relationship I have ever been in, and this concept obviously upsets me, mostly because I think it is a cop out.  When I think about all of the aspects of my current relationship, both the good and the bad, the term “work” never pops into my head.  Here are some of the things we do successfully without “working at it”.

  1. We communicate.  And when we don’t agree on something, we don’t “go to work”.  We listen, we accept what the other person is saying, and then we let go and move on.  And yes, sometimes, we agree to disagree and leave it at that.  But having a conversation, no matter how heated it gets, is not work-it’s just talking.
  2. We are affectionate all of the time-not because it is the obligatory thing to do when you are in a partnership, but because we love each other so much that we can’t help ourselves.  Yes, we are that annoying couple who can’t help touching, hugging or kissing no matter where we are.  Is this work?  No, not even when we have long tiring days.  There are no excuses for lack of affection. Showing affection, even if it is just holding hands, is the easiest “job”in the world.
  3. We are thoughtful of each other’s needs.  We both do small things to let the other one know that we are thinking about each other every day.  Is it work to remember the person you share your life with?  No.  It’s natural to want to make the people in your life happy, isn’t it? 
  4. We are supportive of each other’s decisions, even if it’s not the decision that we think is best for the other person.  Is this work?  Absolutely not!  It’s a desire to see your partner happy and at their best.
  5. What we have is easy.  Nothing is forced.  Nothing is bottled up.  Nothing is hidden. We are passionate about our lives together.   We are a strong couple because we don’t look at our weaknesses as hard work. 

Feeling happy and fulfilled with another human being might not be the norm anymore, which may be why so many people consider their relationships to be a second job.  Maybe what I have is extremely rare.  I find that to be a bit sad if it is true. I have no choice but to think that if a relationship can’t be natural, and it’s constantly a struggle, and you are consistently “working hard” at something, what is the point?  I know there will be people who will pass judgment and tell a divorced person that they didn’t “work” hard enough.  There will be people who think that relationships will fail if you don’t work at them. 

But my thoughts on this topic will not be swayed.

Another way to look at it is like this- at the end of a long day at the office, why should anyone come home, only to have to go back to work with their partners?  I don’t think that the success of a relationship is determined by how much work you put into it.  I think success as a couple is determined by what is already there.

*This piece was featured on BlogHer on April 10, 2015.