The number one reason people enter my office is relationship pain. When a marriage relationship is struggling or breaking down, it can be overwhelming and can even feel as though your whole world is falling apart. A common thought in the midst of relationship struggle is, “this isn’t what I signed up for.” But do we ever really know what we sign up for when we sign up?
At first, we “know” we will survive it all
Falling in love seems easy and happily ever after is what everyone expects and anticipates on their wedding day. Sure, we know there will be challenges. We may even feel “ready” for the difficulties that await because life has exposed us to the harmful effects of divorce or broken relationships. But all we really know is that this relationship works right now, and we are not able to predict the future or know the specific challenges we will encounter.
One thing I’ve come to know after working with couples in marriage therapy for over 25 years is that marriage relationships can run into trouble after 5, 10, 20, 30, or 40 years. Relationships require ongoing nurturing and attention and different seasons of life pose different challenges along the way. The obvious takeaway is to never get complacent or lazy about working on your relationship.
So what’s the secret for those who manage to maintain a healthy marriage relationship for the long haul? Adaptability!
That’s right, good old-fashioned, law-of-nature, adapt and survive.
We change; so our relationships change
Let’s face it, we are not the exact same people we were in our 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s etc. We grow and change over time. Our priorities change. Our interests change. Our needs change. So our love for one another and how it manifests itself must adapt and change over time. The highest level of love responds to the needs of our partner in that particular moment in time. And we should anticipate and expect that this will look different depending on the circumstances of the moment.
One simple question to ask your partner is, “how can I best love you in this season of your life?” Give some time to exploring this answer with one another. It may even be fun to discuss how this looks different now from some earlier stage of your relationship.
It is not easy to maintain a healthy, enjoyable, intimate relationship over the course of life’s challenges and changing seasons. But we all have the capacity to be adaptable. Maybe the adaptability muscle needs some strengthening in your relationship.
Michael Kragt, Ph.D., CAC III is a licensed psychologist and serves as Executive Director of Grace Counseling. He has been helping couples navigate troubled waters for over 20 years at Grace Counseling.