Robert Lewis says that marriage is really a series of different marriages or what someone has called serial monogamy. By this he means that I’m not the same person my wonderful wife married 42+ years ago. By the same token neither is she the same person. We have both moved through different seasons of life and rarely simultaneously. Thus as each partner moves through a new season, the nature of the marriage relationship changes. Change is constantly taking place.
These changes are sometimes very gradual and at other times quite sudden. At times the gradual changes seem sudden because they go unnoticed until we wake up and realize things aren’t the same. In some cases change is event driven, such as the loss / death of significant people in our lives, or changes at work or even loss of employment. In other cases they are the result of learning from a series of life experiences. Some of these seasons can be predicted by observing trends in the general population. Many men go through some form of mid-life crisis, and many women go through changes as they carry and bear children or come to realize they may never experience that blessing. We are also influenced by others in our spheres of influence.
Each time we enter a new season there is a beginning of a new phase of a relationship. In the same way, there is an end to what the relationship was. In our marriages, we look back to the vows made as we committed to do life together with this man or woman. We remember that we committed to do this for better or worse, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. We need to give each other room to move within the relationship with the freedom of knowing our love will continue to mature and grow. It is important that we invest in each other so that we do grow and mature, so that things do change. Regardless of how good we believe things are, it is important that there be endings to the way things were and new beginnings with new opportunities to build stronger relationships.
In our friendships and other relationships, different life events bring very different results and as a result we see a natural ebb and flow of friendships, save for those very few who care enough to ride through thick and thin with us. We know or come to know where those special relationships are only by traveling hard roads together. Those relationships ought to be building us up to be better people and encouraging us as we work through difficult life situations. All too often I see people clinging to relationships that add nothing to their lives and in fact these relationships only serve to either use up our energies or even drag us down. Any long term relationship needs to be made up of mutual give and take. Outside of a mentoring relationship, any relationship where one party is continuously on the giving end is not a healthy relationship. It is fair to say that, in my experience, most mentoring relationships demonstrate some level of give and take.
When relationships are no longer working we need to either figure out how to fix them or move on. This does not require a scene and formal separation. We’ve all seen relationships drift apart naturally. We need to be comfortable with allowing that to happen in our unhealthy relationships. We also need to be mindful of the fact that we can only maintain a small number of close relationships. One might think that the 12 disciples Christ chose were all his closest friends. Yet even within that group of 12, there were 3 (Peter, James and John) who were particularly close to him. So you see, it is perfectly fine to be friends with people without being what comedienne Jeanne Robertson calls their “bestest” friends.
So why have I undertaken to express these thoughts?
First, life is short, invest your time wisely. If you’re in a marriage relationship, I would encourage to invest all your energies into making that relationship work. Help and encourage each other to grow inside the context of your marriage. Divorce ought to be the last option pursued only after all other possibilities have been given serious trial.
Secondly, life is short, invest your time wisely. With your non-marital relationships, make sure there is mutual benefit. Your contributions to the relationship should be comparable. Recognize when you’re carrying a relationship with a taker. This is not to mean that there are not some obviously needy people in the world that need our help for a season. The relationships I’m talking about are those that give nothing back to you. Either you are constantly initiating or you are continually being called upon. Even some mentoring relationships need to be called out when there is no real progress being evidenced. Assess your relationships and allow those for which there is no return on investment currently or foreseeable to fade away. If they won’t fade away (and some will not) be prepared to bring them to a logical conclusion.
Lastly, moving some relationships from your closest circle to one that is cordial and friendly permits you to focus on those people who really are encouraging to you and helping you to grow. Invite someone that you’ve always respected into your home or for a night out, just to create the opportunity for a new relationship to begin.
There is much more to be said on this topic, but my initial thoughts are (1) create and support an environment where husband and wife are able to grow within the marriage relationship and (2) manage your time wisely by investing in relationships that are mutually beneficial and where you are having a real impact, in the case of mentors with proteges. Just a few things to think about. Obviously all comments, observations and questions are more than welcome.