Successful relationships require
submitted by Lucia Herndon
I received a letter recently from a friend who wanted me to know she was ending her
engagement. She and her fiance could not overcome the obstacles of careers in different
cities, a 120-mile weekend commute, and his three
children from his first marriage. They decided that while they still loved each other,
they had discovered each other at the wrong time, after each had launched careers and he
had become a father.
I mentioned this incident in a phone conversation to a woman who had married right out of
college, had two children, eventually divorced and remarried. She understood what my
friend meant. ``My first husband is a very nice man, but
the timing was wrong. We met each other too early,'' she said.
This topic took on special meaning in that the letter and the conversation occurred as I
was about to observe my 22d wedding anniversary. It made me wonder why my husband and I
got married and why we're still married and why
we're committed to staying married.
Is it timing? Is it luck? And what about love? Are successful and durable relationships
merely a matter of a spin of the cosmic roulette wheel of fate? Are we merely pawns in a
giant chess game of love? Can you really meet the love of your life but miss out because
the timing is bad?
You can call it bad timing if you want, but really it means that you don't want or can't
commit to the relationship. If you're established in your career and are loath to leave a
job for a relationship, you can indeed be the victim of bad timing. But more realistic is
to say: ``I don't want to jeopardize my
career for my relationship.'' And there is nothing wrong with that decision, especially if
you've invested years of education and sacrifices for the job. That's a lot to give up.
Likewise, the couple who marry early before they have a clear idea of what they want in a
spouse and a marriage and in life in general may find themselves unwilling to continue in
a marriage that seems a bad fit. They might tell themselves that if they had met at age
30, they might have made a
better go at the marriage game than at age 20.
But again, the more realistic thing is to say that you made the wrong choice at that
particular time. And you're not willing to continue investing in the relationship.
It seems sort of harsh to place the burden of the relationship on the shoulders of the
people involved instead of on fate. But that's the best place for it. That's the best way
to learn the sometimes painful lessons life has to teach us. If timing or luck or fate is
responsible, then we don't have a
chance of making positive changes in how we deal with people and relationships. It's
easier to say that the timing was bad or luck wasn't good instead of saying, ``I love you,
but I'm not willing to take on a relationship with all the obstacles.''
My friend may think she and her former fiance would have made a successful couple if she
had met him before he had children. But the truth is that she was unwilling to leave a
job, leave her home, become a wife and a stepmother,
and find a new work life. Similarly, he was unable to move to her town, which would have
thrown his relationship with his children into jeopardy. I'm not saying that they were
right or wrong in their decision. Other people might
have made the leap. But truthfully, to have moved would have been very risky and might
have ended badly for all concerned.
Which leaves us humans to our own devices. We have the freedom and the responsibility to
make the most of our situations with other humans. You can either decide that a
relationship is worth the investment of self, time, energy, emotion, money. The romantics
among us will tell you that love conquers all; that if you love someone enough you can
make any relationship work.
I think that's romantic but naive. Love for a spouse will not guarantee a cordial
relationship with stepchildren. It doesn't always make up for the loss of self-esteem from
giving up a fulfilling job. We all come with lots of imperfections that must be dealt
with. Some habits and personal quirks can be
changed; others can be accommodated. Some we can never change, and both partners ought to
figure out early on whether they can live with that.
A successful relationship requires a commitment by two people to meet the obstacles they
encounter, to give as much as they get. This has to take place regardless of what time in
life they meet.
(Lucia Herndon writes about family matters for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Write her at the
Philadelphia Inquirer, P.O. Box 8263, Philadelphia, PA, 19101.)
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