The Open Highway
For relationships to be healthy, meaningful and satisfying we should measure them with more than just ‘longevity’ as the sole matrix. Relationship should last because they’re beneficial and good for the parties involved, and because both parties desire the relationship to do so. The key then once a relationship has become set in a stable and relatively predictable state is how to manage that status quo over the course of time. An appropriate analogy would be that of the Great American Road Trip where the destination in which you’re going to, in many cases, is less important than the overall experience of the trip, the unplanned and planned excursions you take along your journey and the quality of time spent with your partner on the open road together, but like most things can be ruined by common minor elements, that build up over time or a single major fouling. Keep in mind that a negative has been proven to offset a positive at a ratio of 8:1, and therefore the majority of what we will cover are those elements where we typically get in our own way of relationship health, stability and satisfaction.
Letting go of the wheel
Our gender schemas are deeply embedded within our own cognitive and social frameworks regarding what defines masculine and feminine and the roles for each. Social agents work to formalize, instruct and to guide us in these roles, which are often at odds with biology and unspoken expectations and negotiated agreements established through behavior within the relationship. One of the clearest examples of this is ‘who leads and manages the relationship?’ (who’s driving the relationship), which was negotiated through unspoken expectations and behavioral actions in the beginning of the relationship and the problems that become of it when that early agreement is renegotiated at a later stage. At its core, relationships begin to fail when a man let’s go of the leadership obligations he’s entrusted with and is expected to carry out. I’ll let Greg Swann, a good friend, philosopher and thorn in many people’s side, pick up the argument in a blog post he did a while back;
Ladies, in the beginning, you were happy to forfeit agency, accountability and social equality in lieu of privileges your gender is offered in traditional social structure, but now once comfortable and secure within the relation, seek additional benefits and privileges by renegotiating those terms under a la carte feminist ideals, prerogatives and sense of entitlement… which technically is fine, but just don’t be surprised and blame your partner, when your relationship fails or you file for divorce because you were “unhappy” (leading cause stated for divorce, of which women initiate +70% of the time). If your ‘happiness’ did depend upon your partner to provide it (as claimed) and you’ve taken the responsibility, accountability and agency from them to do so… sorry cupcake, that’s your fault. I can totally empathize with women and understand the desire to grab a wheel of a moving vehicle when the driver isn’t in command of the vehicle (relationship) or is absent-minded and distracted from his duties. Your job is NOT to grab the wheel and wrestle for control, but to wake him to his deficit. Should that fail, you’d both be better off if you where honest and upfront about it and took a different journey with an appropriate man behind the wheel… Guys, should you have any passenger grab the wheel of your relationship and attempt to steer it, I would immediately pull over and let them off at the side of the road. This would be true for ANY passenger; her, her friends, parents, sibling, children and to include your family, friends, etc… otherwise, if you’ve decided you’re just going to ride, don’t get behind the wheel in the first place. On the other hand, if you are truly interested in maintaining the status quo that you had when you first started dating; learn to drive; whether that’s a Ferrari, mini-van or school bus.
Falling asleep behind the wheel
A significant issue to long-term relationships is the compliancy that comes with the security of a stable and predictable relationship. We simple invest less energy into the relationship, because it doesn’t demand it and we fail to ask for it. We fall prey to a comfortable trance, that turns into monotony, that dulls our sense of spirit and adventure. We can address this by not falling asleep to relationship maintenance elements of sustainment, stability, quality and relational dialectical tensions. As partners we should carefully drive the course of the relationship between these lane markers associated with balancing these relationship maintenance elements and towards our objective goal. And much like lane dividers and rumble strips, we should communicate to our partner and they us, when the relationship is veering from these guide lines and for us to then take action and properly steer back onto our course.
Driving within your ability
Far more sinister and damaging is the increased compliancy associated with not having our emotional, physical and sexual needs met within the relationship, nor holding frank, open and honest discussion regarding these with our partner. This is in large part due to a number of factors that we fear holding these discussions, whether from the built up relationship equity, the fear of conflict and where this known conflict may lead, a lack of our abilities to hold, manage and appropriate conflict accordingly and any personal and social stigmas we may feel are attached to these sentiments, desires and needs, can and often hold us back from essential sharing and critical emotional communication with our partner. We fear the risk to our comfort, more than we do our own authenticity and the health of the relationship. By not establishing a case history and success within the relationship of being open and vulnerable to express our feelings, desires or needs, we subjugate these feelings and any solution that may be available, to an unhealthy status quo. We simply will not risk testing the strength of our relationship in a significant way, where it hasn’t been proven capable of in a lesser way. This of course poses a paradox between comfort and growth, defined by the saying “there’s no growth in the comfort zone” and the fact that relationship should be grown over time. The status quo of personal and relationship development is advancement, which fundamentally means change. As such, it would be wise to take the relationship only as fast and on a course, in which we can safely manage, but to steadily increase our ability to do so. Are you advancing your knowledge, skill and experience base consistently to advance yourself and the relationship in an effort to stay together? Do you have a repertoire of skills from which you can draw upon for difficult situations and are you adding to them on a regular basis? This is your skill set and ability to drive a relationship safely and effectively. If we cannot hold a conversation about minor relationship concepts of respect of property or space, such as shutting cabinet doors after use, how do we expect to hold an honest and open conversation about our partners in ability to hold our sexual attraction and meet our needs of intimacy? To span this sort of gulf between us and our partner we need to already have established a setting of trust, respect and safety for already having navigated simpler, less stressful and dangerous situations. Our abilities and skills need to be proven or the speed of the relationship needs to be slowed to the degree in which we can safely navigate these challenges. We must also be keenly aware that the environmental conditions in which we find the relationship play significantly into our abilities to manage these tasks… the more adverse the conditions, the more care we should take in response. This ultimately means we should not be advancing any relationship beyond the limits of proven ability- a girlfriend with whom we cannot be committed to being fully honest, open with and that has sound conflict management skills (girlfriend track) should never be taken onto the marriage track under any circumstances where the risks, dangers and consequences are far greater.
The ‘sing-along’ is a time-tested ritual utilized to pass the time, break the monotony and to bond participants together as a group. These songs are often central to our sense of identifying with those experiences and the timeframe in which they existed in our lives. As children they may have been children’s songs or common folk songs. As we get older they are replaced by anthems of youthful vitality, independence and freedom. The question becomes then ‘what is the soundtrack of your relationship?’ and ‘what are you doing do foster it?’. Playful relationship rituals thus become key to entertaining each other through the passing of time, to break the monotony of the rigors and stresses of life, to bond you and your partner together and to keep our interest in each other vibrant and alive.
Running out of gas
It isn’t a road trip if you can complete the journey on a single tank of gas… knowing the general range and context of your relationship travels will help you to manage the essential elements of individual and relationship ego depletion (emotional energy), of which there is only a limited amount, prior to exhaustion. Just like a car, we can run on empty, as long as we’re constantly re-filling our emotional reserves and we are within range of those services, but should we knowingly face a journey in which that range and services will exceed our current reserve, we’d be wise to prepare for that in advance of that journey or as soon as possible, once we realize it. To maintain a relationship in a healthy status quo we need to make sure that the degree of individual and relationship self-care exceeds the stresses and demands placed before us and the relationship. This is where an emotional and empathic partner is invaluable. Too often we will run ourselves low and to a breaking point, and they can identify it and help us to remediate the effects of stress through active de-stressing techniques, increasing simple acts of intimacy and uplifting our spirits in a wide variety of ways.
(*** bonus tip for the ladies; if you list being ‘sarcastic’ as an attribute on your dating profile…good men see this as a warning flag and will naturally avoid you out of self-interest and preservation. Being ‘sarcastic’ means you’re only destructive- sarcasm never builds, it only destroys. Who honestly thinks they can build a relationship, let alone a life, with anyone who’s valued attribute and nature is to destroy?)
The Pit Stop
On any great journey there is going to be a need to take care of a wide variety of personal and relationship type needs. Much like a pit stop on a road trip, these are the times in which basic service and maintenance checks and services should be completed. We should be asking our partners about their relationship satisfaction, even if you’re aware of their general feelings of happiness and satisfaction, there’s always room for removing stray bugs that smear and litter our relationship windshields. These are the points in which we should be checking the levels of relationship communication and making sure that the mechanisms of sharing and expression are well lubricated. How’s the alignment of the relationship tires? Are they properly inflated and is tread wear within service life conditions? Verifying, tending and reinforcing relationship boundaries needs and expectations are all critical to safe (drama free) and efficient running relationship. Soliciting feedback will be more accurate than solely utilizing observation techniques to gauging this. We should also plan on these occasions relationship planning; checking the course, direction, distance and destinations in which you both intend to take the relationship to make sure that the relationship and life journey is mutually satisfying for both of you.
Settling for Winona
Some trips are one-way affairs, with no intent upon returning back from whence you came. The intent is to take the relationship to a particular destination and for it to permanently reside there. I began this post with the analogy of the Great American Road Trip and I specifically kept the ideal Route 66 in mind. Now I’d like to add to it just a little bit… That highway was originally the route settlers took starting from Chicago to go to California and was utilized to avoid crossing the Rocky Mountain and the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, which was consider very risky and dangerous for the time. The song by the same name, Route 66, delineates stopping points, towns and cities of that journey within its lyrics;
On a two thousand mile journey, a lot can and more often than not, does happen, especially if you’re a settler in ox pulled carts, let alone in an air-conditioned convertible (Yes, people actually do drive with the top down and AC on full- its awesome). There is a notion in the West that where some people’s wagon wheels broke, they settled, for failure of financial capital, resources, knowledge or sheer gumption prevented them from settling where they initially intended or set out for. In the frontiers of relationship development, if your choice destination is that of California, make sure that you plan and prepare for these types of predictable occurrences, so that you do indeed settle in California instead of Winona and that relationship management, maintenance and repair are a part of your relationship status quo.