Are Relationships Really Supposed to Last an Entire Lifetime?




I remember a line from a movie whose title escapes me. It was a coming-of-age story of a teenage girl in the South whose mom left her marriage after a twenty-plus-year relationship. In her need to regroup, she temporarily left her kids in their father’s care. The daughter spends the better part of the movie trying to find her mother in the hopes of bringing her parents back together. When she finally discovers her mom, she confronts her with her desire to see them back together. Mom comfortably and gracefully tells her, “Your father and I took love to its conclusion.”
I was struck when I first heard that line. Now, some twenty years later as a Relationship Coach, I seem to understand why. Is “I do” always about “I do” forever? Or can some relationships simply run their course, with the people amicably parting and eventually moving into other relationships? We know relationships end and people “move on,” but does it happen because one or both parties gave up or because it was simply time?

The reality of modern marriage

Let’s look at reality. The faces of relationships and marriages have changed drastically over the years. Many of us still hold on to the notion of fairy-tale endings, especially the line and they lived happily ever after. Perhaps in the days when life expectancy was 20, maybe even 30, “happily ever after” didn’t offer people a lot of time to think otherwise. Yet in modern-day society we’re living longer and going through significantly larger life and lifestyle shifts as we age. Those internal and external changes may cause us to consider another mate, someone who we may be more compatible with.
We’re also living in a global economy and society, where access to the Internet means an opening up of the world we’ve never seen before. Air transportation allows us to be in Los Angeles in the morning and wake up halfway around the world by bedtime. Small towns, and an equally limited access to small amounts of people, once influenced the decisions on who we could even marry. In this new, expanded world, most of us know more people than our parents could have ever hoped to imagine. Now we can access them either virtually or in person. The more access, combined with living longer and a greater freedom to choose our mates, has put “happily ever after” on notice.
Is this a good thing? Bad? From my perspective I say it’s neither good nor bad; it simply is a reality of the world we live in. Some people embrace change and opportunity with an open mind and heart. For others with more conservative beliefs, a return to the notion of small-town values is equally accessible and still available. So, what, if anything, is the challenge?

Relationships are not “disposable”; they can “work”

Here’s where I see the potential for deterioration. With so many options, where almost a kid-in-a-candy-store mentality can set it, my concern is that we begin to develop the belief that relationships and/or others are disposable. And as a society and for many who are parents, we begin to model and teach our children this same belief. Within this new opportunity we don’t have to exact a lot of effort or strive for a deeper sense of intimacy with others if we know there’s something or someone else always around the next corner. For a lot of people, when the challenges appear in their current relationship, they hit the eject button and disappear into their next relationship. This creates a lot of unresolved baggage that keeps getting unloaded in one relationship after another. The lack of success in relationships breeds talk about how relationships don’t work and a lot of other negative beliefs and stereotypes that we as a society begin to label as the truth.
I’m a firm believer that relationships can and do work and that not every relationship is meant to be or meant to be forever. When people care enough about themselves and the person they’re involved with, they share a responsibility to put the effort into making sure each has done his or her part in strengthening their connection. If at the end of the day two people realize that their happiness is to be found elsewhere, that they’ve done their own work and the work necessary to be in a relationship with another, then by all means they should seize the new day and the new opportunity. Just do what you can to make sure that you leave from a place of loving and that you’re free from the baggage and judgments that will only cloud and obscure what is possible for you in your next relationship.