Love for the Long Haul

February 16, 2015

Last Sunday, I shared part of what, for me, has been a rich conversation about long term relationships.  I asked several couples in my congregation to share their thoughts on what enabled them to maintain long and happy marriages.  I asked several colleagues what helped them sustain long term ministries.  And then I asked the entire congregation to share their answers to two questions:  What are some of your richest and most long-standing relationships?  And what have these relationships taught you about love, life, and being human?

Here are their answers.  And below those answers are the answers from the folks I asked ahead of time, with some ‘bonus material.’  Enjoy!

Our richest and most long-standing relationships are with…

Griff…geo…cats…Jane…books…nature…art…crows…night skies and bright dawns…an inclusive community…my amazing, strong, resilient and inspiring mother…my beloved partner in life and love…my husband, our children and grandchildren, to whom I am bound in a unique way…my sister, who has known me all my life…my second marriage in which I am loved always, unconditionally, and the always evolving relationships with our grown children…my dear younger brother Xavier…John, my husband…Janet, my friend…my mother…my children…friends near and far…my spouse…Nagars (serpents, snake-beings, magical dragons)…my most important relationship is that with my wife….siblings..nieces and nephews…my children…ongoing friendships…former romantic partners…my husband…my friend Nell…my sister Rosia…Yoga…my sister who was given up for adoption by my parents, at birth (I met her when I was 37)…myself.

These relationships have taught us…

Fragility and strength, hope and dreams, kindness and beauty.  In the black wings of crow there is iridescent light, graceful flight, and trust.  The importance of selflessness and of giving to others.  To be fully, unashamedly, authentically myself.  That we only get this one life, and to live it with joy and gratitude every day. How very reciprocal these relationships are and have to be.  Over decades, we support and are supported, give and receive, annoy and are annoyed by, amuse and are amused by.  Whatever happened, our love prevailed.  I discovered that the power of our love can overcome most of our weaknesses.  Our love is power and helps give us the strength to keep on going, battling our inner demons.  Love brings us relief where we thought there was no more.  Faithfulness.  Caring.  Acceptance.  Love can disappoint, because it never is what you hope it to be.  Love can surprise, too, because it doesn’t leave you even if those you love most may die or become distant.  Nagars are challengers and supporters for being human.  They often help, sometimes challenge.  In many ways, they are humanity’s loyal opposition party.  Loving because they’re loyal.  Challenging because they’re in opposition.  Everyone has someone they know who is a nagar or nagi (female nagar), although they might not see it.  Love needs work.  I have learned that I don’t respond well to conflict,and so always must strive to reach out.  With every encounter (even when there’s friction, we share insights, encouragement, warmth and hope.  Humor and optimism, tenderness, eternality, humility, growth.  Love can happen immediately on meeting so you feel like you’ve always known and always loved.  My sister makes it OK to be me when I’m with her.  She validates me and introduces me to new ways of thinking, new perspectives.  Mary has always made me feel that because she is, I’m not so weird after all.  I’ve learned that even when I’m alone, I don’t need to be lonely, because I’m supported and surrounded by love.

Couples:

#1:  Married 48 ½ years:

We think our relationship has lasted because:

 We laugh a lot. You don’t notice the bumps much if you are laughing.

 We are compatible: We enjoy many of the same things and both like having adventures and variety.

  We agree on financial decisions and try to live within our means.

  We leave each other space but go in the same direction. We have always nurtured our own identities but do things together too.

 We try to overlook lapses in judgment, realizing that we are all imperfect.

 We celebrate each other’s accomplishments.

 We honor our marriage commitment and work out problems when they arise, realizing that there is no perfect relationship.

 We share work and make decisions together. It helps that we share core values. We continue to share parenting tasks (and yes, they continue even with adult children).

 We get through sorrows and focus on the many joys of our life together.

 Attitude is probably the greatest tool for sustaining relationships—and life in general. Focusing on what’s working and the good things makes for a more contented life. No relationship is perfect, and no life is perfect but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t always things to celebrate.

#2:  Married 49 years

Is there a magic formula for a successful long term relationship?  We don’t have one and different couples probably find different paths.  Of course loving each other is vital, but it also takes respect, support and being best friends. We were lucky in that we have the same values on the important concerns like religion, money, raising children etc., issues which are often causes of conflict in a relationship.  We even have similar tastes, so that designing and building a house together was one of our most satisfying experiences, not a cause for disagreements. But we don’t sweat the small stuff.  It’s really easy to go along happily with what your partner wants on most things.  The only problem is when you are both trying to defer to the other’s wishes.  We do share many interests like travel and dancing, but still maintain our separate activities.

 #3:  Married 49 years 

For a Long and Happy Marriage 

 We began with and continue to share many attitudes and perspectives.

  •  We both came from mainstream protestant families, have evolved together toward a tolerant humanist atheism. 
  • Doing the right thing is very important to both of us. 
  • We both believe that political involvement and especially voting are a civic obligation. We discuss politics freely.  We have voted in almost every election that we have been eligible for, and we probably voted the same way in almost all cases.
  • We share an appreciation for the local community.  That means don’t complain – get involved and help preserve what is good and change what needs changing.  We take seriously the adage to think globally, but act locally.
  • We have always been comfortable with joint accounts and joint financial decision making.  We’ve always had enough money, partly because we spend conservatively. We have always saved for the future, and we’re lousy shoppers.  We are willing to use our money support good causes, especially local ones.
  • We had the advantage of seven years of marriage to get to know each other before the children arrived.  While children can certainly dominate a family, those seven years as a couple helped us avoid total domination by the kids. 
  • Food and family meals. We share a passion for good food. We also believe that families should sit down together for around a table preferably several times a day for good food and conversation.

 

We could both have probably made more money and achieved more career distinction if we had made other career choices along the way.  However we have both loved our professional careers and neither of us is much prone to regret over what might have been.  The choices we did make have turned out well for both us as a couple and us as a family.

  • We are each our own persons. We both have hobbies and activities we do alone or with friends, but we also share many hobbies and interests that we like to do together. We are interested in each other’s projects but don’t need to participate in all of them.
  • We are true partners in our life together. Sure, there is a division of labor in the tasks of everyday living, but we can pinch hit for the other if it is necessary.
  • We both love travel. We can and do travel on our own on occasion, but are happiest traveling together.
  • Neither of us were particularly focused on having kids, but now can’t imagine not having them in our lives. We are very proud of our sons and their own families, and happy to see evidence of their lives growing up with us in the way they are making their own family lives.
  • We both have an appreciation of nature and outdoor activities – gardening, hiking, walking, snowshoeing, mushroom hunting, time on the river – and really feel lucky to live in such a beautiful place.
  • We both like to learn new skills and are always willing to try something new. This has resulted in a lot of clutter in our house, but it’s OK because it’s our clutter.

 Take the long view, live and let live, pick your fights, consider the alternatives – in nearly 50 years, there is bound to be something that irritates you once in a while. Life may not be perfect, but it’s pretty darn good. I think every day I feel lucky that we found each other and have had the good fortune to create such a happy and interesting life together.

The Long Haul: A Marriage Trip with Rebecca and Theresa – February 13, 2015

 Some of you may have heard the joke already – “What does a Lesbian bring along on the second date? – a U-haul.”  This is of course a reference to the stereotype that Lesbians –  being the mathematical equivalent of Women times 2 – have an intense “urge to merge” and so they begin a lived life together ASAP!!! 

 For Theresa and me, the desire to merge was pretty much like that, but we both had good rental situations at the time we met, so it wasn’t until about 6 months later when Theresa jumped on an opportunity to buy a small house that I ended up moving in with her, merging our stuff, as well as our lives.

 Now it has been over 23 years.  We have pulled that proverbial U-haul around to a few different physical locations in Moscow over that period of time, settling for the last 12+ years in our big house on the east edge of town as our longest-time, likely life-time, living destination, being quite happy here.  But don’t think the metaphorical U-haul of our relationship hasn’t had its share of wibble-wobbles along the way, hitting a few ruts here and there, and even careening off the road for a short spell some years back. 

 Yet we know we are in it for the Long Haul, and here are a few things (spiritual practices!) we have figured out along the way that have helped us stay together and grow stronger:

 First, the usual – humor, openness, honesty, appreciation, respect, conversation, listening, faithfulness…

 Things we like to do – have fun times together, respect each other’s interests & growth, do nice things for each other, say thank you (often), appreciate our independence from each other…

 Things we try to do/not do –  never go to bed angry, don’t take each other for granted, “rescue” each other when needed,  keep talking when we want to run, listen, listen, listen, be the first one to reach out instead of waiting for the other, do not diminish or embarrass each other in public even in joking…

 What’s kept us strong through the years? – Loving friends, family, and being part of a larger, loving, stable, embracing community (UUCP).  Having this kind of supportive safety net where people believe in you and your relationship makes a big difference.

 And so, the journey continues. We are thankful to have found each other, and for everyone that has been, and will be, a part of it.

40-year friendship

We had different childhoods- her parents were wild and mine were rigid. So I know I liked her house for the lax rules where she liked mine for the structure. We have always communicated our likes and dislikes about each others lives and choices. We shared many fun childhood adventures, sleepovers, sledding in the sump, hanging out in the local game room. Shared our first boy experiences. Having different lives that change over time to share some of the same pains and troubles. Our paths have been separated by distance but when it truly counts we are there for each other. She lives in Montana but came to NY when mom passed. We choose to stay in touch. We ask for guidance and help from each others strengths. Every long term relationship has ebb and flows but it is a choice to keep it going…the become a part of you a new family.

Clergy

Rick Davis, Salem, OR, 22 years:

Until I came to Salem over 22 years ago, I had moved around a great deal in my life.  Likewise, the congregation in Salem had had ministers come and go, none settling in for long.  The longest ministry before mine was that of William Ellery Copeland (named after William Ellery Channing) who served about seven years at the end of the 19th century before ill health forced him to retire to a utopian socialist commune up in the Olympic Peninsula.

 So, we (the congregation and I) were both primed to try something radically different – to see how a long term commitment might play out.  There’s plenty enough coming and going in our world, and, yes, it is true that everything changes, but finding some stability and a deep sense of loyalty still has its place.  This relatively long time we’ve been together has given our affections a chance to deepen and grow.  I’ve officiated at the weddings of those I once knew as little children, and I’ve often wept as we’ve said goodbye to so many beloved, sometimes quirky, wonderful members at memorial services.

 We all understood from the beginning that change would be a constant part of the equation.  At the moment we’re trying to get used to two Sunday services again.  There has been some conflict and misunderstanding, but we have been always been willing to sit down and work through that and get to the other side with no lingering residue of bitterness or misunderstanding. 

  They say that you should never enter into a relationship with an eye toward changing the other – that you accept what you get or you shouldn’t get in at all.  We accepted one another as we were.  Paradoxically, it is such acceptance that has created opportunities for growth.

 As long as this has lasted, we know that it won’t last forever, although we don’t really talk much about that.  I’m still learning and growing and still feel called to stick to my post.  We have some ways to go before we hand the torch to those who will come after.  It’s good that we have gotten to bear it together this good length of time.

Dennis Hamilton, 27 years, Carrollton, TX

I retired after 27 wonderful years serving the Horizon UU Church in Carrollton, Texas.  I say the ministry has made me a better person than I really want to be.  It has called me to be more patient, more loving, more understanding than I would have been if I were not called to be a minister.  It helped me to think about the fact that I was serving as a representative of all the ministers who came before me, who bore the same burdens and experienced the same joys.  It called me to a deeper understanding of people, to a generosity of spirit and heart that is its own reward.  We grew together.  The congregation forgave me many mistakes, slights, incompetence and bloopers.  But I was faithful to them.  I never betrayed them or took them for granted.  It was a privilege to serve them, to love them and to live a life in the ministry.  It was worth the effort. 

Roger Berchausen, 25 years, Fox Valley UU Fellowship, Appleton, WI

For me one of the keys has been keeping it fresh and interesting. Growth in numbers has helped that happen: I’ve been able to serve in a small, mid-sized and large congregation all in the same place. This has forced me to reinvent my ministry on the fly. But more than anything I feel like I’ve been really blessed that my congregation mostly lives by their covenant to provide their ministers and lay leaders with steadfast love. Not always like (though mostly). But love. I hope I’ve been able to give that gift back.

Elizabeth Greene, 25 years, Boise, ID

A genuine test of love:  commitment, as often as possible, putting the relationship above (or at least equal to) the individual needs; spiritual practice, with a deep respect for each other’s theological/spiritual positions; lots of laughter and tears; from my 12-step practice, a life of rigorous honesty, taking inventory of the self(ves) constantly; for the minister, a certain amount of humility, saying you’re sorry every time you’re even remotely in the wrong—immediately, without reservation;  for the congregation, realizing we are all humans in this together, ready to walk in each other’s shoes, to forgive and be forgiven, over and over and over; sharing ministry, which means that the professional minister needs to step aside frequently and act as a catalyst and/or observer, while the laity understands its profound responsibility to keep the place running in an open, loving, as-organized-as-possible way.

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