All relationships are a learning experience, even ones you continue to be in. If you don’t see them as that, then that’s a problem.
I found this quote very fitting as Jesse and I, after much prodding from friends and family, have started watching The Office. What better way than to lead off this post with a quote from John Krasinski who plays Jim on The Office. His entire story line on the show examines the ups and downs of his relationship with the office receptionist, Pam. I haven’t finished the series yet so I can’t really elaborate on any major learning experiences for the two of them as they navigate the relationship waters. Gosh, I don’t even know if they stay together. I hope they stay together, or this is a really bad beginning to a post about relationships.
We are taught from a young age that learning is important. We learn from our parents about what is right and wrong. We learn in school the basics of reading, math and science. Many of us think our learning stops there. We are even relieved that when our school days are done, we will no longer be forced to read boring books or do endless math problems. We then enter adulthood and learning becomes more passive. We garner daily lessons from life in general that help to shape and mold us into the people we become. Don’t get me wrong, not all adult learning is passive. Some of us actively seek opportunities to learn more so that we can advance within our career. We find ourselves reading countless books on parenting in search of the secret to raising the perfect child. We learn all sorts of things but how many of us pursue learning as it relates to our relationships with the same type of vigor?
How many of you can honestly say you actively look for opportunities to learn with your partner about your relationship or just relationships in general? I am not talking about the passive type of learning where after numerous mini-arguments you learn not to leave the car’s gas tank empty when you know your partner has to go to work the next day or the kind that after many, many smug looks you finally learn to stop throwing your dirty socks on the floor and actually start placing them in the hamper. Sure, learning those little tidbits early on may save you some grief in the long run but seeking true knowledge, discussing your relationship frequently and doing relationship work is what will take it to the next level.
In the beginning days and years of every relationship, things are new, fresh and exciting. Many of us think there is no way it can get better from here and so we hunker down expecting things to eventually take the downhill turn. Children come along so the focus strays from the relationship and then before you know it, the kids are gone and you have settled into what is now a lack luster, tiresome relationship with someone you used to know but you aren’t sure you do anymore. You ask questions of others and they confirm that this is just the way it is and this is just part of life. This is where I call foul and challenge that it absolutely does NOT have to be this way.
Having been married for almost twenty-one years, I can honestly say that my relationship now is not only thriving but better than it was 5 years ago, 10 years ago and maybe even better than it was in those early honeymoon days. Is our relationship better because we just sat back and accepted what was comfortable? Is it better because we haven’t faced our fair share of hardships? Is it better because we just got lucky in life? The answer is NO. It is better today than it was yesterday because we purposefully reject what is comfortable and actively look each and every day for opportunities to learn more about ourselves, each other and not only our relationship but the relationships of others. We choose to grow our relationship rather than just maintain it. The key to this growth is active and engaged learning as a couple.
Find learning opportunities where you can and ask yourselves the following questions. What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong? What do we need to work on? How do we continue to challenge ourselves? I think an important thing to remember is to ask those questions not just when times are tough but more importantly when times are good. The good news is that learning opportunities are everywhere. Listen to a relationship focused podcast and then engage in conversation regarding the subject matter. Create a book club with your spouse where you choose the book together or take turns choosing the book each month encouraging you both to learn about a new subject. Go on a retreat that focuses on relationship goal setting.
The takeaway is to feed your relationship. Place the same amount of focus on it that you place on your career goals. Spend quality time on your relationship just like you do with your children. Do the work just like you did way back in school when you struggled through that algebra class. Okay, maybe that was a bad analogy. If you are anything like me, you will definitely want to give a little more time and focus to your relationship than you did for that algebra class back in high school or college. Just learn. Learn everything and anything you can and watch your relationship flourish.