Recently, Ray and I passed the twenty-five year mark as a couple, and in a few months we'll celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary. I realize those numbers aren't record-breaking—we all know couples who've been together twice as long or longer. And my mate and I aren't claiming to be paragons of contented couplehood. Still, we've learned a thing or two about durability over the years.
Here, then, is a handful of those lessons, offered not as instruction, but as an invitation for you to share your own thoughts about what makes a relationship endure, whether it's a marriage, a friendship or a close connection with a family member.
But sometimes, separate
I spend most mornings practicing yoga, meditating, reading, writing and answering email, while Ray goes for walks and putters with projects in his workshop. On weekends, he might head off to a car show or woodworking demonstration, and I might play with my camera or attend a writing workshop. When we come back together, refreshed by our individual pursuits, we have new experiences and insights to share and more to talk about than whether it's time to take out the garbage.
The five-to-one formula
A few years after Ray and I got together, when I was still a staff writer at the Detroit Free Press, I wrote an article about research at the University of Washington's "Love Lab." That’s where psychologist-mathematician John Gottman was engaged in a long-term study of hundreds of couples, trying to tease out behavior patterns predicted marital success or failure. One of Gottman's key findings was that lasting marriages have a magic ratio of five times as many positive feelings and interactions as negative ones.
Ray and I don't keep a running tally--how silly would that be? But we seem to have developed an internal counter that prompts us to balance every tense exchange with a slew of more loving ones. It makes for a sense of safety and comfort that fosters even more warm feelings.
Rough patches? Sure, we have those. Doesn't everyone? And we're not always graceful about getting through them. One thing I've learned to keep in mind, though, is that everything changes. If you're patient and calm, something will shift, and you'll find a way through.
Now it's your turn. What have you learned about creating and maintaining lasting relationships?
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.