All significant relationships have a price. It’s not that relationships are a sacrifice. After all, who wants a life of sacrifice? It is more a matter of priorities. We can’t do everything in life and we can’t be with everyone in life. In choosing what we will do and with whom, we automatically make priorities. If something is at the top of our list then other things have to come second or third or last.
The price of a successful relationship is devotion. Devotion is, essentially, commitment to something we value. What are we devoted to? Surely not what another person wants. I think most people would agree that being devoted to that would be problematic even with the best of people. So, what exactly are we devoted to? We are devoted to the wellbeing of another person. And we are devoted to the wellbeing of the relationship. We honour the value of the other person and we honour the worth of the relationship.
As Important As Our Own
We make the decision that someone else’s life is as important to us as our own. This is necessary because there are endless things in life which will pull us in different directions and will work against the stability of the relationship. No relationship survives or, more accurately, survives happily without a joint commitment to the genuine happiness of the other person. We do not have to sacrifice our destiny, talents, friendships, or ambitions but their impact on the other person has to be seriously considered.
When times are uncomfortable, challenging, not what we wanted/imagined, or actively distressing then we should not revert to dishonesty, nondisclosure, or manipulation to get our own way. What good is getting our own way if that way is destructive to our partner? We will end up suffering, anyway, from the painful demise of our relationship. A different, new, reformed way can always evolve. Some things aren’t that important and disagreement is of minimal importance. Some things have a huge impact on the life of both people and some sort of agreement has to be earnestly sought. Compromise is not difficult when the people involved care about the emotional, mental, and physical health of the other.
Although it seems too obvious to say, there has to be a commitment to doing no harm in the life of the other person. Many people, consciously or unconsciously, view relationships as a type of business partnership where we try to get the most that we can for the least price. That is not even a good business relationship.
The Neglectful Gardener
The health of a relationship is dependent on daily attention. I remember listening to a conversation between an exasperated husband and his wife who was complaining that he did not tell her that he loved her.
“When we got married,” said the frustrated husband, “I told you that I loved you. That stands unchanged until and if such time I tell you that I don’t love you!”
In his mind, it was black and white. He was committed to the marriage. It was not necessary to keep reaffirming that. Understandably, his answer was not received well by a wife who needed more emotional intimacy.
Like a garden, our relationship needs consistent attention if we want it to remain alive, vibrant, and flourishing. If we forget about our garden for long stretches of time, we will find that something other than what we designed will have taken over the garden beds. The garden beds will become full of weeds. The weeds will start choking the plants. Maybe, some new plants will start growing from seeds which have blown into the garden, taken root, and claimed the garden for itself. They might even be great looking plants but they will not be the ones we intended for our garden. If we love our garden, we will want to watch over, protect, feed and water it.
Responsibility and Falling In Love
As much as we may love and enjoy someone (or, at least, for a reasonable amount of the time), relationships are primarily a responsibility. Often, people talk about the joy of a new baby as something wonderful given to the parents as if the child is for their pleasure. Of course, children are a gift. However, in looking at my three newborns, I never had the feeling that they were, even remotely, here for my benefit. On the contrary, I looked at each one and felt the great responsibility of a tiny, totally dependent human. It was my task to keep their little bodies safe and also their minds and souls. In general life, I was acutely aware of the effect of everything negative on the forming consciousness of children. I frequently looked at parents and thought, Do they not realise the effect that their words and actions have on their child? Yes, indeed, it seemed to me an almighty responsibility.
If we don’t want the responsibility of another life (tiny or adult) then it is better to abstain from the commitment. Otherwise, we will end up hurting the other person, ourselves, and numerous other people along the way. Falling in love is relatively easy. All we need is an open heart, the ability to see good in others, and a willingness to engage intimately with another’s heart. Falling in love versus committed love are as different from each other as feeling that a baby is here for our own benefit versus embarking on the long, conscientious responsibility of raising a beautiful, well-adjusted human. A partner is not a newborn (thank God) and we can expect a great deal more reciprocity. Nevertheless, the commitment to hold another’s life as being as important as our own is the same.