2008-02-08 / Health & Wellness

Slow and steady in relationships

Great works of art often begin with an inspired idea and intense passion. The artist is consumed with an attempt to translate this onto paper or canvas or whatever medium is familiar.

He or she will work long hours immersed in the process and progress of creation, sometimes experiencing a tremendous ease but more likely enduring periods of stubborn blocks. These blocks eventually yield to persistence and patience, whereby the final product is revealed in all its beauty and admired by the multitude.

The multitude is not aware of the artist's dedicated commitment through many hours, days or even years. It doesn't know how often he or she came to the point of giving up entirely, full of doubt or perhaps dangerously fatigued by the enormous effort.

Michael Cunningham, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Hours," described Virginia Wolf's attempts in her writing to "penetrate the obfuscation, the clogged pipes, to reach the gold" but often finding herself "a woman in a housecoat holding a pen, afraid and uncertain, only mildly competent, with no idea about where to begin or what to write."

Marriage can be likened to a great work of art. It, too, begins with passion. Partners are caught up in an intense expression of feeling for one another, a belief that this person, this relationship should be the focus of one's life.

All other pursuits become secondary- friendships, other family members, work and school. We are swept up in the knowledge that this one person can satisfy all our desires; he or she truly knows and accepts us in every way and is the only one who can complete us.

We live in this passionate realm for a time and then reality breaks through. We see our beloved in more human terms, with frailties and even alarming personality quirks. We begin to recognize our differences and how difficult it is to share our lives, even with that one, perfect other.

Here is when the hours of persistence and dedication come in, similar to what an artist experiences. We see the flaws of one another, but we work through this knowledge somehow and come out on the other side, forgiving, accepting and ultimately in a deeper, more committed, more refined love relationship. It is a relationship that has endured pain, doubt, hardship and a desire to leave.

NPR commentator Julie Zickefoose was speaking about this stage of marriage some months ago. It is a time of married life when "we are no longer utterly captivating to each other" but where "those moments of affirmation" can be recognized. It is where "love isn't one huge, perfect storm" but "a series of nourishing showers that keep the grass green."

Longterm commitment requires that we continue to work on the more tedious aspects of relationshipkeeping even when passion ebbs. We cook, we clean, we go to work, we encourage, we help, we comfort, and we continue to care.

The artist recognizes this process. There are definitely the "highs" of creating when everything seems to be working well. But perhaps more often come the long times of low energy or selfdoubt or boredom when nothing seems to happen.

However, something is happening even here. This is when we demonstrate to others the strength of our commitment, even when there may be few visible rewards.

Marriages that last begin with passion but continue with perseverance, a willingness to endure the inevitable disappointments. There is a joy in this journey, a joy that comes from finally having a partner who does understand and accept us, flawed though we may be.

To all those who come after us there is also a priceless demonstration of what marriage can become and who we become in the process. All great art is a process of creating and caring; marriage is no different.

A quiz purported to be the "philosophy of Charles Schulz" is currently making the rounds on the Internet. It asks us to name the five wealthiest people in the world, the last five Heisman trophy winners and others who have "achieved." Then it asks about friends who have helped us through a difficult time and others who have been personally special to us.

The lesson is that the people who make a difference in our lives and who will be remembered are not the ones with the most achievements but the ones who care about us. Surely our spouses rate right up there!

Deborah Barber, PhD, is a clinical psychologist in Oak Park. She can be reached at (818) 5127923. Send questions/comments to askDrDB@yahoo.com.

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