What’s the Secret to Making Relationships Last?

Making Relationships LastBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

There’s an old “joke” that says men marry women expecting they’ll never change and women marry men expecting they can change them. And they both end up disappointed.

I’ve been thinking about that since I went to listen to a woodwind quintet a week ago. It wasn’t the quintet themselves that got me thinking (though their music was beautiful). It was the announcement that the next classical performance would be a string quartet playing Beethoven’s Opus 131.

Beethoven’s Opus 131 is unique. Instruments go out of tune as you play them, so in most performances there are breaks which allow the musicians to re-tune.

But not in Beethoven’s Opus 131. He wrote it without those breaks on purpose. Each instrument in the quartet would go out of tune in its own way, at its own time, and the musicians would need to adjust as it happened. It required an additional level of skill, commitment, and focus.

Director Yaron Zilberman chose Opus 131 as the central symbol for his film A Late Quartet because he believed that what happens in Opus 131 represents what happens to all of us in our relationships. With the exertion and activity, right and wrong notes, time and wear, we all change. None of us are the same at the end of our lives as we were at the beginning. And life doesn’t stop so that we can re-tune.

We have to make adjustments as we go or eventually we’ll be so out of tune with those we’re playing with that it will be painful for all involved and we’ll need to stop and walk away.

I’d never thought about it that way before, but I’ve seen it happen in my long-lasting friendships. On Sunday I had coffee with one of my best friends. Our friendship has lasted for 18 years, through high school, into being university roommates, into volunteering together, into her being maid-of-honor at my wedding, into navigating the waters of careers and home ownership and adding other people into our lives. We’re not the same girls we were when we met. Yet we’re still friends and expect to be friends for the rest of our lives.

I’m now seeing the same in my marriage. We have love. We have commitment. We have friendship. But as we head out of the “honeymoon” years of marriage and into the long haul, we’re being forced to look at what it takes to make a relationship last for a lifetime. We aren’t the exact same people who got married three years ago. We’ve changed.

So knowing we all change, we have to ask—what’s the secret to making a relationship last?

I think Beethoven and Zilberman were right. It’s the willingness to make the little adjustments as you go. Accepting responsibility for your part. Setting aside your expectations of what things “should” be like and instead finding a way to make them beautiful just the way they are.

Do you agree with me? Disagree? What would you say is the secret to making relationships (both friendship and romantic) last?

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Image Credit: Nithya Ramanujam (via sxc.hu)