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Do We Over Think Relationships?

The number one song of the year was “Sweet Georgia Brown”. Charlie Chaplin ruled the box office, and F. Scott Fitzgerald published “The Great Gatsby”. It was the age of Al Capone and Louis Armstrong. A first-class stamp cost $.02. It was 1925.

It was also the year that 18-year-old Clarence Vail proposed to his 16-year-old sweetheart Mayme. They married in Hugo, Minnesota and have stayed that way for 83 years as reported by Their secret? They have no secret! “I guess you just stick to it, come what may,” Mayme says.

They’ve lasted through a world war, a depression, six children, various health challenges; and Mayme points out that they haven’t had an argument since 1946.

A conversation with a couple like the Vail’s on the keys to a long lasting relationship can be pretty dissatisfying because they have so little to share on the subject. It’s almost like they got married, and never gave the relationship another thought. Could that be the secret to their long relationship?

There’s no question that the volume of self-analysis and discussion surrounding relationships has increased exponentially in the past 50 years. An entire industry of books, coaches, websites, and matchmakers have grown up around the idea of finding a mate and building a satisfying relationship. How did so many couples with so few tools or, frankly, knowledge about what makes two people good together consistently forge relationships that lasted 50 years or more?

Here are 2 theories:

They expected far less from their primary relationship

It could be that expectations were much lower for what a marital relationship was supposed to provide. You got married. You had children. He worked. She stayed home. He socialized with his male co-workers. She joined a social club to fill her days. The rules were rigid and so seemingly impervious to change that it never occurred to either person to question the nature of their interaction.

Perhaps couples then had a clearer and simpler set of needs for their marriage. They wanted financial security, intimacy, a pleasant home and the rest – the rest was a nice to have, but not missed.

It does seem that today we expect our mates to fill a vast number of roles – companion, lover, intellectual sounding board, partner in crime, co-parent, business partner, etc. We set a standard that is so high that over time most people disappoint in one way or another. If a man is an excellent provider, father, and playmate but a terrible communicator and empathizer it can spell doom for a relationship. If the woman is a great mom, kind, and a tremendous support in tough times, but perhaps not a fun-loving or energetic mate it can create tension and disappointment.

Is it unrealistic to pile so many expectations on one person; and does it have a negative impact on maintaining a long term relationship?

They had fewer options and just toughed it out.

One of my paternal great-grandfathers was a farmer in Mississippi at the turn of the 20th century. After bearing five healthy children his wife died during child birth with their sixth. He was heartbroken for sure, but the needs of tending a farm and raising six children left no time for grieving. He promptly split the children up and loaned them out to different relatives. He made his way to the nearest town, got a room in the local boarding house and started searching for a wife.

He found my great-grandmother in a Baptist church and launched into a courtship that can best be described as business-like. She accepted – a home, a family, and his love. They went back to the farm, rounded up the children, lived happily ever after and went on to have five more kids of their own.

Is that the key to the longevity of older relationships? Were they just trapped together? We know that economic opportunities for women were limited. Not to mention the extreme stigma of being divorced. In the case of my great-grandfather, he simply couldn’t run the farm without a woman to cook the meals, tend the children, and do dozens of other vital jobs.

Did these cultural and economic barriers force marriages that were solid on the outside and miserable on the inside? Did years of working and living side by side take relationships of necessity and create real love? Should we celebrate our modern less-permanent long-term relationships because they give people the freedom to leave dysfunctional marriages?

It’s a question that can be asked in many areas of modern life. For all our knowledge, research and discussion are we really any better off? Does knowing more about relationships make them easier to keep and maintain, or more daunting?

We’d love to hear your thoughts!