Over the course of 20 years we both have changed tremendously. We have changed faiths, political parties, numerous hair colors and styles, but we love each other and possibly even more [than we once did]. Our grown kids constantly tell their friends what hopeless romantics we are. And the biggest thing that keeps us strong is not giving a fuck about what anyone else says about our relationship.”
One theme that came up repeatedly, especially with those married 20+ years, was how much each individual will change as the decades roll on, and how ready each of you have to be to embrace these changes. One reader commented that at her wedding, an elderly family member told her, “One day many years from now, you will wake up and your spouse will be a different person—make sure you fall in love with that person, too.”
It follows that if there is a bedrock of respect for each individual’s interests and values underpinning the relationship, and each individual is encouraged to foster their own growth and development, that each person will, as time goes on, evolve in different and unexpected ways. It’s then up to the couple to communicate and make sure that they are consistently a) aware of the changes going on in their partner, and b) continually accepting and respecting those changes as they occur.
And I’m not talking about the small stuff—I’m talking some pretty serious life changes. Remember, if you’re going to spend decades together, some really heavy shit will hit (and break) the fan. Among major life changes people told me their marriages went through (and survived) were: changing religions; moving countries; death of family members (including children); supporting elderly family members; changing political beliefs; even changing sexual orientation; and in a couple cases, realigning gender identification.
Amazingly, these couples survived because their respect for each other allowed them to adapt and allow each person to continue to flourish and grow.
“When you commit to someone, you don’t actually know who you’re committing to. You know who they are today, but you have no idea who this person is going to be in five years, ten years. You have to be prepared for the unexpected, and truly ask yourself if you admire this person regardless of the superficial (or not-so-superficial) details, because I promise almost all of [those details] at some point are going to either change or go away.”
Being open to this amount of change isn’t easy, of course—in fact, it will be downright soul-destroying at times. And that is why you need to make sure you and your partner know how to fight.