Years ago, there was a TV commercial for Lipton soup. A child ran into the kitchen and asked his mom, who was standing over a steaming pot, “Is it soup yet?” That phrase became a shorthand way of asking if something is done. Few us as are the same person at 40 as we are at 20—it takes time to become soup—which is why the younger the age at marriage, the more likely a divorce. As you and your partner simmer, on your way to becoming soup, the changes that inevitably occur can cause stress to your marriage or other committed relationship until one day you may find yourself saying, “You’re not the person I married.”
Relationships, like the people who form them, are dynamic. People change as life, time and experience affects them. It’s possible to outgrow your partner or for each of you to grow in such different directions that your relationship no longer makes sense. On the other hand, your relationship can survive—even thrive—if you share in three ways.
Share experiences. Even a seemingly insignificant experience can profoundly affect you. Example: Sharon, who had just turned 30, was taking a run and passed her neighbor, an old widower, who was sitting on his porch lovingly stroking his cat. Sharon thought how wonderful it was that the old man had the cat to keep him company. As the only child of career parents, she knew loneliness and, having just experienced a “decade” birthday, vowed to manage her life to avoid a reprise of her childhood loneliness in old age. Sharon told her husband Tim about seeing the old man and his cat. Tim then shared a story about his grandmother, who died before Sharon met Tim, and who loved her Cocker Spaniel more than life itself. Tim also shared, for the first time, what a positive influence his grandmother had been on him. This led Sharon to suggest that she and Tim get involved with a pets-for-seniors program. He agreed and that’s what they did. Sharon could have filed the experience in her psyche where it would quietly (and even subconsciously) influence the decisions she made in life. But by sharing it, she is not only more conscious of how the fear of old age loneliness affects her, but she and Tim discovered a way to together create a richer life.
Share your dreams. Verbalizing a dream helps make it reality and no one is in a better position to support you than your life partner. Example: Matt, an MBA, was on an upwardly mobile track at a consulting firm. Linda was an associate attorney at a national firm. They planned an affluent life in which both reached the top of the corporate ladder. Tucked away, beneath all Matt’s ambition, was his boyhood dream of being a forest ranger but that’s not what Matt’s parents envisioned for him. To be a “good son,” Matt did what was expected, adopting his parents’ dream as his own. As Matt became increasingly unhappy in a life that didn’t truly fit him, his relationship with Linda suffered. During a counseling session, the therapist asked Matt how the reality of his life differed from what he had envisioned. Matt thought he was joking when he said, “As a kid I wanted to be a forest ranger.” But when the words were said, the reality hit him. As Matt became soup, he changed from who Linda (and he himself) thought he was—a man who wanted to climb the corporate ladder—to a man who wanted an outdoor life. With his dream now in the open, Linda and Matt could reshape their goals so Matt could use his MBA knowledge to create a business giving hiking and whitewater rafting tours.
Share your feelings. Doing so helps you crystallize your own thoughts and allows you to learn from each other. Example: Ben and Sarah, expecting their first child, had friends who had just adopted a baby boy. It was an open adoption where the birth mother was permitted contact with the adoptive family and the baby. Ben said to Sarah, “I don’t think the birth mother should be allowed to see the baby. After all, she gave it up for adoption.” Sarah, who had never thought about it before, did so then. After a few moments of reflection, she replied, “Ben, the mother gave up the right to raise the baby, but not the right to love the baby.” Ben thought for a moment and said, “You’re right. I hadn’t thought of it that way.” A conversation about what it means to be a parent ensued. They discovered they had differing points of view on spanking and several fundamental issues, and agreed to do some research, get some counseling, and resolve their difference before the baby was born. Each became a better parent as a result.
It all boils down to this: talk to each other. If you don’t communicate and share as you each become soup, you’re much more likely to grow apart than to grow closer. You will change. Your relationship will change as a result. It’s inevitable. By openly sharing your experiences, your dreams, and your feelings you greatly improve the odds of your relationship not only surviving but thriving.