Chapter 20 Learning Objectives
Upon reading this chapter, the student should be able to:
- Express that relationships can change through time and what that signifies about any given time in the relationship.
Watch this video or scan the QR code to see how love can change.
In most of this book, I consider the amount of value, joy, and attraction in a relationship at some particular time. But you can also use these dimensions to think about and analyze likely future trends in a relationship. One can, even in the midst of a powerful attraction, realize that that attraction may (soon) fade or change its form. One may realize that present satisfaction is due only to temporary circumstances and that when those circumstances change, so probably will the joy the relationship brings. One may fairly well predict in what ways a relationship will get better or worse.
As people mature and acquire knowledge about how they respond to various kinds of situations and conditions, they become better able to predict how their tastes and feelings will likely change even though they do not “feel” at the time that they will change. This is in all areas, not just relationships. Wisdom reminds you how sick you felt the past times you ate a food you now crave, and it teaches you ways to ignore or work around the craving so that you do not give in to it. Wisdom lets you know past strong romantic passions have tended to cloud your reason before and let you get hurt when you rushed into some areas just on the basis of those feelings, so you tend to pursue your feelings with caution and awareness rather than in just blind faith. Those who learn from experience and from their former mistakes can attain a measure of wisdom; unfortunately learning from mistakes requires making them first.
But there are other ways to learn, sometimes films and literature dramatize in powerful and meaningful ways the mistakes others have made or that anyone could make. Sometimes we see people who set negative examples, and something in us tells us not to emulate them but instead to avoid becoming like them, to avoid making the kinds of mistakes and choices they seem to have made in their lives. Bad examples are often as instructive as good ones; sometimes, more instructive. Sometimes people’s own stories will be so vivid that we will learn from them as much as if we had had the experience our self. Sometimes we can extrapolate knowledge gleaned from our own limited experiences to those we have not yet had. For example, if you have ever kissed someone, not because you really liked them or really wanted to kiss them, but because you were experimenting to see what it was like, and if you found that kissing with just that motivation was quite dissatisfying and not anywhere near as pleasant as kissing someone you really like or really want to kiss, you will probably be less likely to experiment, just for the sake of experimenting, with more involved physically or sexually intimate behavior.
It is very important for people to know that they might be affected by changes in their circumstances, so that they can minimize those changes or the undesirable consequences of those changes as much as possible. For example, two teenagers who love each other (make each other happy, are good for each other now, and who are attracted to each other) may realize that many people whose marriages did not long survive were once in the exact same situation as they are now. They may realize that their love may not survive taking on family, financial, and employment obligations they have never really had before. This may give them serious concern about having a child right away, even though they may want to. They may want to marry but to wait until later to have a child. Others may want to postpone marriage altogether until their lives have taken on more familiar and predictable patterns in a more stable environment, or at least until they know they are flexible and capable enough to be likely to handle negative surprises in positive ways. This will not, of course, guaranty success, but it gives it a more reasonable chance.
It is also important for people to realize that since relationships often change through time, particularly through changing environment and changing needs, changing desires and half- desires, changing feelings, etc. that they may someday not love each other the way they do now, if at all; but that growing “out” of love or losing love for each other does not then mean there never was any love. People seem to think that real love lasts forever so that whatever does not last forever must not have been real love. But I think this is not true. There are too many cases where one can see objectively how circumstances changed in such a way that it would be very unlikely for a relationship to remain satisfying or good — a company relocation to an area where a spouse may be most lonely, unhappy, and unable to cope, particularly if the mate transferred has been promoted to a job that requires an inordinate amount of work away from home; important career changes that take spouses away from each other for too long periods of time; educational growth of one or both spouses that make their interests so divergent it is difficult for them to become very involved in areas of (particular) importance to each other; drastic personality changes in one person due to alcoholism, financial loss, war experiences, business experiences, the influence of new friends, or whatever changes that are unable to be resolved. There are all kinds of forces at work that can weaken or destroy an otherwise flawless relationship, particularly when the people involved have no idea those forces are acting upon them. And there are too many similar situations where the same kinds of forces help destroy the same kinds of relationships for it to be just accident or an indication that there was no love, or insufficient love, in the first place.
Therefore, though people whose relationships fail may be hurt or angry, they should not necessarily also think the whole relationship has been a sham, a farce, or a lie, or that their partner has never loved them. Because a relationship does not retain sufficient attraction, joy, or good for it to remain an active or viable partnership, that does not mean that it never had enough to be one, and that it never, in fact, was one.
And similarly, just because adults may have every reason to believe that teenage love will not weather enough external changes to last as their children go to college, take on jobs, move to new environments and make new friends, that is no reason to hold the teenagers do not now love each other. They may be quite suited to each other now — quite attracted, quite satisfying, and quite good for each other — in their environment, at their level of maturity, and with their particular present interests and abilities. Parents need to understand it would most likely be unproductive, ill-advised, and misunderstood (and I think incorrect) to tell a child he or she is not really in love or that he or she should not be so serious yet or for this person. Rather they should realize how satisfying, good, and emotionally strong the relationship may be and only seek to help their children realize it is likely or possible to change as the partners mature and their circumstances, environment, abilities, and responsibilities change. Further, they want to try to ensure that behavior is appropriate to the stage of the relationship and the maturity level of the partners by at least making certain the children understand what is appropriate and why, and by making certain the children understand feelings for each other alone are not what determine the correctness of their behavior toward each other. This is, of course, in regard to sex that risks pregnancy and future heartbreak, but it is also in regard to things like sacrificing college (where college is more appropriate) in order to support the partner through law school or some such.
Now knowledge about the future can affect the present, and in different ways. One person expecting to face a severe crisis may be unperturbed by otherwise intruding minor annoyances; another may find those intrusions to be tremendous additional aggravations. Nothing else in the morning may bother a person sentenced to the gallows for that afternoon; but, on the other hand, few people would be able to enjoy the freefall from a plane if they had no parachute or knew their chute would not open. Knowing or believing a relationship likely to be impermanent may make it more important and enjoyable at the time or may spoil or ruin it altogether. Impending disaster can spoil the present or make its pleasures that much more intense and more valuable.
Also, some publicized prophecies (like “bank Z will fail”, or “the rate of inflation will increase”) are self- fulfilling; others (like predicting overcrowded dorms next year, before people have chosen their colleges or residences), are self- defeating; and still others (such as horse race predictions) have no effect on the outcome at all. Predicting or thinking about the future of a relationship may or may not alter how that relationship will actually turn out, but I suspect that more often than not foresight, preparation, precaution, and planning would make more people much happier and better off than reflex reaction to circumstance, feelings, and unexpected accident. Though in some cases dire predictions are self-fulfilling, in many cases they may make possible sufficient preparation and response to render them false.
In some cases, it seems to me it is not too much information or too much understanding of the probability of the future, but the uncertainty or unpredictability of the future, that makes life’s decisions more difficult. One might justifiably delay a gratification that has some personal risk to one’s future, whereas if one knew there was not going to be much future for them, one probably would justifiably not delay such gratification. Sometimes a relationship that is known by both people about to end — say one person is moving away, or dying — may be more intense, less superficial, more loving than one which seems to have no near end. With relationships, as with life in general, there would probably be fewer difficult problems and decisions if we knew whether there would be no tomorrow or infinite tomorrows, or if we knew just exactly how many tomorrows there would be. Fortunately or unfortunately, however, we have to both plan for the future and plan for the possibility of there being no or little future.
That is sometimes difficult, for how we would and should act if there were no or little future is often quite different from how we should act if there were an assured long future. And it is particularly difficult, I think, for children and teenagers, because without the self-knowledge that can come with experience they sometimes have too little patience (feeling like the future may never arrive or that it takes too long to arrive) and sometimes have too much patience (for procrastination) because they feel there will always be time to do the things they need to do.
- Changes through time which decrease or end love, do not mean it did not exist at the time it was perceived. Oppositely, but not as problematic or perhaps even interesting, the flowering of a relationship into love does not mean love existed from the beginning. The general framework of love as attraction, satisfaction, and goodness (and their opposites) helps make understanding the nature of changes over time easier and can put them into perspective, both in regard to past actual changes and future potential ones.
- One may realize that present satisfaction is due only to temporary circumstances and that when those circumstances change, so to, may the joy the relationship brings.
Chapter Review Questions
- Question: Do relationships change as people mature and acquire knowledge about how they respond to various kinds of situations and conditions?
- Question: Does predicting or thinking about the future of a relationship affect how that relationship will actually turn out?