Saturday, November 05, 2011

Enduring Relationships or Relationships that are Endured

Navigating through internet waters for some background on the influences and factors in the establishment of long term, successful relationships and challenged by the volume of pop psychology articles found, I turned to Google Scholar.

Remarkably, it was as though I had entered an entirely different search. Articles questioned the value of relationships on brand success and recommended best practices for managing customer relationships. Long term relationship success appears to be easier to maintain for corporations than for individuals. Dig a little deeper and it is apparent that the same key opens many doors when building successful long term relationships, either personal or professional.

Those individuals who share common life experiences, common political and religious beliefs and who work toward a shared goal tend to be most successful over the long term. When expressed in a marital union, shared goals and interests that respect the individual’s talents and differences seem to provide an important basic framework for success. These factors though do not guarantee enduring intimate relationships. That guarantee is found instead by couples whose individual character is enhanced as a result of their being in the relationship.

The old saying “behind every great man is a great woman” should be reworded and embraced for modern society. Perhaps, “behind every great person is a great partner” would be more succinct. To achieve an enduring relationship, rather than a relationship one endures, requires that couples willingly share their talents and energies with one another. In American society this is often considered in a negative light since we value individualism and expect to be free to pursue our personal goals. It is a conundrum, of sorts, to yearn for the satisfying intimacy of a relationship while embracing the ideals of individualism.

The desirability of marriage is reflected in surveys suggesting that 90% of Americans will choose to marry at some point in their lives (Brubaker & Kimberly, 1993). A good marriage provides individuals with a sense of meaning and identity in their lives. A variety of studies have demonstrated that people are generally happier and healthier when they are married (Gottman, 1994; Kelly & Conley, 1987; Orbuch & Custer, 1995; White, 1994. Research and experience indicate that it is far easier to achieve when both persons begin in a common place. Having similar backgrounds and beliefs relieves the couple from having to build consensus in those areas, allowing them to focus their energy on improving and sustaining one another’s life goals.

Common background does not negate the importance of an individual’s disposition on a relationship. Some people are simply better at maintaining relationships because of positive personality characteristics. It is in this arena where it may improve a relationship when partners are somewhat different. If a person is fearful or antagonistic, those qualities could be exacerbated if the other person answered in kind. A partner who is optimistic and cooperative may have a positive influence by dampening his/her partner’s negative outlook. This is what I consider “good fit” in a relationship; the ability for partners to nurture and grow one another’s best assets. Individual growth and maturation is encouraged and supported by the union.

Romantic relationships are born and die frequently and romantic love can be a wonderful experience. Love alone, without real trust, loyalty and compatibility cannot sustain a relationship beyond a few years. The potential of any relationship to become an enduring one depends on the fundamental beliefs, personality and commitment of the partners. When individual life experiences, cultural backgrounds and dispositions are in sync, they are more likely to be able to sustain a healthy relationship across the lifetime. Life is full of changes and can be significantly more satisfying when experienced by partners who are supportive of one another, as individuals and also as a couple. People in enduring relationships recognize the importance of their relationship to both partner’s development and well being.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sunny Saturday

That year Easter was late but spring was cold and rainy. Finally, a sunny Saturday and the season burst forth with all its color. The dogwood out front and the azaleas on the side of the house celebrated as we set forth on our mundane household tasks. Working hard you hung shelves in the new shed. Measure cut. No, measure, measure again, cut. I climbed up and down the pull down stairs carrying things to the attic. Storing away the winter cold. By afternoon the temperature soared and the first sunny Saturday held the promise of spring that the others had denied.
After a long bike ride, Ali and Cate sat at the kitchen table coloring bold pink flowers with kool aid green leaves. Walking through the kitchen, you smiled at their brilliance and critically considered them for the walls of your new shed. “I want to catch the Flyers score”, you said. Always the optimist. Seconds later they followed you, willing fans of orange and black, a color combo that even after a lifetime in Philadelphia, I could not embrace.
When they ran back into the kitchen, Cate nervously giggling and Ali, wide-eyed and serious, I expected an overturned iced tea. When they called me to the den, I expected a broken lamp. I expected a bumble bee or a scary beetle. I did not expect you, on your favorite chair, head back like you might be asleep but not really. Even then, I expected you to jump up, shout “boo” and scare the girls’ silly. But I moved without expectation, trained, professional, a trained professional. Place the patient on a flat surface. I moved you off the chair onto the floor. Open the patient’s airway, instruct the bystanders to call a cardiac emergency (the bystanders are your daughter and her best friend. They are 10 years old). Begin chest compressions. Continue until help arrives.
Help arrives. But not right away. I am working hard. I am talking to you between counting and praying. I need your help here. Hang in. When help arrives, the first responder (an old school police officer) does not have an AED and he doesn’t know CPR. I work harder. I hear someone say “step back” and I realize that help did arrive and the kinetic energy I held is now pure fear. They work really hard. The guy who takes my place is as big as you and I know his compressions will be more effective than my own. I am hopeful. Until I walk outside next to the stretcher where you lay and where they continue to work on you. Outside, half the neighborhood and twenty or so volunteer EMTs line our yard in a single row. I notice a woman; she is about my age, dressed in heavy emergency gear, with her head down, holding her helmet. She is crying. Sobbing really. And I am not so hopeful now. They stop traffic from Franklin Avenue to Route 320 so that the ambulance can zip through and I can’t help thinking how irritated all the Saturday shoppers must be, waiting in traffic on Baltimore Pike.
In the emergency room, I wait outside the door but I listen carefully. I am alone. I listen and I know the routine exactly. I have been there for others, not my own, ready to drop a heavy cassette behind the patient’s back, get an underexposed view of the chest. Give the doctors something to look at. I am pleased that they continue and wonder if they know you. Know that you are not a quitter. But it is not going well. I can’t deny this. If you weren’t my own, I’d have slipped out of the room around now. My services not needed. Today on the other side of the door, I hear someone say “Are we ready to call this”. And I know. I hear him again, “Time is 5:21PM”.
So what did you do then? My sister asks me later. I smoked a cigarette, I answer. There is nothing else to say. Someday maybe. But that day still has not come.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Growing Conditions

Your plants made the small house smaller. And they dropped leaves and needed water or had too much water and sometimes they’d drip water all over the console stereo that Dee bought at Gimbel's with her first paycheck. Dad took the stereo part out years ago and turned it into a cabinet where you kept Golden Books and extra napkins and plants on top. And others hanging above. The ones that dripped.
When I’d visit you’d want to show me something new. A bud. A brown leaf that confounded you. A macramé hanger that Roseann made. I lived in the small house with the plants long enough to know their vagaries, I even knew individuals and remember their arrival. Mother-in-Law’s tongue from your father’s funeral and Boston Fern from the Philadelphia Flower Show. Wandering Jews that escaped and set roots in the Weeping Fig and an amaryllis that Grandmom found in an alley in the 1930’s. Mistaken for an onion set she was deeply disappointed by flowers at Christmas instead of food.
The disappearance of philodendron was a good sign. Big Mark could finally fit on the end chair at the dining room table. Then silence and the missing bromeliad. The stereo console turned into cabinet top was clear and the few hanging plants struggled with something. You weren’t sure what it was. No ideas. No talk of spider mites or mealy bugs or root bound problems. The dining room surprises me in March, awash in a new light after all the hanging plants are gone. Indifferently, I ask why because I kind of like the emptiness. Your answer doesn’t bring me any closer to knowing but I am trying to find a missing Golden Book and little Mark is rummaging through a cereal box to find the surprise inside. Distracted, we are satisfied.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Now, I count, add, the years. At least eight. But more like ten. Unless you count when you recommended I visit the Empire State Building during the Washington trip.
Should I count that? Will they count when I said Labor Day instead of Memorial Day?
A lot of people do that. I think. No. Definitely at least eleven. I remember Aricept at the millennium. At least eleven but if we count the nun who talked to you through the television. That would be more. Or less. I can’t remember. Really. It is a long time, either way. To be caught between the here and there. So, they tell me I should be relieved. Definitely eight. We went to a party and you had to relieve yourself and you couldn’t tell me. I figured it out then in the car on the way home. And made them stop at the mini-mart where the key was attached to a giant wooden paddle and you wore pantyhose and underpants and it took too long to take them off. You cried in the backseat afterward and I brought home the giant key holder. Accidentally.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Life Lessons

As a little girl I would play with the kids in the neighborhood and I recall having a fight with one of the girls. I went home angry and crying, my mother washed my face and soothed my ego. I asked her to talk to the other girl. Gently my mother lifted me from the couch onto the floor and said “Lorraine, if you want to play outside you will need to learn to fight your own battles” . My mother taught me how to be brave.

When I was a young teen, I was not so industrious. I was in fact, spoiled and a little lazy. After working all week my Mom would clean the house on Saturday and feeling a little guilty, I would offer to help. I wasn’t a great worker and I recall asking my mother how she could stand doing all this housework. She advised me to “offer it up to God”. I didn’t fully understand this but instead of complaining I would begin each task with a loud reminder that I was “washing the dishes for God” or “cleaning my room for the souls in purgatory”. But the work did become easier. I finished projects, I started new ones without being asked. My mother’s entreaty helped me to learn that there is joy in doing things for others. My mother taught me generosity.

As a young adult I was quick to judge the behavior of others. I could be harsh and unforgiving at what I perceived as foolishness and disrespectful toward beliefs that I did not share. During lunch one day, as I complained about a friends behavior my mother said, in a quiet and peaceful voice “Lorraine, don’t judge a person until you walk a mile in their shoes”. For weeks afterward, I would hold my tongue instead of voicing my opinion. I would try to walk in the others shoes. Soon, I realized that I wasn’t qualified to judge anyone except myself. My mother taught me tolerance.

These last few years, I’d sit with my mother at the nursing home. She greeted me, until the very end, with a smile. She’d stroke my hands, touch my face. Whisper words that often I could not understand. Invariably, my thoughts would lead me to wonder about the lesson I needed to learn from her illness. I always left empty-handed. There was nothing to learn. One rainy Saturday morning I visited early and helped her to have breakfast. There was music playing, so I started being silly, dancing around the room singing. She was smiling at me and shaking her head, much as she would have done when she was well. In an instant I realized that my mother was able to attain what most of us will never be able to do. Without a memory of what was past, or a worry of what would be, Mom’s awareness was wholly in the present. My mother taught me how to live in the moment.

Monday, March 07, 2011


A compass rose, is a figure on a map, or a nautical chart used to display orientation -north, south, east, and west. The compass rose is an element that provides direction. Mommy was our compass rose. Her direction helped us navigate through the rough seas of adolescence and traverse the rocky paths of adulthood. Her gentle demeanor and strength of character inspired us to action. Her generosity helped us to prosper. Her humility led us to wisdom. Like the compass rose, she pointed us in the right direction but allowed us to get there on our own. Mom’s passing, however sad and painful for us, is for her, a blessed rest after a long and beautiful life.. And when our time on earth is through our compass rose will be there to lead the way to the Lord.