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Source: SaMBa/Shutterstock

I am a huge fan of maintenance. Everything in our lives seems to require it — homes, cars, finances, clothing, records, resumes, and, most of all, relationships. Without maintenance, things break down and need repairs, which are always more costly in terms of time, money, and energy. My own love story is a saga of balancing the joy of being present in our moments with all the work (maintenance) required in a new, blossoming, and — as an additional challenge — long-distance romance.

Doing the maintenance required in a romantic relationship is rarely sexy.  Sometimes it requires confronting conflict, learning to work one’s way through it, trading fun for work, and learning to allow the work to become fun. But maintenance is the key to firm foundations that can allow any relationship to flourish over time.

What Needs Maintenance in a Relationship?

  • Developmental changes. As people age, their needs and motivations can change. Managing a young career and family do not require the same skills and attention that are needed when the career and family are maturing or even gone. Coordination is necessary at all stages. What needs coordinating and the ease with which it can be done also shifts.   
  • Updating based on circumstances. The context in which a relationship takes place can also require maintenance. Does more attention need to be devoted to health? Economics? Learning? Social life? Fun? Life can shift out of balance so easily, and the relationship can suffer. After days of working late on a project, perhaps an evening watching a movie or sharing a candlelit dinner (at home or a restaurant, both work) is in order. Following recovery from the flu, perhaps sitting quietly reading in the same space is the contact that brings back the mutuality and sparks. Perhaps intense days of close work or responsive parenting make a person yearn for an evening of play.
  • Intentions. What people want from their primary relationships may also require updating. Over time, dependencies can change. Help that once might have been essential may become irrelevant as one person learns from the other and becomes able to take responsibilities onto his or her own shoulders. How they want love to be shown — and how they want to express it — can vary with these changing wants and needs.
  • Vision and dreams. At the other extreme, our notions of what is possible in ourselves, our relationships, and our lives can need maintenance. When a couple brings a child into their relationship, they may need to broaden their perception of “family." When chronic illness brings permanent limitations, shared activities and assigned roles may require redefinition.
  • Organization. The ways in which a couple makes decisions together can demand maintenance. The pace may become too slow for the needs of one person — or too quick for the personality of the other. Conflicts may make tension-reducing processes essential.
  • Agreement on tasks and roles. Who does what in the relationship, and what needs doing, may require adjustment from time to time. 
  • Differences in goals. What each person wants from themselves, their partner, and their life can change as old goals are met or discarded and new ones are formed. Whether this takes place privately, in solo contemplation, or through discussion, the results need to become part of the relationship so that the couple does not get derailed. If one thinks the other wants luxury and fun, but now he or she wants comfort and support; if one thinks the other wants a lot of physical passion, and he or she just wants to watch the sunset and read new books...you can see where confusion can brew.

How Can Maintenance Be Done Most Comfortably?

  • Schedule regular check-ins. Nothing makes it easier to do the maintenance than to have it programmed on the calendar. Knowing that a dedicated time is assured, adults can usually hold on until it rolls around. The unconscious even has an uncanny way of sorting through the issues that need to be raised, once a time for addressing them appears on the horizon. Uncomfortable topics are less likely to slip beneath the radar.
  • Notice or create opportunities for natural small updates. In addition to scheduled check-ins, a life that has informal moments to address whatever is on someone’s mind offers a way to ensure that little issues do not become bigger ones. Mealtimes are commonly used in this way, as are walks or drives between here and there — and in-person always beats the phone.
  • Agree to schedule times to discuss or do maintenance as soon as the need becomes clear. A signal that something more urgent has come up can be agreed to. Time for addressing it can be assigned by agreement without either partner feeling manipulated.
  • Have rules about discussions. Many approaches to couples counseling stress the importance of listening to each other, of hearing each other out so that ideas and emotions can be expressed and included in resolution of a conflict or the solution of a problem, planning so that the nice things that bring rewards into the relationship remain part of it.

Why Does Maintenance Help Secure a Relationship Over Time?

  • It offers a check against assumptions. We can easily grow to expect our partner today to be the same as he or she was yesterday. Remaining respectful means to remain mindful and be willing to review our assumptions about what our partner wants, needs, or is expressing — and how it is being expressed.
  • It allows change to be a part of the relationship, not a threat. Because permanence in almost anything is an illusion, accepting evolution brings a far more flexible and adaptive way to live.

When did you last notice both continuity and change in yourself, someone you love, and your relationship? How do you feel when you spot differences? How do you respond? What methods have worked for you and your partner in doing the necessary maintenance of your relationship?

Copyright 2017  Roni Beth Tower

Visit me at www.miracletmidlife.com

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