The first time I experienced death, it was the passing of my Grandfather.
My phone rang late at night/early in the morning, and my brother give me the news. My Grandfather hadn’t been well, but it still came as a shock to me. My brother lived close at the time, so he picked me up we went to my Grandparents house to be with the family.
I remember seeing my Grandmother when I came in, and not really knowing what to say. I just gave her a hug and told her I was sorry.
It’s been over 20 years, but I still remember a lot of details of that night. And it’s not just that night, I also remember other details of that time in my life.
For example I remember what music I was listening to at that time in my life, and there is a song from that time that I have come to associate with his passing. Whenever I hear that song now, I think of my Grandfather.
Memory is an interesting thing. When I look back on my life there are all sorts of moments that stand out in some way. I remember a lot of “firsts”, and other significant occasions.
Like my Grandfathers death, they aren’t all happy moments. Some are happy, some are sad, fun, or silly. Hell, some are moments that I wish I could forget.
The one thing these moments have in common is that they all had an impact on me in one way or another.
Now, contrast this with the things we don’t remember.
What are those?
That’s a trick question I guess, asking you to think of the things you don’t remember. But what we don’t remember is the mundane. I mean, can you tell me what you had for dinner a month ago today? I doubt it – unless a month ago today was a special day like a birthday or an anniversary (and even then I doubt it).
We don’t remember cleaning the house, grocery shopping, doing the laundry or putting gas in the car. These things are important and need to be done; but they don’t impact us.
The routine moments of life tend to blur one into the next, and during those moments we’re kind of on autopilot.
That’s not to say these impactful moments are necessarily any better, or more important than the routine moments of our lives. But they stay with us when the other moments don’t.
Why is this important?
It’s important because memories and experiences matter.
When a couple meets, they share all sorts of firsts. Their first date, their first kiss, meeting each other’s families and friends for the first time, the first time they have sex, the birth of a child, etc.
All of these moments matter, and as a couple builds a life together they are also building shared experience.
Over time though many couples find themselves in a rut, where life has become nothing more than routine. Routine is important, and necessary; but when this happens it can make it seem like all they have left is shared history; and memories of the time when things were better and happier.
(Interestingly memory can be faulty, and our brain can rewrite our past in order to justify our present – but that’s another post for another day)
Often a big part of the problem is they have stopped sharing these impactful moments. Life becomes all about nothing more work, kids, and maintaining a household.
With all these competing needs and limited time, they stop nurturing and growing the relationship. After all, they already have each other right? They’re already committed to each other, so why MAKE time for the relationship when there is another event to bring the kids to, or another load of laundry to be done.
But when the relationship stops being a focus, they stop building meaningful moments “as a couple” together.
Somewhere along the way, what started as comfortable familiarity turns into apathy, and eventually a recognition that the spark has been lost. This realization that the spark is gone is a painful one, and can lead to questioning what it means to the relationship.
Failing relationships are often characterized by two people who still love each other, but no longer know how to connect with each other on a deeper level.
And when couples find themselves in this rut, they often make a big mistake. They each desperately crave the connection they “used to have” with each other. But they don’t know how to get it back, and that hurts. So in response to that pain, they shut down and withdraw.
They stop building meaningful moments together, because they have stopped engaging each other. And without continuing to grow their relationship, all that is left is memory of “when times were better”. And without effort, they are virtually guaranteeing the relationship will not succeed.
Building in Experience
I think this notion of remembering experiences is important to keeping your relationship alive. And these moments don’t have to be big, elaborate or expensive. We remember “firsts”, so add some novelty. Take a class together, try something you’ve never tried. Whether you like it or end up hating it, it’s still an experience you are sharing together.
Life can’t be just about work, kids, domestic chores (with some time taken out to watch TV). Sure that stuff matters, but for the health of your relationship, you need to spend time on it. And if you’re too busy, you need to make time
I’ve said before you can have anything, just not everything. There are limits to the amount of time, energy and money we have. We can’t have everything, so we need to focus our priorities on what’s truly important. If we want our relationships to last, that should be reflected in the amount of energy we put into them.
If the relationships is always taking the hit because other stuff gets in the way, it should be no surprise when it starts to struggle. As the saying goes, garbage in garbage out. What you get out of something is directly correlated to what you put into it.
So show that. Don’t let your relationship become nothing more than a memory of better times. Make your relationship a priority. Take time out each day to let all the distractions and busyness of life fade away, and focus on each other.
And never stop building experiences together.