Close Connections: For better or worse

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By Nancy Norman

A reader writes: “I’ve been in a relationship for a year and the romance is waning. He stopped bringing me flowers and now hogs the remote control. I have to keep asking him to pick up his dirty clothes and he says I’m a nag. He wants his way, I want mine. So how do I figure out what to overlook in his behavior and say, ‘That’s just him,’ and what to fight about—or even whether I should stay or not?

(What I want to know is, why aren’t there easier questions about relationships!)

Anyway, I think we have to accept that relationships seem to become less perfect as time goes by. We relax the good behavior of dating and become more who we really are. I hear comments like, “He really changed,” or “She’s not the person I married.” Maybe we just show more of our true colors.

My accountant friend, Linda, says it’s easy to decide whether to stay when times get tough: make two columns, one with pluses and one with minuses, and see which outweighs the other. Maybe it really is as simple as that.

In times past, the question was somewhat muted with the promise of staying “for better or worse,” perhaps backed up by a stronger sense of duty and obligation in our society. An elderly gentleman I know who lives independently (in a wheelchair) has a wife with dementia who lives in a care facility next door. He goes to see and feed her every day. He didn’t even miss the day he broke his arm. He stays because he keeps his promises and he remembers who she was. He will take care of her. It’s his duty.

Today, “for better or worse” doesn’t even appear in many wedding vows. And divorce has lost much of the sting of social condemnation. Adios is much easier legally.

Then there’s the effects of aging to consider when deciding what to overlook or whether to say goodbye: health problems, disabilities, mental challenges, money fears and fears of death. Are we willing to start over or live by ourselves?

In 1919, Gloria Swanson made a silent movie for Cecil B. De Mille called “For Better or Worse” in which two men love the same woman. Both enlist in the military; but one, a doctor, stays back to care for deformed children. The woman thinks him a coward and marries his rival. After her husband is presumed dead, she decides to marry the doctor, but her husband returns maimed and scarred. So what’s the right answer for Gloria’s character?

My conclusion is that there isn’t one. I wish there were a formula. Dan Fogelberg’s song says, “When the binding cracks and the pages start to yellow, I’ll be in love with you.” So maybe we need to expand our definition of love to accommodate the fuller picture of who our mate is: the “good enough” lover. And then decide what we want and what we can live with.

Nancy Norman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, musician with The Storys duo and former “Intimacy” columnist for “The Wichita Eagle.” Email her at nancy@pikespeakpublishing.com.

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