How to Have a Functional Relationship

Trust me, my other fall was not nearly as graceful as this one.

I have something embarrassing to admit. On Friday, I was in the middle of a riding lesson when everything began to fall apart. After months of pushing myself to my limits, riding until my inner thighs burned and my muscles felt like jello, I finally reached that limit. And passed it. We were cantering in a circle over poles, but I was losing the strength to stay balanced, push my horse over the poles, and maneuver her in a circle. When she broke into a trot, laws of inertia sent me careening towards the outside of the circle. As time slowed, I realized that I was probably going to fall off. In that moment, though, I had no fear of falling. My horse wasn’t even that tall and I thought that I could plop into the dirt without being injured. The moment I hit the ground, I regretted not trying harder to stay on. I landed hard on the right side of my lower back, bracing my fall partially with my right hand and upper arm. After I caught my breath again, I could tell that I wasn’t seriously injured, so I immediately wanted to get back on and ride. That I did, and I finished out the lesson with a few good runs over the poles.

As soon as I got off, though, I began to feel it. Every step I took felt like pins and needles where my femur met my tailbone, as if the cartilage was missing. Showering was difficult one-handed and every time I had to bend over, I gritted my teeth in pain. I grew frustrated when I couldn’t perform simple tasks with my right hand, like turning a doorknob or slicing off a slab of butter. At night, I was grateful that I’d always been a stomach sleeper, because that was the only position that didn’t cause excruciating pain. Even in that position, however, my back throbbed. This morning, I decided not to go the barn because I needed to rest and heal. But all I want to do is go and ride, so now I’m irritated. Irritated at what? you might ask.

You see, throughout this experience, I may have been angry at myself and my body, but never was I mad at my horse. Actually, I’m never mad at Betsy. Not when she throws ugly fits and fights me with all her strength. Not when she insists on going backwards when I’m asking her to go forward. Not when she goes so close to the wall that she rams my leg into the wood. Why? Because it’s never just her fault. We are a team and every mistake we make is something that I could have done better. Before I blame her for something, I always think about what I could have been doing better. Just like neither of us deserves 100% credit for any victory, neither of us deserves 100% blame for any failure.

In considering my relationship with my horse, I began to think about human relationships. I’ve since realized that human relationships function the same way. Every relationship is a team effort and — no matter who happens to take the painful fall into the dirt — it’s unreasonable to accuse the other person without first taking a hard look at yourself. Especially since you can’t control anyone’s actions but your own, you should always think about what you can fix before you think about what someone else can fix.

Now, let me say that I think the viral “Marriage Isn’t For You” article is a load of bullshit, and not just because some religious fundamentalist wrote it. I think it’s bullshit because it expresses the same message that a church (of which I’m an ex-member) used to: that your needs don’t matter, or that your needs matter less than everyone else’s. Nope nope nope. Marriages and relationships are for you. Why the hell would anyone pursue them then? Let’s face it — nobody is that selfless. But the thing is that relationships are not all for you. Your significant other doesn’t exist to make you happy, make your troubles go away, carry you off into the sunset. Your significant other exists because they want to be a part of this team as much as you do.

And voilà, there you have it: a functional relationship.

What were your thoughts on Seth Adam Smith’s article? What’s your definition of a functional relationship?




5 thoughts on “How to Have a Functional Relationship

  1. Rebecca, as you know, my marriage is in its final death throes. In fact, yesterday I spent an very lonely, angst ridden afternoon packing up my stuff in preparation for my leaving today. I have approximately 3 hours left as I write this to be “married” and its the weight of these final moments seems almost too much to bear.

    While there will be more than enough time tomorrow to reflect upon how we allowed it to ever get to this stage, we both acknowledge that individually each of us are responsible for this tragic outcome. And we aren’t all that interested in assigning blame or apportioning degrees of failure. This wasn’t brought about by the usual suspects: cheating, abuse, financial irresponsibility, holding one another sexual hostage…none of these. It was brought about by benign neglect. By assuming we could heal ourselves without professional guidance (we simply did not have the tools). By falsely assuming we had more time to correct our course than we actually did.

    That said, you are 100% correct. That article, “Marriage Isn’t For You” is a blatantly inaccurate piece of garbage driven by ulterior motives that exhibits little understanding about the joys, reward, hardships, and failures of marriage. Because I can tell you that despite the savage pain of these final hours together, I treasure each and every year that Kerri and I spent together. The good and the bad. Our marriage may have failed, but neither of us failed to love one another, to share and grow together as both a couple and as individuals. Marriage was very much for us…even it we never quite made it to the “Death do you part” goalposts.

    Will I ever get back on this particular horse and ride again? Who knows? Probably not. The problem is, with all the social derision brought on by a divorce, with the loss not only of our partnership, but our relationships with each others families and friend as well, neither of us regret our decision to share so many years of our lives together. And what I have felt, and will always feel for her would certainly diminish any future relationship by comparison, so why bother? It’s time for me to wind down my years finding comfort in my own skin. Being single again will be difficult, but millions have survived without marriage. So will I. But I would never, ever say “Marriage wasn’t for us.” That would be the most obscene falsehood.

    Thank you for posting this article today. While I have better things to do in these last hours than surf WordPress, perhaps I was meant to read this article on this particular day.

    • Oh Dennis, I had hoped that you would skip this post, since I didn’t want to bring any more grief to you than you’re already experiencing. I can only wish that it made you hopeful in some way, or grateful for the times you did share with your beautiful wife.

      I saw the photographs of your wedding day and I read your thoughts on your last moments together. My heart simply goes out to you and your wife and your friends and family. I don’t even know what to say except that I hope you have the strength to carry on because you’re an amazing individual and the world still needs you in it. And that many people don’t experience such a deep love in their lifetimes, so if you’ve found it once I know you’ll find it again.

      The single life is difficult, but it gives you the space to find yourself without having to hurt others with your actions. Dennis, I’ll be thinking of you today. And, as always, I feel incredibly honored that you, with all of your wisdom and experience, would take the time to consider my humble opinion.

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