What is Relationship Success?
Elena is a Somatica practitioner with her own thriving practice in San Francisco and the South Bay. She is also a group leader in the Somatica Core Training as well as an amazing friend, colleague, partner, and mom. We are so excited to host her guest blog
Last year I watched the Showtime series “Masters of Sex,” the fictionalized story of the real life Virginia Johnson and William Masters. I knew of them, of course, but I didn’t know a lot about them so as I made my way through the series, I also researched who they were and what the wide world of the internet had to say. I came across a blog post that characterized the relationship of Masters and Johnson as “ultimately failed” because, after 20 years of marriage, they divorced. I found it appalling that a twenty year relationship, not to mention a culture-shifting collaboration, could be described as failed because at some point they decided to separate.
On the one hand, I wasn’t surprised at all. The prevailing wisdom about long term relationships equates longevity with success. Not just longevity but longevity of a particular form or arrangement of relationship, most often monogamous, cohabiting, and married. On the other hand, I was separating from my partner of 15 years and I was furious at the thought that our relationship could in any way be construed as a failure.
I met my… what to call him? Ex. Ugh. Former partner? No, we are still partners. Baby daddy? Seriously?
I met this person, one of my soul mates, when he and I were both 29. I had moved from the Bay Area to New Mexico a few years prior and he was from the South – an unlikely match. We began an affair after I had a bad breakup. He was in a non-monogamous relationship (as he pointedly informed me one night at a party). For a year we had hot, amazing, open, adventurous sex and pined after each other on the daily. I loved it (see my blog-post In Search of My Movie).
At the end of that year, and some all-too-human and messy life events, the multiple relationship configurations exploded and when the pieces reformed, he and I were living together. Monogamously.
Two years later, we started trying to have a baby. Two and a half years after that, we finally did have our son. Thus continued a decade of life and relationship challenges I could not have foreseen. To list them would get off topic but it was a heavy time. Eventually we sought out the help of a gifted therapist because we knew our relationship could be better and we wanted it to be. I also found Somatica. Between the gifted therapist and the life-altering experience of the Somatica training, we started to wake up. We healed and repaired some of our deepest wounds – some of which we had inflicted on each other and some of which pre-dated our presence in each other’s lives. We got legally married and we opened our relationship again. We worked our way to a state of awareness from which we were able to see one another, and what we each wanted, clearly. Without blame or recrimination we decided to stop living together, stop forcing ourselves to be lovers, and to embrace the profoundly deep knowing and love we have for each other as friends, as co-parents, and as soul mates. We made room for change so our relationship could shift instead of break.
I had friends say, “Oh, that open relationship thing isn’t working out so well.” I found it fascinating that opening our relationship was blamed (as though the shift was a failure) and that no one ever said, “Wow, living all those years with the confining, restrictive, unrealistic expectations of traditional marriage really took it’s toll, huh?”. The truth of our experience was that we opened our relationship out of a sense of safety with and love for each other. We weren’t meeting all of each other’s needs and wanted those needs met regardless of whether or not we were the one to fulfill them for the other. I don’t advocate for open relationships or monogamy, but I do believe they should both be on the menu as equally valid choices so that people can make a conscious decision to do what works for them. What I want to share in this post is that people change, and we can shift instead of break if we allow our relationships to change with us. Riding the roller coaster with awareness, flexibility, and resilience is the way to have successful relationships, not deciding on a shape and form and rigidly holding to that at the cost of passion, joy, fulfillment, and ultimately even connection.
If the author of the aforementioned blog, and most of society, were to look at the 15 years of relationship we’ve had so far, they would pronounce our relationship a failure because we are no longer married and living together. Far from a failure, this is the most successful relationship of my life to date. We didn’t break up, or in fact break anything – we shifted a connection that remains vibrant and vital to both of us.