Once the initial attraction, the ZING of a new romance fades, what can keep a relationship together? How do we prevent time, and the successive revelation of our mutual flaws, from driving us slowly apart?
I initially fell in love with Kelly’s creative spark, her nimble hands as she made art, and in the way she smelled. And while all those gifts remain, those superficial attributes are not enough to maintain a marriage or long term relationship.
Early on, though, Kelly and I stumbled onto an important element that keeps our relationship fresh, invigorating, and meaningful - a shared project that serves others. When we met, I was the executive director of a youth mentoring program. Kelly jumped in and worked with me to develop this young organization's two premier fundraising events. We so enjoyed working together and, for Kelly, it was a unique opportunity to use her talents to support a cause. Our partnership on these projects continued for six more years. A year after our last musical fundraiser, participants and audience members are reposting pictures and reminiscing about those uplifting moments.
When it came time to seal the deal and get married, Kelly and I decided to create an event that was about more than just ourselves. We felt strongly that a wedding can have deeply spiritual, psychological, emotional impacts on all participants and serve as a ritual to knit a community together. We worked for months, producing hand-made decorations, canning jams and syrups as give-aways, designing the temporary wedding structure, and printing invitations. We made sure to involve others in the preparation and execution of the shindig, too. Kelly’s best friend did the flowers. Another friend catered. Part of the entertainment during the reception was an open mic for music, poetry, and story. Six years later, our friends and family still tell us it was the most memorable wedding they’ve ever attended.
And now, after leaving the nonprofit world, Kelly and I are still dedicated to collaborating on projects that serve others. We co-host a weekly podcast dedicated to individual and community growth. We run a growing Facebook group to support more growth and engagement. Kelly produces “emotional support” sock monsters and I facilitate their give-away. Even though we are both introverts, our relationship remains deeply committed to engaging in the community.
Lots of research indicates that happy couples are the ones that find ways to:
Kelly and I found that collaborative projects, especially those aimed at serving others, are perfect ways to cover all those “best practices.” The projects we choose involve lots of talking, exploration and novelty. And, because of their period (weekly, monthly, yearly) nature, there are lots of opportunities to celebrate success and praise one another. Creative collaborations are powerful to do together because service brings out the best in humans. Working together on these projects means that Kelly and I get to see the best, most engaged, most uplifted versions of each other. That’s attractive!
Those long-term relationships that raise kids have a built-in “service project.” Although many couples argue over child rearing and experience lots of stress when the children are young, they find intense satisfaction and relationship happiness as the children grow older. They know they are in a relationship that is bigger than each of them and their usual small selfishness.
For those of us without kids, or for couples whose kids have flown the nest, finding or creating a project that serves the community can bolster happiness and shared commitment. Here are some brainstormed suggestions:
What other ideas do you have for projects that serve and can be accomplished as a couple? Please leave them in the comments.