Vallarta Tribune, Dec 3-9, 2006, issue # 504, pg 25

When we “couple up” or choose who to partner with, the natural tendency for most people across all cultures and ethnicities seems to be with someone from very similar backgrounds, beliefs, religions, economic levels, education levels, etc. Partnering or marrying someone who grew up in the same neighborhood, went to the same university, or works in the same place you do. We also naturally tend to choose someone near to our age and therefore our stage in the life cycle.

However, this is changing. More and more people are meeting people from all over their own country and the world. The world really has gotten smaller due in a large part to the internet connecting us from dating services to business transactions to travel, and enticing many of us to move to other countries for business or pleasure. Vallarta is an excellent example of this, attracting foreigners to move here from all over the States, Canada, Europe, and Central and South America.

As we venture out of our familiar comfort zone and curiously explore the unknown and unfamiliar, we realize there is so much that attracts us because it is different. It’s only logical that we then become attracted to people and form intimate relationships with people who are very different from us; our backgrounds, upbringing, culture, beliefs, approach to life, work ethic, etc.

Have you ever sat and wondered how and why you chose the relationship partners you have over the years? Have the answers surprised you? Have you figured out the lessons? Have you grown?

If you consider how many relationships you’ve been in and what age you were when you entered each of them you will realize that your experiences varied accordingly. They most probably varied from your friends’ experiences as well. How do we learn and grow in relationships that we chose?

Age and life cycle influence what you look for in a partner and what you hope it will look like. It is most likely that who you chose then and who you would choose now are very different. Another very important thing to notice that may sound simple or obvious, but is very challenging, is that in your late 20’s and early 30’s the idea is that you will build a life together, whereas in you late 30’s, 40’s and beyond, your life is already established and the challenge is how to jump on in the middle of someone else’s life path and still maintain your’s. It’s no longer about building a life together and sometimes it’s not even about combining interests. Instead, it’s about learning how to respect, allow, and encourage each other’s differences.

It is very challenging to combine your lives and figure out what is important to have or not, in the relationship. Is it okay that he doesn’t want or enjoy getting together with your friends, or going to the movies, or out dancing? Does it matter that she doesn’t like sports or won’t watch football with you? Figuring out what is important, what you can tolerate, what doesn’t matter anymore, is part of the coupling process.

It is even more difficult to come to terms with something different than you might have imagined, realizing that your life could or more importantly, should be different than you had imagined or hoped for, requires that you let go of expectations!!! Accepting someone different than you expected can be frightening and cause a lot of anxiety. There is a risk in rejecting them because you are afraid and there is a risk in accepting them because some of your fears may be valid. Often times the answer is “take the risk”.

There is not one answer for everyone or a right and wrong decision or way of approaching a relationship. What is right for one is not necessarily right for the other. Each person’s situation, needs, desires, personality, relationship skills, all influence what decision they should make and partner they should choose.

Now let’s consider if we choose certain relationships because of the lessons we have to learn? How many times do we repeat similar situations until we learn the lessons and move on? Did we meet this person for a reason? Were they sent into our lives as a gift to teach us something or to push us in a different direction? How long are we supposed to be with them; sometimes it’s not meant to last a lifetime. The biggest question of all: Are we willing to embrace the opportunities and lessons of relationships in order to grow including all of the joy and all of the pain, or do we choose to avoid the relationships or avoid the lessons they present and continue in our old patterns?

Written by: Giselle Belanger, RN, LCSW