Love relationships tend not to last for too long these days.
Separations and divorces are much more common than in the past. This is not a bad thing in itself, as it can be seen as a sign of increased freedom, particularly on the part of women, but it is also the cause of much pain and distress, as we all know out of experience.
In any case, I believe that relationships last less than in the past for other reasons, which have to do with the ideology of free market and of “new is better” that predominate in our society and with a common hedonistic tendency in modern societies that equates “easy, pleasurable, and effortless” with “good.”
Let’s begin with the ideology of free market and “new is better.” According to these, to be happy we have to keep changing and upscaling whatever we have or we are engaged with. As we keep purchasing new items because we are told they are better than the old ones (even though this is often not true), we think that as soon as a relationship—whether informal or formalized—shows some signs of tiredness, or most commonly we don’t feel as passionate as we used to be in the beginning, we are better off ending it and look for a new and “better” one. We soon discover that perhaps the new one will end up like the old one, with less passion and more “problems.”
Of course people are different and one partner might be better suited than another one, but I believe that this is often not the case. The case is we want it easy; we don’t consider a problem or a challenge as something that may improve us spiritually, as something that may make us better persons or “spiritual warriors” as Jack Kornfield has beautifully explained:
“Only as a (spiritual) warrior can one withstand the path of knowledge. A warrior cannot complain or regret anything. His life is an endless challenge and challenges cannot possibly be good or bad. Challenges are simply challenges. The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or as a curse.” ~ Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart
Obviously there are extreme cases of abuse that we should not put up with if the other person is not ready to change his/her attitude and behaviour. Sometimes separation or divorce are necessary to safeguard our serenity and our life. However, there are many cases when they are not.
First of all we should not expect anything from our partner or idealize him or her.
He/she is a human being with his/her history, his/her difficulties and weaknesses, his/her good and bad moments. When I get a bit annoyed with my wife, I picture her as a little girl frustrated and suffering for her loneliness, for being ignored, for being mistreated (another Buddhist strategy suggested by Jack Kornfield), and I immediately start feeling strong compassion and love for her, even when she is in a bad mood, and my annoyance fades completely.
We have things in common, but also many things that are different, and our characters, too, are quite different. However, this is good because I can learn from her and she can learn from me, something we wouldn’t be able to do if we were too similar.
Also, I think that our society has been influenced greatly by romantic ideas of perfect and everlasting love and more recently by an increased emphasis on sex, which came as a reaction to the sexual repression of the recent past, rather than the relation as a whole. Both are just ideas, or perhaps I should say ideologies. They are human cultural constructs that don’t have much to do with reality.
I also believe that love for a partner is only a part of love in a wider sense—love for other beings, for nature, for life, and both should be integrated. This also means that love for a partner should not be our only source of happiness. Our major source of happiness should be our connection with the world, with the universe that we and our partner are a part of.
So, to conclude, don’t always look for what you don’t have, disregarding what you have already, which is often the best that could have happened to you. So love your present partner as you loved (and, why not, still love) your previous ones, as you love your friends and family, as you love the whole world, and I think the chances to be happy will increase greatly.