The People’s Therapist is a big Stevie Wonder fan.
Here’s one of my favorite songs, “I Believe (When I Fall in Love),” from the legendary 1972 album “Talking Book”:
You can see what makes it a classic.
First – it’s Stevie Wonder.
Second – who can resist a song whose chief lyric is “I believe when I fall in love this time it will be forever”?
We all want to find perfect love – and have it last forever.
But listening to this song feels like a guilty pleasure – there’s something that nags at you, even as you want to go along with it.
In reality, it’s impossible to know how long a relationship is going to last. You can “believe” all you want – but no one can predict the future.
Stevie married his first wife in 1970, divorced in 1972, then, after multiple relationships, married again in 2001. He has seven children, the product of what Wikipedia describes as “his two marriages and several relationships.”
For Stevie, where relationships are concerned, I think it’s fair to say “it’s complicated.”
That’s true for most of us.
Relationships are organic – like plants. No one knows whether they’re going to flourish or wilt, and there’s only so much you can do to control them. You can’t pull on a leaf and make it longer – it has to decide to grow that way on its own.
I try to avoid valuing a relationship based on its longevity. We all know people who have had meaningful relationships that lasted only a few years. And we all know couples who have been miserable together for decades.
At some point, what matters most in a relationship is not whether it lasts forever, but whether you enjoy being in it.
When I treat couples, I ask them right away: “How much of the time, as a couple, are you having fun?”
I’m not trying to be flippant – it’s an important question.
My general rule is that they should be having fun more than 50% of the time. Otherwise, it’s trouble – and I begin to question why they’re sticking it out.
In an existential sense, having fun – being happy – is what life’s about. We’re here to experience joy, and our relationships should be a source of that happiness.
There are a lot of things I could say about relationships – that they should be balanced, that partners should treat one another as equals and relate as adults, that they should be two whole people pursuing a shared goal, that a healthy relationship requires attraction, trust and respect between the partners.
But the most important thing – the starting place – is that you should be having fun.
The truth is most relationships end in break-up – and that’s not necessarily a disaster. It might be an evolution to something different. People grow and change over time, and having several loving relationships – like Stevie’s – might not be fundamentally better or worse than having only one.
It’s having fun, together with a partner, that really counts.
Here’s another song (lyrics by Eddy Arnold, performance by the incomparable Nat “King” Cole), called “Sometimes I’m Happy.”
I think gets a little closer to the truth of what relationships are really about:
Sometimes I love you.
Sometimes I hate you.
But when I hate you.
It’s ’cause I love you.
That’s how I am
So what can I do?
I’m happy when I’m with you.