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Dr. Joanne Paul- MBBS (UWI), FRCPCH (UK), FRCP (Edin)

So, marriage and long-term relationships are probably like trains, two trains moving alongside each other. Sometimes they go at the same pace and are parallel. Other times they go at different speeds, and one goes far in front whilst the other is left behind. Other times also they go in different directions and work is required to find the connecting track to bring them closer to each other and realign the speed to make the journey similar. What is most fascinating though about the trains is that, as they speed along, and go from one place to another with varying scenery, passing various towns, forested areas, the seaside even, the train drivers mainly remember the trains from the starting points, from the train stations. They mainly remember how the trains used to be at the beginning when they now left the station. They do not often stop the trains and take some time to go inside and inspect. If they did, they would find wear and tear and changes and colours faded that take on new hues. There is a different mechanical sound as the train moves forward and there is a lean to the left or right. The train may have lost a carriage and is shorter and lighter or picked up some load along the way and is now heavier and more encumbered.

A good few years ago, before covid of course, on a short holiday to New York City with family, I had gone to see a play off Broadway. For the life of me I cannot remember the name. It was about marriage and relationships and a couple drifting apart. There was an epiphany observation somewhere near the end where the male protagonist remarked that it was amazing that we fall in love with person A at some point in our lives. Years later when the person A has changed to person B, we are still in love with the person A that we remember, and we are annoyed that the person A has changed to person B. We also ignore that we have also changed, and it is also difficult for person B to not be with the original person they fell in love with. We find it hard to reconcile with the fact that we all will and must change as life evolves. The difficulty is to continuously get to know the person B and to continuously remain in love or grow in love with that person B. But even harder is to have self-insight to understand the person you yourself have changed into, and to accept that person, and also grow to love and more importantly, like that person.

Persons often say that people do not change, and the core values will always remain the same. It may be true that the core remains the same but like our changing physical structure where we may get fatter, more lean, more muscular, stooped, straight, limp, bend or sag, the core and muscle memory can be the same but there are unmistakable changes.

What we don’t realise in the midst of this, is the regret, loss, and grief. We grieve over the loss of the person that your spouse or long-time boyfriend/girlfriend once were. We mourn the loss of person A and rightly so since that was the endorphin releasing person that we connected with from the beginning. Who is this new person with whom we are now sharing our lives? There is sometimes a mild change picked up after 5 years but after 10 years there is more and definitely after 15 years and after 20 years it is ridiculous and obvious and there is a major shift. ‘Where is the person I used to know?’ Where is the person I used to love?’

What is even more interesting is that the changes escalated during covid. So, the speed of change was ramped up over the past two to three years with the pandemic. The trains realized that the train journey was uncertain and short, and they changed routes and sped through stations going towards particular destinations. People made decisions of what they wanted to do differently and who they wanted to be differently. But the shift may have been seemingly larger because covid forced us to get to know the person B spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend. If we were previously distracted by work, children, liming, hobbies and studying, we could pretend that lives and personalities were the same. But with the lockdown we had to acknowledge and observe the changed them and changed us.

The nonlinear stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. It may be time for some acceptance of the post pandemic person B. The new gray hair all over. The balding. The sagging belly fat. The sudden introversion and the reduced liming. The life of the party. The need to change careers. The new insights. The new visions and life goals. The worsened health issues. The change in diet. The acquisition of a dog. The acquisition of a cat. The new alpha. The new beta. The sudden garden person. The change in perspective and priorities. The increased libido. The reduced libido. The need to break up. The need to make up.

Sometimes one needs inspecting and reflecting. Sometimes it is enough to just watch the trains go by.

Dr Joanne F Paul is a Lecturer, a Paediatric Emergency Specialist, and a member of TEL Institute.

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