It seems the two most difficult jobs in life are creating successful relationships with our significant others and parenting children, yet neither come with any formal training. It’s as if people believe that we are born with an inherent ability to do these two things. Yet, look around us. In the US, the divorce rate is slightly over fifty percent!
Couples go through life getting along when times are good, but fighting with, ignoring, or leaving each other when things get tough. There are plenty of reasons people hesitate to seek help. It’s common to think that relationships are something we must manage on our own. People may believe seeking help with their relationships means admitting a certain kind of defeat that says something about who they are as a person. Another belief is that those out there helping couples can’t know any more than they do. After all, what’s to know about keeping relationships together?
There is actually a whole lot to learn when it comes to relationships. Unfortunately, the only training most of us ever receive is the passive learning we receive through the media and from the modeling of the adults in our lives. This means that my parents were going off the informal training they got from their parents, who were managing with the training they got from my great-grandparents, and so on, back through the generations. There is so much more to know about relationships than that!
Sometime around their twenty-fifth anniversary, my parents became part of that fifty-percent statistic I cited earlier. Something I learned from watching my parents is that couples never argue, especially in front of the children. On the surface, my parents had a very happy marriage, but my father experienced a stereotypical mid-life crisis. He suddenly questioned the meaning of life and decided marriage was holding him back somehow.
In some ways, this type of training is as bad as those who watched parents argue all the time. Disagreements are a natural by-product of relationships; it is virtually impossible for two people to come together and create a life without some of their ideals, values, opinions, or day-to-day activities coming into conflict with each other. The question becomes how the couple manages this conflict.
There are many things to consider when speaking about the challenges couples face and their areas for growth and development. The first is compatibility. The expression ‘opposites attract’ is an accurate statement, but only when you think of attraction as the chemical interaction that occurs when two people meet and are attracted. This chemical attraction doesn’t care what the other person’s values are, what is important to him or her, the personality characteristics involved, or what either of you likes to do in your spare time. Compatibility, however, is different, and is key for a successful, healthy relationship.
Another thing to consider is the major differences between how women and men act in relationships. Women don’t understand men because they don’t act like women, and men don’t understand women because they don’t act like men. And since a woman has never been a man and a man has never been a woman, how does each learn about these important differences? John Gray researched and wrote about these issues in his book, Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus. But I would say that, instead of learning about these gender differences, people find it easier to point a finger and blame the other person for his or her “irrational” behavior.
As mentioned earlier, a third area of growth is learning how to manage conflict. There are time-proven methods for resolving conflict that we don’t learn in school or from a book. By placing the relationship first in importance, these methods can be implemented by couples to greatly improve their satisfaction.
There is so much to learn about creating satisfying relationships that your parents never showed you. Please don’t become one of the statistics of divorce, or, perhaps worse, stay in a miserable relationship to honor your marriage vows while having so many regrets about your life as the time ticks away.
Learn some new ways to improve the relationship you are already in or to prepare yourself for being a better, improved partner for the next person in your life.