YES!! MARRIAGES AND RELATIONSHIPS CAN WORK
All of us are unique. Therefore, every couple is different. And so are our relationships.
There is no one-size-fits-all magic formula for “living happily ever after”. Marriage requires commitment, effort, and sacrifice. Marriage and relationships can and do work, despite the overwhelming reports of divorce or breaking up and its implications on our social and emotional well-being. The issue at stake is not the marriage or relationship. The issue is whether we as individuals have what it takes, or at least try to contribute towards developing and sustaining a meaningful partnership, making this work. And when we struggle, are we willing to seek support or guidance?
To address this issue, it poses the question; can we determine what is required to make our partnerships work? What are some key elements to a long-term, healthy partnership?
Without contradicting myself by trying to provide a magic solution, I would like to share seven of the more important elements I encounter in my own marriage and the couples I work with. This is only to challenge your own thinking about relationships.
1. PARTNERSHIP: IT’S NOT ABOUT ME OR YOU, BUT ABOUT US. OR IS IT?
I would like to describe marriage as a love-triangle; a journey whereby each partner (Jack and Jill) grows individually and together towards a closer entity or partnership. Jack and Jill are two persons in their own right investing into the triangle, their backgrounds, their hurts and strengths, their needs, their personalities and many other aspects of who they are. Both start at the bottom of the triangle and move towards the top (partnership). They do not have to make equal contributions or always move upwards at the same time. One or both may even at times move down again. But their commitment is to move upward over time. It is about pulling in the same direction, not against each other.
2. RESPECT: SELF-RESPECT AND MUTUAL RESPECT
Respect for me is about value. Can I regard myself as being my best friend, or am I constantly trying to prove myself as (more) important, being defensive or being in control? I cannot bring regard into a partnership if I do not value myself. Do I equally hold my partner in high esteem? Can I allow my partner a safe space to be herself/himself by complimenting and not criticizing at home and/or in public? And please, do not take your partner for granted.
3. COMMUNICATION: TWO EARS AND ONE MOUTH – COINCIDENCE?
When anybody, perhaps even more so my partner says “I want to talk to you” I may react by a need to defend. Yet talking is an integral part of communication. But perhaps we should turn this around. “I want to listen to you” may provoke a much better reaction. But listen to understand, not listen to react. Listening involves our hearts. Listening is the key to a happy relationship. Even when we disagree – remember different is different. Different does not mean or imply right or wrong.
4. INTIMACY: EMOTIONAL OR PHYSICAL CONNECTION? OR BOTH?
We are biologically set up to respond to closeness and touch. But, because, in my opinion, behaviour is (almost) always based on underlying or observable emotion, our intimacy will be determined by both partners safely allowing themselves to become vulnerable; to allow and respond to physical touch. Feeling special and acknowledged in a relationship allows for more open and spontaneous reaction. But then sometimes being intimate when not in the mood is better than not being intimate at all. It adds to feeling special.
5. NO MAGIC WAND
Building relationship does not just happen. It may start off with magic. Feeling attracted to someone we perceive to be special may provide a dopamine rush. But we all know it subsides after some time. And then working at our relationship begins. It becomes a balance of give and take, a balance between having our needs met and being selfless. We will at times feel vulnerable and at other times need to be strong. A two-horse carriage is only as fast as the slowest horse. No, not the fastest one. Combining their strengths provides the best result. But if we cannot combine our strengths, I may become frustrated if I am the fast horse or desponded if I cannot keep up ….
6. GROW UP
Am I rude in stating this as a heading? I want to emphasize the importance of taking responsibility for my actions. When faced with a certain situation, I may sometimes be inclined to become defensive; make an excuse, justify, minimize or become angry or even want to avoid a certain situation. Especially if I am oversensitive in certain areas or when my partner hits the nail on the head. Taking responsibility for my actions or what I said is a sign of maturity. Conflict in a relationship is a given. Managing the conflict constructively requires patience and skill. Even if I blame my partner for 80% of the problem, I am still 100% responsible for my mere 20%
I cannot know what my partner thinks or feels. I can therefore not be responsible for not meeting unexpressed needs or expectations. Making assumptions means guessing; so, I can be wrong. Assumptions only become facts when checked. Checking means asking, but then asking to understand not to confront. Yet, on the other hand, rather be caught doing nice things for your partner than not doing anything at all.
Have I got it all figured out? Of course not. The last word on relationships still needs to be said. But we keep on keeping on. Relationships can and do work.