If you are thinking of getting married or hooking up for life, you might consider thinking about the first lesson of a good marriage: ”There are no soul mates – marriage is a work of art!”
According to recent statistics, of all the people who get married, only three in ten marriages remain healthy and happy. The rest fail either ending in divorce and separation or devolving into bitterness and dysfunction.
Here are 7 things you need to create a lasting relationship:
Lasting marriages are not based on finding “the right” person but rather on “being” the right person. Become the partner you want to marry! To do this you need to get to know yourself better.
This requires you to understand who you are, where you come from, and what you bring from your history into a relationship. Understanding your past and the family you grew up in and your own parents’ history and relationship helps you to understand who you are now, what shaped you what you value and why.
Getting to know yourself includes understanding your own weaknesses, acknowledging your “hot buttons”, blind spots, vulnerabilities, and what triggers your reactions and behaviours. Being blind to these will lead you to see problems as being due to others rather than yourself and keep you powerless over making the changes you need to make to keep your relationship on track.
Get ready for conflicts and learn to communicate
Once you have a good understanding of your history, and a more objective sense of why you behave the way you do, you are better equipped to deal with conflicts – which are inevitable in any long-term relationship.
Rather than blaming, withdrawing, or seeing yourself as a victim you can be receptive to developing the communication and conflict resolution skills to fight consciously and productively.
According to John Gottman, renowned psychologist and marriage expert, 69% of all marital conflicts are unsolvable. That’s not a problem, that’s the norm! The issue is whether you can stay engaged and communicate around these issues.
Make sure you are compatible
Alas, even the best communication skills won’t help a couple that see the world completely differently.
Sam R. Hamburg, psychologist and author of “Will love last”, argues that people can be incredibly proficient communicators, yet never see eye to eye because they simply can’t understand how their partner can hold a position they see as untenable. “For people to be happy in their marriage they must be able to understand not just what their partner is saying, but the experience behind the words,” writes Hamburg. If partners are unable to do that, “they cannot understand what it’s like to be their partner—to understand their partner empathically—and the best communication in the world won’t help.”
This is why it’s important to identify your values, what is important to you, what kind of life you imagine and what your sexual preferences are. This will put you in a much stronger position to be able to recognize if your prospective partner is compatible and shares your worldview.
Don’t abandon yourself
Before you make a lasting commitment be willing to address topics that are not necessarily easy or romantic. Those that you think will “never” happen to you or are too afraid to hear the answers to, such as: your thoughts on infidelity, infertility, aging parents, job layoffs, religion, unexpected illnesses or deaths, financial support and taboo X-rated subjects.
Ask your partner “Under what circumstances would you feel that our marriage would be over?” Why ask this? Because most divorces are unilateral decisions, it might help to know what might prompt your spouse to call it quits. It could be a deal breaker for you.
Be clear about the goals of marriage
In spite of good communication and compatibility the most important thing you need to know is whether you or your partner can stand the heat!
You may have agreed on how many kids you want, where to live, the type of parenting you want to exercise, the importance of your sex life, your spiritual practices and the work life balance you hope for, but the truth is this: what people want changes over time and life will throw you all kinds of curve balls.
You may have agreed on how many kids you want, but what if you can’t conceive? I have seen very well ‘matched’ couples endure months and years of frustration, hurt, disappointment and mutual blaming that took a strong enough toll on their marriage that it led to divorce. You may have talked about having kids, but may have omitted to talk about what if didn’t happen the way you hoped?
You may share ideals of parenting, but what if you suddenly are hit with postpartum depression, or your child has emotional or physical needs you never anticipated?
You may have agreed on the importance of maintaining passion and physical affection but alas, kids happen, busy jobs take over, bickering takes the place of watching movies and cuddling together in the evening. Sex comes to a screeching halt and you are both too exhausted to do anything about it.
Then what? What do you do when the going gets tough…even though you thought you both envisioned a similar future? Does addressing the big questions up front about basic values and goals mean anything? Yes, for sure. These questions help you weed out blatant mismatches, and incompatibilities but the answers don’t necessarily provide a future “love insurance.”
That’s why you need stamina.
Stamina is the understanding that no matter what you are going through, all of it is grist for the mill! An opportunity to fine tune yourself, take responsibility for your behaviour/attitude/reactions and realize that marriage is a vehicle for personal growth and transformation.
It doesn’t matter who you are married to, if you don’t face your own shortcomings, you’ll find it hard to build lasting relationships with whoever.
Rather than compiling a list of what you want in another, or how you expect them to meet your needs, get busy developing the qualities you want in your partner.
Heal yourself and learn to love yourself
So often we seek someone special to provide us with the love our parents didn’t give us – because their love was so compromised by their own fear and shame – but this will only create more pain and discord in relationships.
Chances are you will pick a partner that is the embodiment of the parent you had the most difficulties with.
Life is set up to help us face our wounds. Leaving home doesn’t mean we’ve healed, it only gives us some temporary space from our pain. The wounds follow us wherever we go. The people in our lives are here to help us achieve the healing we need to complete. They are not here to offer us the love we deserve because most of the time they don’t know how to give it.
Ultimately, we need to take responsibility to give ourselves that love. We must be responsible for bringing the love needed to our own wounds and not expect our partner to do that work for us.
Healing means giving ourselves the unconditional love that we did not receive and to stop trying to find it from a ‘mythical mate’. Otherwise, we stay stuck in rage, hurt and betrayal which fuel the fire of interpersonal conflict which in turn reinforce our unconscious belief we are unlovable.
Our ability to love ourselves is not conditional on someone else’s ability to love us.
Be kindest to the one you love
Above all else, be kindest to the person who matters most in your life. In hindsight, a large majority of divorced couples have admitted they took their spouse for granted and did not treat them with kindness and respect.
Studies have shown that the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage is kindness. When you are kind, your partner feels validated, cared for and more secure.
Being kind makes the other feel like they matter and in my work with couples, I would say that’s the key ingredient everyone is looking for… “do I really matter to you”!
The way to create lasting relationships is based on our willingness to look into our own hearts and minds and work at becoming the partner we can be proud of being.