Did you ever stop to think that some of the most important things in life are not taught in school? Nobody teaches us, for example, about relationships: how to choose a partner, how to stay together despite differences, and how to know when it is really right to separate. For most people, it seems, learning about relationships is a matter of trial and error, often with a lot of pain and heartache mixed in.
Why Are Loving Relationships So Difficult To Maintain?
To begin with, we come into relationships from different families, different backgrounds, and with different experiences from childhood. How we experience love as a child provides us with the series of love lessons we carry into adulthood. Perhaps, as a child, Earl saw constant fighting, screaming, or crying in his family. What he learned is that love is all about suffering and unhappiness. Roberta might have seen one parent who dominated and controlled the other. The lesson, she thought, was that, to maintain a relationship, you always have to give in to your partner. Perhaps there was a divorce in the family or a parent died; the child who lives through such a loss comes to believe that people will hurt and abandon you, so it’s a good idea not to trust or get too close.
Sometimes, people develop negative thoughts about themselves related to their earlier childhood experiences. Often, they are not fully aware of these negative beliefs. Some people, for example, secretly feel that they are not worthy of an intimate relationship. “if that person really knew me,” the thinking goes, “he or she wouldn’t stick around.” People with these feelings are afraid to be truly authentic, to be themselves. Still others are afraid that their partner won’t be faithful; feeling insecure, they are not open to receiving love.
The problem is that these lessons from childhood don’t apply to intimate relationships in adulthood. For one thing, they are outdated, as they are rooted in the past. While these thoughts were understandable in the context of earlier relationships, they now have become obstacles or blocks to the achievement of fulfilling relationships in adult life.
Once you understand the blocks you bring to your relationship, as well as those your partner brings, you can begin to do some work to heal your relationship.
Some Guidelines for Healing Your Relationship
- Start by communicating. Some couples fight by yelling, others by not talking at all (“the silent treatment”). Whatever your technique, allow for a “cooling off” period, and then express your feelings. Simply take responsibility for letting your partner know what you want, and try not to judge the wants expressed by your partner.
Communication of feelings is necessary in all important relationships. Contrary to what many believe, nobody can reasonably be expected to read your mind, no matter how long you have been together.
- Approach with empathy. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, understanding that he or she has emotional wounds and is hurting as well.
- Learn to listen, especially to the other person’s feelings. Take turns talking (you may each need time limits) and listen without interrupting often.
- Seek compromise. The goal is to resolve your differences by reaching an understanding that allows for both people to come out ahead.
- Work on forgiveness. This does not mean excusing abusive behavior or staying with an abuser. Forgiving means letting go of a need to hurt back. Anger only accumulates and harms us, emotionally and physically. Forgiveness is a gift to yourself as well as to your relationship. Remember, too, that you may forgive people in your past without taking them back.
Relationships, like all good things, require effort. Be patient and allow for mistakes. Know that a change in one person can have an impact on the relationship. And seek help, if you need it.
Beck, Aaron T. (1989). Love Is Never Enough: How Couples Can Overcome Misunderstandings, Resolve Conflicts, and Solve Relationship Problems Through Cognitive Therapy. New York: HarperCollins.
Hay, Louise L. (1990). Love Yourself, Heal Your Life Workbook. Santa Monica: Hay House.