Challenges to a Lasting Relationship
by Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil
People who are married or in committed relationships are healthier, wealthier, and happier. So why do more than 60 percent of marriages end in divorce? Why has the national divorce rate climbed more than 200 percent in the last thirty years? And why are fewer people getting married today than ever before?
The answers to these questions are plentiful, but the main reason is simple. It's easy to "fall" in love, but very few people know how to stay in love. Even though staying in love is our "smartest" choice all the way around! Recent studies on marriage prove it's one of the major ingredients in life-long success for men and women. "It lengthens life, substantially boosts physical and emotional health, and raises income over that of single or divorced people or those who live together," reported an article in the New York Times. Marriage has also been found to boost happiness, reduce the degree of depression, and provide protection from sexually transmitted diseases.
So let's wake up, make up, and turn this trend around! One of the most startling pieces of evidence that shows people are not in touch with what's really going on in their partnerships is the fact that the majority of people who file for divorce say they didn't think there was a relationship-threatening problem just six months prior to breaking up. Another shocker is that most couples wait six years or more to seek professional help when their relationship is in danger. By the time they do wake up and smell the coffee, it's often too late.
Truly there is no reason to resign yourself to a bad relationship — whether you're dating or married. Rather than changing partners and ending up this same predicament again, you can learn to have a fabulous relationship with the partner you already have! I strongly encourage you to make the relationship you have work, because there is a higher rate of divorce and adultery in second marriages.
Getting rid of your partner does not get rid of the problem, because half of the "problem" is yours. You can walk out on your marriage, but you can't run away from yourself, no matter how hard you try! Rather than blaming each other, couples can learn how to work as a team and coach each other through the troubled times and power struggles. To do this, you must create a "safe" relationship so you can express your needs and fears and effectively resolve anger and conflict. More relationships break up because people don't know how to validate each other (that frustration escalates to become anger) than for any other reason. This is truly a shame, because the skills for "fighting fair" are very easy to master with just a little practice and patience.
One of the biggest causes of unresolved anger between people is a lack of understanding. Men and women have different strengths and weaknesses, different ways of expressing ourselves, and different "childhood wounds" that we're trying to heal. While it may seem like we're from different planets we are actually very much alike when it comes to our need and desire for love and intimacy. We only behave differently in our quests for closeness. Stop doing what you think is "fair" or "right" and start doing what works! It's not about "working harder" it's about "working smarter".
Can this relationship be saved?
The vast majority of relationships can and should be saved and revived. In almost every case, couples can learn how to keep their relationships alive and growing, and reap the rich rewards of real and lasting love. Twenty-two years of family therapy practice has given me the certainty that almost any relationship can be turned into a great one if the people involved are willing.
I realize these are bold statements, but the statistics of my family therapy practice speak for themselves.
Perhaps even more striking is the success rate of my couples who have experienced adultery. Whereas infidelity causes 65 percent of breakups nationwide, this statistic can be cut down to 2 percent if couples learn the skills to get to the root of the problem and work through it. I know it's possible because 98 percent of the couples in my therapy practice who have experienced adultery discover their relationship is worth keeping. These couples stay together because they wake up their love and need for each other and make a conscious choice to commit to the relationship, move toward forgiveness, and stay together.
Dead ends are turning points
Those of you who believe you've reached a dead end in your relationship or in your dating are actually at the perfect point to turn things around. Whether you're struggling with a relationship stalemate, wounded by adultery, frustrated by not being able to get past the third date, concerned about your long-distance relationship, or grinding gears instead of enjoying the shifts and changes that go hand in hand with relationship building — you can learn how to make up, stay together, and move forward toward real and lasting love. The success rate of my patients who use these tools and skills in their relationships is so dramatically higher than the national averages that I felt compelled to share this information with as many people as I could — so that you can have as much success in your relationships as my patients are having.
Too many people break up before they make up a solid couple. At the onset of a relationship or marriage, there's fascination, the promise of untold happiness, and the thrill of the chase. But at some point things begin to change. One partner may begin to withdraw for no obvious reason, leaving the once-pursued confused and insecure. At this point many relationships stop before they've really started. There comes a point in every relationship where we either wake up, or we break up.
Every relationship holds the potential for "sudden shutdowns". What's both exciting and stunning is that this turn of events can actually solidify your partnership — if you know what to do. There is no perfect relationship or person out there, so stop looking for perfection and work with the partner you have — or the one you're about to start a relationship with. Don't wait for the "right time", move now! Every relationship offers the experience we need to perfect our skills. In fact, the relationship process offers the perfect opportunity for personal as well as relationship growth.
Most relationships can be saved but you have to wake up, shake up — and possibly even break up — before you can make up. Married couples can learn how to stay together and reap the harvest of real and lasting love. Singles can learn how to keep a relationship growing, instead of stopping it before it starts. The truth is that men and women are actually very much alike even though the ways we behave and express ourselves can make it seem like "men are from Mars and women are from Venus." Both men and women are from Earth and we can all learn to change — and enjoy the ride!
Forget the rule books
The first step in beating the odds is to throw away your rule books! Misguided rules like "Don't make the first move", "Don't sleep with him (or her) until you get what you want", or the flip side of that: "Seduce him (or her) to get what you want", "Make her jealous", "Make him chase you", "Wait at least one week before you call back for another date", and "Play Hard to Get", are leading us further away from each other, instead of bringing us together. These rules may appear to work while you're dating, but after you're married, just try playing "Hard to Get" when it's time to take out the garbage or the baby is crying!
When you use rules that don't work, your anxiety level goes way up! We don't need rules, we need tools: straight answers, skills, dialogue, and action steps that work! I call these tools Smart Heart Skills because we must use our heads and our hearts to create the relationships we'd love to have.
Forget the rigid rules if you want to create and sustain a love-filled relationship. Thousands more relationships would be in full swing right now if women would give up rules such as "Men have to make the first move". Women are more prepared in many ways to make the first move. Our socialization and upbringing makes us more comfortable with connection skills. As children, while we were orchestrating a night on the town for our Barbie and Ken dolls, the boys were making battle plans with their GI Joes. While we were having tea parties, they were having plastic sword fights! In short, we've learned different skills and have strengths and weaknesses in different areas. That's why men and women complement each other in a relationship.
For single women, making the first move might be giving a man your business card or phone number, inviting him out for a date, asking him to dance, or sending a drink to his table at a restaurant or night club.
For married women, making the first move might be inviting your husband for a romantic evening, bringing home travel brochures to plan your next vacation, or calling him at work to tell him you have a fun surprise ready for him when he gets home.
Another old rule that wreaks havoc in a relationship is the idea of "using sex" to get what you want. Women have been unwisely taught to use sex as a way to get men to comply with their wishes. This is one of the most destructive rules around. Sex is a way to build intimacy and give each other pleasure. Having sex and withholding sex may work as a form of manipulation early on in a relationship, but sooner or later this technique will create resentment and bitterness.
Let go of your old rules and ways that don't work for you — or for him — and be creative in taking the initiative to get things going and keep them going strong. Remember, tools not rules!
So don't break up; wake up and make up!
About The Author
Bonnie Eaker Weil, Ph.D. is one of America's best-known relationship experts. She has appeared on the Today show, Oprah!, A Current Affair, The View, Sally, Ricki Lake, Montel, Maury Povich, and Extra. New York magazine has named Dr. Weil one of the city's top therapists, and her work has been featured in Good Housekeeping, The New York Times, USA Today, Cosmopolitan, Ladies Home Journal, and New Woman. This article was excerpted from her book Make Up, Don't Break Up, published by Adams Media Corporation.
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