Best together? Best apart? Stay married? Get divorced? These are not assumptions I make when a husband, wife or partner comes to talk to me (either separately or together). Relationships are extraordinarily unique things and two (or more) people can be in one, be committed, yet still have entirely different perspectives about longevity, intimacy, sharing, friendship, ownership, control, roles and contribution within a household.
We learn models of what makes a ‘good’ relationship from what we observe when we’re growing up – parents, older family, couples we know from church, school or clubs. Possibly without conscious thought we hear stories and layer assumption after assumption onto ‘marriage’ or ‘living together’ and progress into adult life with those assumptions relatively unchallenged. Rarely do they match up when we get to the point of choosing a partner and moving to co-habiting with them.
The concept of ‘forever’ is hugely tied up with a successful relationships. But is that really the case? Or can we put this in a personal choice category along with: quantity of time spent with each other; common interests; matching faiths or philosophies; cultural or socio-economily similar backgrounds. These topics could be highly relevant or not at all – there’s really no right or wrong answer.
Some of the most common assumptions I hear are:
- Yes, they’re happily married – they’ve been together for 30 years
- They have 4 children and one on the way – they’re so committed
- She’s his wife – of course she knows how he feels
- Women are just better at nurturing and raising children
- They must be happy … they never argue
- They got divorced – that’s a failed relationships
This list is inexhaustible because no people who choose to live a chapter of their life together can ever fully know how that’s going to play out over the months, years and decades to come. One of the biggest challenges to a partnership that I see is when a person or couple reference their success against other couples, then register dissatisfaction because their relationship isn’t as supportive, happy, exciting or authentic as the couple they ‘think they know’.
It’s important to note that:
- generally couples don’t disclose or dissect their full experiences with other couples (there perhaps isn’t the time, isn’t the right trust, or there can be a sense of not wanting to be seen to be ‘failing’)
- most couples are happy to share the fun, special or unusual event or experiences of their relationship – and not the routine, painful or challenging bits
- often the people we seek advice from (older family members or friends) are having or have had similar challenges within their relationship. They may still together because they’ve developed tolerance (not a bad thing) but perhaps not always a deep understanding. They’re perhaps not fully equipped (or expert) then to offer you a well-thought-through strategy that will turn your relationship around
Successful relationships have a life cycle – they might well have ups and downs be destined for ‘forever’. They may equally have ups and downs and reach a point were one or both parties no longer see their futures together. Either way it’s the respect, the hope and the ability to communicate that will ultimately define whether successful divorce follows or whether successful togetherness continues.