According to statistics at least fifty percent of marriages fail. These numbers do not include fractured relationships that never made it to the altar, nor do they refer to thousands of hearts broken and dreams shattered when seemingly perfect relationships sour. To develop and maintain a healthy relationship is probably one of life’s greatest challenges.
In my opinion three basic factors are involved in our high divorce rate. When marriages and relationships end they leave the tracks of emotional baggage that were present from the start and which will, unless addressed, continue to sabotage future attempts at happiness. Each of us carries from early childhood emotional disappointments and deficits that influence the choices we make in relationships. Until we become aware of why we are attracted to certain types of people we will continue to make the same unwise choices.
We must also develop awareness of what we expect in a partner as well as what and how much we are willing to give. Otherwise we endlessly search for what we feel is missing in our lives and blame the person we fell in love with when s/he is unable to deliver a magic solution to our discontent. To compromise in what we want is not inappropriate but to simply settle for less because we fear being alone or think we’re not good enough is a recipe for unhappiness and failure
That many of us have failed to learn or were never taught healthy and effective communication skills is a third causative force in broken relationships. Communicating effectively is an extremely complex skill that few of us ever learned in our families. The language of relationships is honest yet kind, open not secretive or defensive, loving and understanding not angry. Anyone in a troubled relationship should at the very least seek help with improving communications.
We fall in love with someone who represents the best and worst of our parents. At the beginning we fail to see this because we idealize the person and recognize only their virtues. In the first stages of romance everything is perfect; at last we feel fulfilled. The world is safe. It seems the pain and wounds of childhood are cured. We don’t really understand it but all is right with the world and nothing else matters.
In this euphoric state there is little or no clarity. If the loved one is a convict or drug addict it matters not; he’s in recovery and has promised never to slip. Or she might have five children each with a different father but she’s promised to be faithful to death. Not that these situations are inevitably hopeless but it’s important to give any new relationship the test of time before making a permanent commitment. Wait until the euphoria wanes a bit.
Sooner or later real life returns, the old fears and uncertainties emerge again, and your partner looks and seems different, yet somehow familiar. It’s that “Here we go again” feeling. You recognize your mother’s nagging in his perfectionism. You hear your father’s abusive rage in his impatience. Now what? Is there enough depth to the feelings for a commitment?
Because the parties in a relationship cannot be objective it may be helpful to seek counseling together. An effective couples’ therapist can help determine whether the relationship can be saved or should be scrapped. Very often conflict can be used to awaken us to new ways of viewing a situation and handling it. The result can be a reward of deep personal growth. No relationship is perfect; many that are less than perfect nevertheless can have great potential with help.
Elinor Stanton is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner on Marco Island. She has 30 years of experience, both in private practice and a large health maintenance organization in Boston. She graduated from Boston College and University of Rochester, and is certified as a clinical specialist by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.
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