By Suzanne E. Harrill
Investing in the stock market is a better
risk than getting married these days. The 1998 Census Bureau
Report found that between 1970 and 1996 the number of divorced
people in the U.S. more than quadrupled. Current statistics show
that more than 50% of first- time marriages end in divorce, and
it is even higher for second marriages. Of those who stay
married, many say they are not happy. What’s wrong and how can
you beat the odds to live happily ever after?
Many people have
a fantasy that says, “If only the right person would come
along, then I
will have the perfect, fulfilling relationship that I’ve been
waiting for my whole life. I will recognize my
love-at-first-sight prince (princess) by the way he/she ignites
the spark of physical desire within me.” What is wrong with
this belief, besides the obvious fact that there are no perfect
people, is that you always have to live with yourself, including
negative behavioral and thought patterns learned from your
family and society when growing up. So don’t be surprised that
when the newness of the relationship wears off, your partner may
not look so perfect, and may even start reminding you of traits
you didn’t like in your mom or dad or a character on that
favorite TV sitcom.
What should you
do then? End every relationship that reminds you of your past?
No, because no one would ever stay with a partner for long if
that were helpful. Instead,
learn the truth about building a satisfying, long-term
relationship. It begins with knowing yourself, understanding the
stages that relationships go through, and learning skills to
improve problem areas in your life; such as, assertiveness or
good communication patterns.
The first thing
you should know before saying “I Do” is that you will be
attracted to people that help you heal unfinished business from
the past. In other words, as issues you could not resolve with
mom or dad (or siblings, ex-partners, etc.) come up in the
current relationship, you as an adult now have the opportunity
to handle things differently. The good news is that the more you
know yourself, the better job you will do matching up with a
partner with whom you want to heal these patterns. This includes
finding a partner who is willing to know her/himself as well.
Now let us look
at seven common mistakes people make in choosing a life partner
that lead many to later disappointment or divorce. Mistakes
people make include:
attraction is a good predictor of a lasting relationship.
Wrong. Meet all parts of the other before assuming that feel-good
sensation of “chemistry” between you two is love. While
dating, be a detective and observe how the other’s values,
habits, preferences, beliefs, goals, and personality traits fit
in with yours.
Many people make
the mistake of falling head-over-heels for someone they barely
know and need to remind themselves that infatuation is not true
love. The solution is to assume there is much more to a person
than what meets the eye during the first six months of
courtship. Getting to know someone on a deeper level than just
the physical takes time. This
is time well spent and improves your odds of having a lasting
that when romance fades the relationship is ready to end or is
doomed to unhappiness. Wrong. Mature relationships move past
the infatuation of the first stage to build something deeper a
relationship supporting growth, healing, fulfilling goals,
commitment, and responsibility, to name a few. It includes
living with a person who cares about you and wants to travel
with you through the twists and turns life will bring.
3. Assuming you can change what
you do not like in your partner once you’re married. Wrong. People change when
the motivation comes from within. Most do not easily or
willingly change just because their partner wants it. Think
about the effort it takes to change one of your own habits or
personality traits. It is naive to assume your partner will
change in the ways you have in mind. Unrealistic expectations
set you up for disappointment.
It is normal to not like everything about your partner,
but do pay attention to how much you do not like the other
person’s habits, beliefs, values, goals, etc. If there are too many
things you do not like, consider that person may not be a good
match for you. On an up note, people change when we change
ourselves. To instigate improvement in your relationship, change
your dance steps and your partner has to change his/hers, or
there is no one to dance with.
struggles mean the relationship is not a good one. Wrong.
The second stage of relationships is a power-struggle stage,
where two different personalities work out how to live together. It is a disappointment
to many after the romantic first stage, because reality has set
in and it takes a lot of dedication to workout your differences.
Learning good communication skills helps you move beyond pure
arguing to fighting fairly to resolve conflict and to
problem-solve. The sooner you face the power-struggle stage, the
sooner you move onto the third stage of a relationship, the
unconditional love and acceptance stage. Here you know the
difference between what must be accepted in the partner and what
can change. The part that can change requires continual
communication and negotiating on a day-to-day basis to maintain
a healthy relationship.
confrontation is not a good way to communicate. Wrong.
Confrontation is normal and healthy and does not have to be done
aggressively. It is simply telling the truth about what you are
feeling, thinking, and needing. The sooner you bring up issues
when you feel hurt, angry, taken advantage of, irritated,
misunderstood, or ignored, the better for the relationship. Suppressing them keeps
you a victim and only leads to hostility and feeling separate
from your partner. It is well worth the risk to face your
partner with what is on your mind. It builds trust when
both partners tell the truth about what they are feeling,
thinking, and needing.
Thinking it is too
late to call off the wedding once the date is set. Wrong.
Listen to your inner self.
If your body or intuition tells you that something does
not feel right, honor this and slow things down. It is wiser and less
complicated to call off a wedding than to set yourself up
knowingly for an unhappy marriage or to go through a divorce
further down the path. A
good rule of thumb is to date for more than a year, so you have
a chance to see each other’s shadow side and so there will be
no major surprises. Remember
this choice affects you the rest of your life.
counseling is a sign of failure and only for disturbed people. Wrong.
Failing to get help when there are problems is a missed
opportunity. Most people do not like to admit they need help
when things take a difficult turn, but research shows that
premarital counseling increases the chances of a happy marriage.
Why not let a neutral third party (like a therapist, minister,
or rabbi) help you see your blind spots, your partner’s blind
spots, and clarify who needs help with the issues. Besides
providing insights and encouraging you both to talk, counselors
educate you about the basics of good communication and
fair-fighting skills that most people never learn growing up.
look at building a strong foundation before making the life-long
decision of choosing your partner. The truth about building
strong lasting relationships is to:
Take an honest look at your traits ¾ strengths and weakness,
your goals, your values, your self-esteem, how you handle your
anger, and how you nurture yourself, to name a few. Learn where
your blind spots are, so you can build your awareness. Gather information when
you need help. In areas where you are weak, get help. Find a
teacher or counselor, begin reading or listening to tapes,
observing others who know this skill better than you, or taking
classes or workshops on the subject.
Love and accept
yourself. You can only experience love to the degree that
you love yourself. The degree of love, acceptance, and respect
you have for yourself is reflected to your partner, and vice
versa. By nurturing yourself physically, emotionally, mentally,
and spiritually, you grow in your ability to love and honor
yourself, thus impacting the relationship. When two people value
high self-esteem, the relationship is set on a solid foundation.
3. Learn as much as you can
about your family history. Did you know that the less aware
you are of yourself and your family history, the more likely you
are to repeat the same problems your parents and grandparents
did in their relationships? People who understand their family
patterns do a better job healing the issues that come up in a
relationship, vowing to do things differently.
Think about what
you want in a relationship. What do you picture in a good
relationship for you? What do you see in your future? In five
years, ten years, a lifetime? If you don’t know what you want,
you may end up with what somebody else wants for you. Empower
yourself by discovering what you want to create and experience.
Get to know your
partner. Be a detective and find out as much as you can
about him/her and his/her family of origin. No one is perfect,
but you can make wiser choices in choosing a partner by using
your head and your
6. Discuss openly with your
partner all of the above. When you invite your partner to
participate on the self-awareness journey, you have an almost
sure bet of building a mature, satisfying, long-term
relationship. Remember you are looking for someone with whom you
want to do the dance of life, someone who will work on his/her
issues as you are working on yours. Growing couples have an
alive, caring, actualizing relationship.
Now you know how
to live happily ever after. Improve your chances of a happy,
long-term relationship before you say, “I do.” Take the time
to expand your awareness about yourself, about your partner, and
about relationships in general. Then choose the right partner by asking yourself, “Is this the person I
wish to learn and grow with as I go into my future?” Beat the odds and marry your last partner first.
From Suzanne E.
Harrill’s book, Inner
Fitness for Creating a Better You: Six Lessons for Building
Greater Awareness, High Self-Esteem, Good Relationships, and