“Good Relationships Take Constant Work”: Myth or Truth?

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Is your romantic relationship or marriage, on the whole, smooth and effortless? Or is there a constant sense of walking on eggshells, and trying not to offend the other?

It’s a myth that good relationships take constant work. They don’t. Good relationships already work well, because each partner is getting what he wants. Ask anyone in a truly happy, mutually satisfying relationship, and this is what they will tell you.

The real work consists of figuring out what you want; and evaluating whether or not a prospective mate has those qualities. If you complete this task successfully, then your relationship will not require much work. It’s only people who evade this task that end up thinking, “Marriage is a lot of work and sacrifice.”

Of course, people’s wants and needs can change over time. So can their personalities, and even their values. For this reason, in many marriages, it’s necessary for each partner to reevaluate the relationship as well as his or her partner at various junctures. The classic example of this is when two people raise a child (or children), and that child grows up, moves out or goes to college. At that point, there will be a real crisis if the spouses no longer view themselves as compatible. A crisis is not a catastrophe, although disasters can result when two people expect everything to proceed automatically, as it did ten or twenty years before, when this isn’t necessarily realistic or possible.

A lot of people treat marriage, or any form of long-term relationship, as a prison. No wonder so many rebel against the “institution” of marriage. They should rebel if marriage is to be treated as an “institution.” Institutions consist of courthouses, mental hospitals, and the place where you get your driver’s license renewed. No loving contract and exchange between two individuals should ever be treated as an “institution.”

It’s sadly ironic that the language of marriage — “commitment” to the “institution” of marriage — is the same terminology historically used to describe mental patients entering an insane asylum.

If your romantic partner is the kind of person you really want to spend your time with, then you naturally want to please this person who brings you so much joy. Because he embodies what you value, it makes you happy to see him happy. It would be contradictory to try to please her at the expense of your own values; and she should not want you to do so. If you’re properly matched, the relationship will never be a sacrifice for either of you.

Rather, it will be something that adds value to both of your lives.

Beware of the entitlement mentality. People sometimes feel entitled to have exactly what they thought they were getting in the person they married; or perhaps what they did get ten or twenty (or even five) years before. Again, this isn’t necessarily realistic or possible. Probably the main reason marriages don’t last is because one or both partners change in ways that no longer make them suitable as a couple. How many times have you heard someone say, “I love so-and-so but I’m not in love with him/her.” In almost every case, you were once in love with the person. But something changed in one or both parties.

Despite the fact that crucial junctures can occur over the very long-term of a marital relationship, it still doesn’t prove or mean that “work” should be the norm. If “work” means a constant state of negotiation or even angst, then there’s possibly something off in the match between the two people. Remember that one of the most important keys to a happy relationship is mutuality. Mutuality means each party gains or benefits — emotionally — simply by the other person being who he or she naturally is.


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