My daily experience repeatedly debunks the myth that good relationships require constant work. Good relationships already work well, because each partner is getting what he or she wants. Anyone in a happy, mutually satisfying relationship will tell you that he or she have no need to walk on eggshells in order to not offend or anger the other. The real work consists of figuring out what YOU are looking for, and determining whether or not a prospective mate possesses those qualities. If you succeed at that, then most of the work is done. Sadly, people who evade that initial process end up telling me that their marriage is work and sacrifice.
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. And they should rebel if marriage is to be treated as an institution. Institutions are courthouses, mental hospitals, and the place where you get your driver’s license renewed. No loving contract should ever be treated as an institution.
Of course, one’s needs can change over time. So can personalities and values. So in many marriages, it’s necessary for each partner to reexamine the relationship at various junctures. I see the classic example of this almost every day when two people raise a child, and that child grows up, moves out or goes to college. That can trigger a crisis if the spouses no longer view themselves as compatible. But a crisis is not necessarily a catastrophe unless both parties expect everything to proceed automatically like it did when they were occupied with raising the child. If your romantic partner is the kind of person you really want to spend time with, then you naturally want to please this person who brings you so much joy. Because he or she embodies what you value, it makes you happy to see that person 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. It will be something that adds value to both of your lives.
When entering into a marriage or relationship, beware of the entitlement mentality. People who don’t go through the evaluation exercise described above can often feel entitled to have exactly what they thought they were getting in the person they married. This isn’t necessarily realistic. One reason I see marriages not lasting 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 that they love so-and-so but that they’re not IN LOVE with him or her? In almost every case, the person was once in love, but something changed in one or both of them.
Despite the fact that crucial junctures can occur throughout the duration of a marital relationship, it still doesn’t mean that “work” should be the norm. If work refers to a constant state of negotiation or angst, then there’s something not right in the match between the two people.
One of the most important keys to a happy relationship is mutuality, where each party benefits emotionally because the other person is being who he or she naturally is. If each person’s values, personality and outlook are what the other is looking for in a mate, then success is virtually guaranteed.
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