Years ago in a workshop in India, I remember hearing the following teaching about relationships and marriage: One decision can either bring you maximum happiness or maximum unhappiness. Never was a truer word spoken. When it’s right, it’s right and when it’s wrong it sure as hell is bad.
Misty-eyed and lovestruck… we’ve all been there, met ‘the one‘ and dreamed of the pastel future of growing old together, travelling the world and being in love for the rest of our lives. And then it all comes crashing down, and we’re left in a miserable scrap heap on the floor wondering what happened. So what does happen? Why do good relationships crumble, and deep love between couples suddenly come to an abrupt end? And, why do some loves last? And not only last, but thrive, and light up all those around them?
Author Kate Figes wondered the same things and so began a three-year exploration into the way coupledom works. She interviewed 120 couples about their relationship, demystifying how couples create successful relationships. Her book, Couples, has been described as the most comprehensive summary of the changing nature of relationships in the world today.
Myths of Modern Marriage
Kate exposes some of the myths of modern marriage and the recipes for strengthening the bonds of love.
My aim during the writing and researching of Couples was to go deep into the heart of modern love to provide a new template for making relationships work today–not as a ‘how to’ book, but through the voices of as many different people as possible together with the latest academic research on the psychology and sociology of relationships. I interviewed 120 people–men and women, gay and straight, with and without children, married and cohabiting–who talked honestly about their experiences, and, I read through the history of marriage, divorce and relationships.
Figes told the Guardian that relationships are in a period of enormous transition.
In many ways, we have more freedom than ever before–sexually, professionally and emotionally–but there are still huge taboos about discussing what really happens between couples. Unless we’re honest about what goes on, how can we know what’s normal or abnormal, reasonable or unreasonable?
A False Relationship Reality
She also discovered there is a huge disconnect between the messages we receive from the mass media and culture about relationships and the reality of the modern relationship.
The romantic script is so huge in our culture, so unhelpful, and as a result, people go into relationships with very unrealistic expectations.
Something we are not taught is this vital information on how to sustain and nurture long-term partnerships. So what golden tips did she uncover in her extensive study into the secrets of couple success stories?
The Secrets of Couple Success Stories
It’s hard to know what really goes on in other people’s relationships. We feel our heart smile or ache at those sweet photos of 60-year wedding anniversaries with a crinkled pair of lovebirds gazing adoringly at each other, still deeply in love having weathered the storms of life together. If we could enter into their world and discover the secrets of those loved-up couples and how they sustain love over decades, perhaps we’d all have happier relationships.
Kate’s research solidly smashed some tightly held and unhelpful myths about relationships. Such as the idea that getting married will destroy the passion in your relationship. She found instead that couples in happy long-term relationships have more regular and, apparently, better sex than their single counterparts. She discovered that the possibility of divorce dropped sharply after seven years of marriage. And, she should know; she’s been happily married for 21 years.
Along with busting relationship myths, Kate uncovered several consistent secrets to relationship longevity. One of the most important ones being the ability to be flexible and to adapt to change. Another key ingredient was unsurprisingly, honesty.
Tips for Strong Relationships
Here are her best pieces of advice gleaned from couples both ends of the scale: those in content relationships and those who experienced truly miserable couplings.
- Responsibility and working at a lasting partnership is key. Yup, good relationships don’t just happen because we love someone. We need to be responsible for their wellbeing and communicate well, respectfully bridging the inevitable differences.
- There’s nothing quite like unrealistic expectations about a partner or a relationship to kill the romance. No one can fulfill all our needs and make us happy and nor should they have to.
- Equality and fairness are vital to a good relationship. This fairness should extend into all areas of the partnership, finance, household chores, children, career. This is a strong foundation for a genuine partnership.
- Being aware of our existing wounds is important. When we bring awareness to issues stemming from our family of origin, we can stave off so many issues, as we each unwittingly bring the relationship patterns from our own family into our intimate relationships.
While these tips may seem obvious, how many of us truly and deeply embrace them and put them into practice into our own relationships? One thing’s for sure, we only exist in relationship. Life is made of relationships, and if we can get this one thing right, we can increase the happiness and success of our lives exponentially.
A happy person furthers happiness in the world. Truly our own happiness in a relationship makes an important impact.