We’ve all had the dream. You see the man or woman of our dreams across a crowded room. Your eyes lock. And at that moment you both know… And then you ride off into the sunset and begin your “happily ever after.”
While most people do get to experience “happy for a little while,”only a select few make it to “happily ever after.” Relationships are tough. And sustaining a relationship after the butterflies are gone, and you’ve seen her without make up or have been assaulted by his morning breath–is especially difficult.
Great relationships take LOTS of hard work
That is the honest, hard truth. A relationship takes time, effort, energy, patience and lots of work in order for it to succeed. Most people bail as soon as things get a little rocky. Society has deceived us into believing that if we are unhappy in a relationship, that is a sign that it wasn’t meant to be. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Romantic comedies, fairy tales and sultry novels have distorted our view of a relationship’s dynamics.
Lisa Blum, Psy.D,– a clinical psychologist in California specializing in emotionally focused therapy for couples–believes
“The strongest most enduring relationships take lots of hard work… our culture, education system and parenting styles don’t prepare us for the fact that even good relationships take effort.”
Similar problems arise when they hop into a new relationship
Desiring a relationship and sustaining one are two very different things. Most people want to be in a relationship. According to the American Psychological Association, 90% of folks have been married, at least once, by the time the are 50. The divorce rate for those who marry hovers somewhere between 40 and 50 percent. And the divorce rate for second or third marriages is even higher.
Divorce and break ups do end the relationship but don’t necessarily resolve any issues. This is why the divorce rate for subsequent marriages is so high. Most often a person will leave a relationship, hop into another one and repeat the same behaviors and cycles. It is easier to bounce from one relationship to another than it is to stick it out, put in the work and make your current relationship last.
That’s not to say that if the relationship is abusive or toxic that you should stay–especially if you aren’t married. There are times when breaking up is the best and safest course of action. Often times however, we quit because we feel unhappy, the passion has waned or we feel we are exerting too much energy to make the relationship work.
How to know if you should stay or not
So you’ve read the first part of this article but you’re still not sure if you should stick it out or not. Here are some things to consider:
Both of you are willing to do the work
Marriage is NOT 50/50. Marriage is 100%–however you can get there. It is rare that both people are in the same place–emotionally, spiritually, mentally and sexually–at the exact same time. Sometimes one person is in a position to give more in an area than the other. One may be putting in 70 and the other 30 and that’s ok–for a season.
The problem arises when one person is always giving more than the other. Having an off day or being in a bad place is understandable–laziness is not. If you are dating someone for a period of time and you realize that you are doing all the work in all areas–you may want to reconsider your position. That is not sustainable–or healthy–over a long period of time.
You feel fulfilled, though sometimes unhappy
Happiness is relative and dependent on external circumstances. It ebbs and flows with the tides of life. Fulfillment, however is a more constant and steady state. It doesn’t change as often as happiness does. Fulfillment, not happiness should be the barometer of your relationship.
If you are a neat freak and your partner leaves their clothes on the floor, eats food in bed, tracks mud all throughout the house and never cleans up after themselves you are going to be unhappy–a lot. However, if you feel safe, loved unconditionally and valued as a person you are more likely to be in a continuous state of fulfillment even though your happiness comes and goes. If a relationship is fulfilling for both people and they both are willing to do what they can when they can, then the relationship is solid.
Happily ever after doesn’t just happen: 3 top problems couples face
Having a fulfilling, healthy and long lasting relationship takes time and effort. Here are the top three problems couples face and must deal with–continuously–in order to achieve the fairy tale:
Loss of passion and excitement
Loss of passion is absolutely, 100% normal and is experienced by all couples. The “high” you experience during the early stages of love are similar to what a drug addict feels when he snorts cocaine. When you are in love, your brain is swimming in the “feel good” chemicals–dopamine and norepinephrine. They are addicting. Which is why break ups are so hard.
Overtime the chemicals begin to wear off and your body begins to regulate the production and release of these chemicals. This is a natural and physiological process. However, most mistake it as a sign that the love is fading or the relationship is dying. They end that relationship and seek out another so the can experience the love”high” again.
Here are some very practical things you can do to reignite the spark of romance and add a bit of excitement back into your relationship:
- Engage in new activities with each other. Ditch the routine and shake things up a bit.
- Add some mystery and excitement into the bedroom. Play around with lingerie, mood lighting, fragrances, and edibles. Tantalize all 5 senses in a different way. Try something new (but make sure both parties are “in to” whatever you suggest).
- Seek arousal-producing activities. Things that get your heart racing and blood pumping are also good for the libido. Research shows that if you participate in an activity together that creates an endorphin and adrenaline rush you create a state of heightened arousal that can be transferred to your relationship.
The number one issues underpinning most problems in a relationship is communication. When communication breaks down, fights happen, people get hurt, and the relationship suffers.
Communication involves so much more than just verbal discussions. Understanding how to speak to your significant other in a manner that resonates with them is key. The 5 Love Languages is a great place to start. The premise of this book and communication model is best summed up by the words of the book’s author Gary Chapman:
“My conclusion after thirty years of marriage counseling is that there are basically five emotional love languages—five ways that people speak and understand emotional love. In the field of linguistics a language may have numerous dialects or variations. Similarly, within the five basic emotional love languages, there are many dialects….The important thing is to speak the love language of your spouse.”
According to Chapman, the 5 love languages are:
- Words of Affirmation: Expressing affection through spoken affection, praise, or appreciation.
- Acts of Service: Actions, rather than words, are used to show and receive love.
- Receiving Gifts: Gifting is symbolic of love and affection.
- Quality Time: Expressing affection with undivided attention.
- Physical Touch: It can be sex or holding hands. With this love language, the speaker feels affection through physical touch.
Lack of appreciation (taking each other for granted)
This is another one of those things that is inevitable in a long term relationship. You don’t mean to take each other for granted–it just happens over time. Taking each other for granted and focusing on the negatives of your mate or the relationship is detrimental and will keep you in a constant state of unhappiness. Once you’ve been unhappy long enough, you will start to question your level of fulfillment.
An excellent way to actively and intentionally combat this is by incorporating the 5:1 rule into your thinking and communication with your spouse. For every one negative between you, you should find five positives. For every negative comment you should dole out five compliments. This trains your brain to focus on the positives in lieu of the negatives. It also helps you develop and maintain an attitude of gratitude toward your relationship and your mate.
Relationships are tough. They require constant nurturing and attention. Having realistic expectations and a plan to combat the loss of passion and excitement, communication issues and failing to appreciate and cherish one another are the secrets to happily ever after.
|||^||PsychCentral: 8 Surprising Myths About Relationships|
|||^||American Psychological Association: Marriage & Divorce|
|||^||Huffington Post: Good Relationships Take Hard Work|
|||^||Hill Writing & Editing: Are Humans Truly Capable of Unconditional Love|
|||^||brainHQ: Your Brain In Love|
|||^||Greatist: Am I Just Bored or Should We Break Up?|
|||^||Verily Mag: HOW TO COMBAT THE PROVEN 7-YEAR-ITCH RELATIONSHIP ROADBLOCK|
|||^||lifehacker: The 5 Love Languages|