Real Relationship Advice
Most of the time, when a couple seeks help from a mental health professional or pastor, it is because they have stopped acting like a ‘couple’. There are certain characteristics every couple shares that make the statement, ‘we are together’. These outward signs of couplehood or relationship are essential so that the community also support the pair. Most couples hate being pigeonholed into characteristics or have their unique relationship boiled down to hand holding or some other mannerism. However, like all good scientists, psychologists who research marriages and relationships look for similarities of good relationships to create a list of attributes.
One of the attributes that predicts marital/relationship dissatisfaction is blaming your partner/spouse for the problems of the relationship. Happy couples do not blame, they take responsibility. Happy couples do not think their spouse controls the level of conflict in the marriage. When we blame our partner for disagreements, arguments and the general dysfunction of a relationship, we relieve ourselves of all responsibility and put the onus of fixing the situation squarely on our partners.
This is the most common problem in relationships. One of the biggest problems that couples face is having an impartial person support them. What usually occurs is that each person in a couple talks with friends and family who will usually support them in their irresponsibility. It is a rare occasion where you get a friend or family member tell you that you need to take responsibility unless, of course the friend/family member does not think highly of your interpersonal skills.
We are indoctrinated at a very young age that relationships are inherently contentious. We are indoctrinated by the example of our parents, marriage in the media and generally bad press that relationships get. With shows like ‘Cheaters’, celebrities blatantly cheating on their partners and the constant rhetoric that marriage is a sexless life sentence, we are all programmed to be weary of relationships and expect the worse. The message is delivered constantly and it only serves now to reinforce why we have over 50% of all marriages ending in divorce.
We say it isn’t marriage or relationships that are the problem it is the reputation of marriage that is the problem. When a couple breaks up, instead of taking responsibility for not creating a sound foundation, demanding honest communication and prioritizing your relationship, the couple will blame relationships or their ex-partner. The blame has reached a critical level where we have devalued relationships to the point that infidelity is considered normal and a marriage that has survived over 20 years is attributed to a couple who is in denial.
Human beings have this incredible ability to only see what they want. Belief Perseverance is a social psychology term which explains the phenomenon where a person disregards evidence to the contrary of their beliefs. It doesn’t matter how much you show a person that they are wrong about their opinion, they will continue to believe it and only have eyes (or ears) for evidence to support their positions. In this respect, people who have a foundational idea that marriage is sexless and a life sentence will create that marriage. A person who believes that infidelity is a normal part of relationship will be unfaithful or find someone who will cheat on them.
Too much of an opinion is never a good thing. Flexibility, open mindedness and forward thinking are the only ways to change how we think about relationships. We can start by taking responsibility and work from there.