“Life is difficult”. This is the first sentence of Scott Peck’s book “The Road less Travelled”. He then goes on to say that life is a series of problems, and our natural tendency is to want to avoid problems rather than face them head on. This tendency to avoid both the problems and the emotional suffering they bring is the primary basis of all human mental illness. Mental health on the other hand, is “an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs”. It is being willing to face one’s problems head on and to grow in spite of and because of them.
Since most of us have this tendency to avoid our problems to a greater or lesser degree most of us are mentally healthy to a greater or lesser degree. Some of us will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid problems and suffering and end up being “stuck” in our lives – because when we avoid legitimate suffering, we also avoid growing. Personal growth is the “gain” we receive from “pain”, when our problems are faced with the discipline, perseverance and the hard work necessary to resolve them.
Many individuals I talk to come to discuss relationship problems. Frequently couples assume all differences should somehow resolve themselves just because they love each other. Conflict surprises them! Then if these problems are denied, blamed on the other or completely ignored, a relationship quickly becomes unhealthy. A healthy relationship entails a willingness to work through difficulties. Facing them directly fosters understanding and perspective.
A healthy, harmonious relationship is best built by the two people committed to doing so. Therefore, the choice we make for a life partner is one of the most important decisions we ever make.
When you want to create a healthy, committed a healthy, committed relationship with someone you are hoping will be a lifelong partner, there are both positive principles of pursuit as well as warning signs to consider:
Before you date: Determine to build a relationship of depth and caring. This begins with you knowing what you want for your life what your foundational belief’s are, what is important to you, and what your expectations are – both of yourself and others. What qualities do you offer another? What do you want your life and your marriage to be like?
It’s not just about you:The purpose of dating goes beyond having another person make you feel good about yourself, or avoiding loneliness. A good marriage consists of two people willing to move beyond their own individual self interests to allow new perspectives and experiences. There is an immense change from ” me” to “we”.
Why now? Make sure you are developing a relationship because you are ready to do so, not because you are trying to please someone else (a parent, friends) or because you are rebounding after a recent hurt. Warning sign: Avoid being with someone who has had a recent break-up. They need time to both grieve the loss of relationship as well as understand who they are without a partner.
Respect yourself and expect to be respected. If respectful behaviour is not established early in the dating relationship, it won’t happen later, either. Don’t compromise your values- -if your “no” is not respected, then neither are you. Warning sign: How this person treats significant others in their life will be how they treat you. Do not tolerate unkindness, cruelty, rudeness or dishonesty.
Don’t let the relationship move too fast. Take it one step at a time. It is hard to “cool down” a relationship that has got “too hot”‘ too soon. Warning sign: The other person seeks instant intimacy. Someone who develops an immediate attachment or pressures for an immediate commitment may have unhealthy dependence needs.
Don’t over-expose yourself: Don’t discuss your personal flaws and inadequacies in great detail when the relationship is new. Don’t expose your vulnerabilities to this person until they have earned your trust over a longer period of time. If the relationship ends, you will be unhappy with your private life being exposed to someone who no longer cares for you. Keep the mystery and dignity in your relationship. If the other person begins to feel trapped and withdraws for a time, give space and pull back.
Don’t depend entirely upon the other to meet every emotional need. Maintain friendships, interests and activities outside the romantic relationship even after marriage. Warning signs: Watch out for someone who makes you responsible for their feelings. Their emotional reactions (e.g. anger, loss of self control) are their own.
Finally, if you are in the process of building a relationship to last whatever difficulties life may bring, understand that the ultimate secret of lifelong love is the by product of an steel-clad determination to make it work. It is not a task for the faint of heart, yet it brings more joy than words can tell.