At the end of this short article there is a book for download.
When I was 18 years old I met my future wife and six weeks later she moved in and we remained together for the next 13 years. During that time we built a small empire of property and business, created three magnificent children and travelled the world. And yet, when our marriage finished it was described as “our marriage failed.”
To define a relationship in terms of the number of years that it could have gone for is to miss the point. Do we say in nature that tree has failed because it could have lived for 1000 years or do we say that the tree served its purpose? Maybe both!
The future cannot be better than the past unless we have learnt, grown, appreciated and released the past. On average, most people will be married twice in their life and those that aren’t married twice in their life will wish that they had, at least for a while. Relationships are challenging and the greatest challenge in a relationship is growing.
People change. People change over time and because of time. What is perfect one day may be toxic the next. A couple can meet in the most idyllic circumstances and then grow apart or be shoved apart by circumstances. To love is not to possess but to grow. If we can grow together we can stay together. But if we cannot grow together it doesn’t mean that the relationship has failed. It means that we have outgrown the relationship.
In my marriage, the first of six, the greatest struggle was knowing when to let go. I think deep down, we both knew that the relationship was over but had never imagined the possibility of our marriage not surviving till death. And so this ghost appeared in our lives that threatened everything we stood for with each other for such a long period of time and on such an intimate level. But it was over and it finally took my ex-wife to make the final call because I just didn’t have the courage to present that reality to my three children.
When I work with people who are going through the trauma of the ending of a relationship the size of their pain is not reflected or a reflection of the size of their love. Sometimes it’s a reflection of the opposite. In other words a person who doesn’t know how to love will hurt more in separation. One of the gifts of separation is learning how to love. Which brings me to the topic of this blog, the book I wrote, Sacred love.
Knowing how to love or not knowing how to love does not change the probability of success in a relationship. Knowing the mechanics of a relationship does not change the probability of longevity in a relationship. There are so many more subtle variables then love or knowledge that cause relationships to last. Variables include the interjection and attachment of parents, children, friends, work and life itself. In many relationships longevity is achieved at the cost of love. People surrender to the emotional needs of their partner in order to gain their partners acceptance and therefore maintain the relationship but this is not love nor is it happiness.
But there are a few things that I believe contribute to the possibility of longevity and happiness in a relationship and equally important, to the creation of an environment where children thrive whether the couple is together or separate. these are detailed in the book but I’ll go through them very quickly now.
1. The ability of both people in the relationship to turn up. I don’t know a better word than turn up to describe the necessity each individual owes each other in a relationship. The cost of not turning up is abusive because what we’re basically saying to the other person irrespective of their self-worth or their own awareness is that they are not important enough to hold the focus of our attention. Subtly this is a very diminishing action. The other aspect of turning up reveals that we know how to deal with our work life in such a way that we do not use and abuse our relationship to counterbalance incompetence in the way we handle the stress and struggles of business life and career. To me this is the number one principle of longevity and quality control in a relationship.
2. Realistic expectations. I came into my first relationship on the back of 15 years of hoping to meet the ideal woman. when I met my wife to be she had all the internal and external markings of that perfect woman. I had not gained the expectations of a perfect woman from any real person I had ever met but had created this out of the fiction and experience of my own life. My mother had died when I was young and therefore I projected onto the mother I never knew all the qualities of an angelic woman. My stepmother, who replaced my mother, was a very violent and rather crazy alcoholic and so I developed the anti woman measurements that predispose me to reject any person with the qualities my stepmother expressed. I projected these unrealistic expectations onto my poor wife and she tried to live up to them or down to them whatever perspective you may have. It was perpetual ingratitude for the really truthful humanity of my wife and myself and in turn my own children. It prohibited me from loving people fully because this unrealistic expectation became conditional. The model was set, live to these expectations and I will find that very lovable. The contradiction between what I thought I was doing and what I was doing is shameful and it sent me on a lifetime search for the answers to creating realistic expectations in realistic relationships that provide the window for unconditional love between two beautiful people. I think this also increases the probability of longevity and quality control in a relationship.
3. Hard work is bad management. I see couples working through challenges and it seems to be that they are proud that they are working very hard to achieve a great relationship when in fact the working very hard is a sign that they are heading in a very very challenging direction. When things become tough it is very rare that hard work is the best resolution. Sure, intensity, concentration and focus are required when there are challenges but I would not define this as hard. it is more likely that the resolution of any challenge be it in business or relationship is simply going back to basics. That doesn’t mean working harder or longer it means what it says. Going back to basics. So what are the basics of a great relationship? And what would we go back to if we are both faced with the reality that the relationship is not working and we are struggling and therefore need to invest more effort?
4. The couple who grow together stay together. 100% of all relationship struggles that I have witnessed in 35 years of coaching and mentoring people through some of the most dramatic and cataclysmic personal circumstances I’ve been able to imagine have been triggered by the lack of growth on either one or both individuals in a relationship. This will become a more prevalent problem in the future as self obsession (labelled as yoga, meditation and well-being) starts to generate a lack of willingness on a persons nature to forego gratification in the interests of long-term sustainable relationships. Growth means discomfort. When people feel discomfort the natural instinct is to shrink as a turtle would bring its head inside its shell. The way we shrink is to seek gratification in the form of food, alcohol, new job, different partner or a yoga class. It’s understandable and it’s perfectly correct that we would do this but the purpose of all human existence on this planet is growth which means expansion which in turn means some discomfort. Ideally, we take ourselves out of circulation, put ourselves in retreat, create discomfort, do a vision quest, come back into the real world and know that it’s time to grow. Simply it’s about setting the bar higher. The problem currently is that our organisations are doing a great job of raising the bar on our career because they threaten us with rise or leave. But who is doing that for us in the other six areas of life? This is why I believe personal development under the specific focus of a total life balance coach is a wise investment for a personal healthy relationship.
5. Love is a lifestyle. The pain of regret outweighs the pain of discipline. Love his cumulative. What we do or don’t do on a day-to-day basis adds up to the result we achieve on a year-to-year basis. Small indiscretions on a daily basis will culminate in relationships not lasting. One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to recognise the cost to a relationship of allowing children or renovations or work or sport to occupy that intimate time (1 to 2 hours a day at the most) that is the investment in the relationship and independent of the other 22 hours. Ignorance is not bliss. I believe that there are red flag warning signs that get thrown in the air for even years before our relationship is over. Relationships do not just collapse overnight. Even the declaration of an affair which is a very traumatic declaration, has accumulated red flags lying in the trail of the dust of the past. When I work with people who have received this devastating information, that their partner has had an affair, they will in all cases say “I knew something was going on.” If love is measured by the number of times you eat dinner at a restaurant, the number of times you have orgasm in a week, or the number of times you don’t argue then it’s possible that the red flags that signal trouble will be ignored because you will be using measures that will blind you.