There is an ad campaign for a bank that runs a strap line “for the journey”. It taps into the belief that human beings all share a similar journey through life – starting out, making partnerships, careers, children, juggling demands, hitting unexpected obstacles and so on. The campaign is successful as it touches something deep in the human psyche about continuity and preparing for different stages of life and trying to make them as smooth as possible.
Life is a journey, and the life stages and circumstances are the curves in the road. So, what makes some marriages and partnerships last a lifetime while others skid on the first curve? No two relationships are the same, but there seem to be the same five characteristics in most successful relationships.
Be realistic. It’s tricky out there and things won’t always go smoothly. Marriage is not a fairy tale and “happy ever after” needs to be left in the story books. Human beings can’t be perfect but they can be accepting of each others failings and oddities – within reason.
Don’t take each other for granted. Over time, roles, responsibilities and expectations can become fixed in a relationship. As the journey carries on these will need to be reviewed and renegotiated, taking into account the new life stage and the challenges and responsibilities that come with the new territory.
Communication is vital, but simply talking isn’t the answer. The important thing about communicating is the interaction between talking, really listening and trying to understand. This whole picture is about having emotional intelligence and having the ability to empathise and be honest and fair with each other.
Translating words into actions. Listening and understanding is great, but it is what happens next that matters. Turn discussion into actions – the actions may not be huge, but they do need to happen. Don’t over-promise and under-perform; on the other hand, show commitment to really making change. Negotiate and be prepared to compromise, always being aware of core values that are a bottom line and acceptable.
Managing conflict. Research into successful relationships indicates that managing conflict is the real crunch point, and seems to have the most significant effect on relationships. Conflict is inevitable, and it is how it is resolved that makes relationships work. Some people squabble, others argue loud and long, some walk away from conflict.
The overall goal of addressing the issue isn’t about who wins, it is about resolving the situation. Putting the other person down and being over controlling doesn’t help, nor does dragging up past issues. Stick with the present and try to focus on the resolution, and what would help. The most important thing is that each recognises, even in conflict, the other person’s point of view and validates them as a person.
Most people want a loving, supportive, adaptive relationship and they want to be in for the long haul. When people commit to each other they mean it, but the journey can be over some tricky terrain; keep an eye out for the next curve in the road.