Ten years into marriage, I find it so odd that all of the classic children's stories end in the same way. People find each other, they make a commitment to each other, and curtain. The end they live happily ever after. This grand commitment we are conditioned to seek and, most often, enter into thinking it's all smooth sailing.
After some time, though, it becomes apparent that this happily ever after is really just the beginning, and we are completely unprepared!
For folks who might be thinking about or just beginning the journey toward a committed relationship, there are some big topics that research says leads to relationship struggles:
What are each person's expectations about money: how will it be handled in terms of shared bills, savings, retirement, spending cash? Will there be one family bank account or will each person have their own account? Will bills be split evenly, or will bills be handled proportionally to each person's income? Who will be responsible for paying bills and handling yearly taxes?
Shared Responsibilities and Expectations
Whose role will it be to do the majority of the cooking? Cleaning? Who will be expected to handle the yard work, dishes, laundry, grocery shopping, etc.? Will these roles be handled by the same person at all times, or will there be some sort of process by which roles are chosen weekly/monthly? How will these roles change, if at all, should someone become sick or be unavailable for another reason?
Are children in the future in this relationship? If so, what timeline does each person have in mind, and how many children do each person envision? How will childcare be handled? How will responsibilities change for each person in the relationship once there are children to care for? How does each person envision parenting and disciplining children?
These questions are only a small sample of the multitude of things that would ideally be intentionally discussed prior to a commitment as these are some of the major topics that tend to cause or to increase conflict in committed relationships.
Even if we have managed to discuss the major causes of relationship dysfunction (money, shared responsibilities, parenting, etc.) there are things that cannot be discussed ahead of time because they are simply unknown.
Relationships are made of people who are continually growing and changing. It takes work for folks who are doing this individually to ensure that as they grow and change, they are doing so in the same direction as the people they care about.
We have no way of knowing the challenges we will face, individually and as a unit, and because of that, there are no concrete ways to prepare for them. We cannot simply talk through plans A through Z in a way that ensures the relationship survives anything that comes our way.
The Good News
All is not lost, though, and here is the benefit of counseling as it applies to relationships:
A relationship can prepare for these challenges by strengthening the tools we use to ensure everyone's needs get met.
Here's what I mean:
- Learning how to communicate our hopes, our wants, our needs, and our fears in a way that people can hear us clearly, then, knowing what to do with what they are hearing.
- Likewise, learning how to listen to the people around you and hear both what they are saying and the context from which they are talking is equally important.
- Noticing when we have entered one of our unhealthy and unproductive patterns of communication and interrupting that pattern is the way we change the outcome.
- Setting up guidelines for arguing ahead of time that allow us to express those difficult feelings from a place of safety will ensure that we fight fairly.
- Approaching each other with a sense of curiosity and with a stance of unconditional positive regard will help us to remain connected to the love, affection, and appreciation for one another.
Just as we, as individuals, are growing and changing beings, so is a relationship. After all, it is made up of growing and changing individuals. It will not and cannot remain stagnant.
You are an individual, with unique strengths and challenges, and as such, your relationships will have unique strengths and challenges.
If you would like to allow me in to your relationship as a helper and guide - an impartial expert - I would love to be able to help you transform your relationship into one that can survive the ups and downs of commitment.
Maybe you're just starting out and thinking ahead to a future together, or maybe you're finding yourselves in a new challenging time? Either way, you are welcome here.