Every day, my 90-year-old neighbours hold hands while they walk around the block. It is amazing to see them support each other so tenderly at that age.
I am celebrating 30 years of marriage this month and I have been reflecting on what I have learned about relationships both as a partner and as a conflict and communication coach.
What can we learn from successful marriages that we might apply to all of our relationships?
How can we feel supported as we go through life?
Here are a few of the things I have learned:
We are responsible for our own happiness.
Being in a relationship doesn’t remove responsibility for our own happiness. Relationships can enhance and enrich our lives, but at the core our happiness is our own responsibility.
If we need something we have to ask for it.
Even after 30 years together I can’t assume that my partner knows what I need. If it’s important to me I need to clearly ask for it.
We will dislike things about each other.
You read that correctly – we dislike some things about each other. That’s fine, I dislike things about myself!
Some years will be wonderful and others will be hard.
Relationships will have ups and downs and that is part of the journey.
The platinum rule is much better than the golden rule.
The golden rule is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, but the platinum rule tells us to do unto others as they would have you do unto them or treat others as they wish to be treated.
We have different parenting styles.
Unless you come from very similar families, you will probably find that you have very different parenting styles. In many cases, kids actually need both styles of parenting. The same applies to leadership styles and working styles.
We need to frequently:
- Show our love
- Say thank you
- Show our appreciation
- Do things together
We need to have difficult conversations
Learn what works for both sides and know when to have serious conversations and deliver important messages. I might prefer to say what I feel in the moment, but I know that if I want to be really listened to and understood I need to find a quieter time to do it. Preparing the stage for these conversations is an important component of their success.
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Learn to share:
- Our joys
- Our fears
- Our friendships
- Our love
- Our unconditional support in times of need
Our individuality is as important as our partnership.
We each have our own hobbies, activities and friends. Both “me” and “us” are important.
We grow together.
As we learn and grow as individuals we invite the other to join us on new paths.
Relationships need constant work.
At some point the idea of divorce will cross our minds. That is the time to work even harder on the relationship. Like all relationships, marriages need constant work and adaptations.
There will be challenges.
We know this to be true. We have learned that together we will find a way forward.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly is what I have learned from the magical rings in our family.
The rings belonged to my great-grandparents, and for five generations every family member has used them in their marriage ceremonies. Seventeen couples have been married with them and all of them remain happily married.
We will disagree.
We will argue and we will disagree. Conflict is part of all relationships, and we need to learn how to do it in a constructive way. Conflict is uncomfortable and triggers us, but there are ways to better listen, acknowledge and show respect when we are in the midst of difficult conversations.
The rings have also taught us that it is important to create positive moments of connection. Show your appreciation and have fun together. Find ways to create many positive interactions.
I hope that you are inspired to try these things in your own relationships. What have I missed that I can learn from your relationships? I would love to hear from you.
May we all continue learning!