When it comes to the golden challis of happiness a long-lasting relationship seems to be the answer, or at least that is what society and the media would have us believe. The heat is on in the ‘have it all’ generation and a successful career, a good circle of friends, plenty of money and an active social life are all non-negotiables when it comes to being happy. In completing ones check-list in life, a good relationship is sold to us as, far and above, the golden ticket to ever-lasting joy.
Just look at terms like ‘soul-mate’ and ‘other-half’. Heaven forbid a person is left wandering the planet incomplete, single, alone or on the shelf! Oh, the horror.
Whilst I don’t doubt that a good relationship can certainly be a contributing factor to happiness, I am at times, left a little bewildered that people are still so adamant that without a partner a person cannot be truly happy. How many times, as a single woman, have I been re-assured that ‘I shouldn’t worry, one day the right man will come along’ … ‘You’re gorgeous, you’ll meet someone one day!’ – The idea that a person can be single out of choice is clearly far too revolutionary for even today’s forward-thinking society.
And along with the pressure from society on people to be in a couple comes the pressure to stay in one. Is it any wonder then, that according to The Office for National Statistics 42% of marriages now end in divorce? Nothing like a bit of pressure to make a person want to run for the hills. Wouldn’t it be simpler if emotional achievement came in the form of one-night stands and casual flings? Hell, I’d be giving TED talks on spiritual well-being by now if that was the case. Sadly not. You want to be the envy of your peers when it comes to relationships? You’re in for the long-haul, baby. And as a consequence, it strikes me that sometimes people are so keen to stay ‘complete’ and be able to say they are part of relationship that they totally loose sight of the importance of what that relationship is about. They spend so much time worrying about staying in a relationship (that isn’t necessarily working) that they loose all perspective on themselves as a person and to coin the phrase, their ‘other half’ – and so the breakdown begins.
I speak to people on a daily basis who find themselves in relationships that aren’t going anywhere. They feel that something is wrong, sense that their partner is distant or regularly feel angry and upset but don’t know how to voice it. Sounds familiar? I defy a person to say they’ve never felt a shift in balance but don’t know why or that their partner is pulling away and that the spark in the relationship is disappearing. If you google the subject you’ll find a myriad of advice sites telling you what to do in these types of situations – ‘Don’t call him for a few weeks!’ … ‘Dump him before he dumps you!’ or ‘Don’t freak him out by asking too many questioned!’ (I speak from a woman’s perspective, but of course the same can be said for men, when it comes to relationship dynamics, we are all human are we not.)
The bad news is, this type of advice is utter nonsense and being a person who’s taken such advice in the past, I can tell you – it doesn’t work. The good news is that the answer to potentially saving a relationship work is much simpler (with far fewer exclamation marks).
I don’t claim to be the guru of dating, far from it. I regularly use the phrase ‘Do as I say not as I do’ and am fully aware that advice is easier to give than to take. However, as I say, it’s having taken this type of ridiculous advice in the past (and messing up big time) that I can offer you the following words of wisdom with confidence.
The only way that a relationship will last is with communication. Yep, that big scary C-word. Not least of all when you feel there is trouble in paradise.
Let me give you the example of a relationship I was in a few years ago. After a couple of months I felt my boyfriend withdrawing from the relationship. He wasn’t the most forthcoming of people when it came to communication but I felt that he’d become distant, that something was up. It’s easy to convince yourself that you’re being paranoid in situations like this but trust your instincts on this one, if you think the dynamics have changed, they have. So, being a mature adult what did I decide to do – have a face to face conversation about it? Ask him in a grown-up non-confrontational way if something was up? Hell no! I got pissed off that he couldn’t tell I was worried about things, suspected he was shagging someone else and dumped him in the hope that he’d beg for me back and nothing would need ever be mentioned about the whole sorry mess again. Needless to say my cunning plan didn’t work. Not only did he not beg for me back, I ended a relationship because I was too proud/scared to hear the truth and worried that, by voicing my concerns, I would scare him off or freak him out with my ‘neediness’. Brilliant, eh?
I put myself forward in this case as evidence that, when it comes to hanging on to something you think you want, I am as ridiculous as the next person. However, if I had a pound for every friend or reader I’d heard say ‘I think he feels this…’ or ‘he’s acting like this…’ or ‘I’m pissed off because he can’t see this …’ I’d have a converted plantation in Barbados by now.
You want your relationship to work? Stop second guessing and start asking! Start talking to your partner and telling him how you feel. Yes, it all sounds a bit woo-woo but the bottom line is that without the ability to communicate a relationship is doomed to fail anyway. How many successful marriages do you know that have lasted because the couple are really good at reading each others minds? Quite. And if you think that an honest conversation about you being upset about something is going to damage your relationship you should see what sitting there with a face like a wet weekend is going to do, nobody likes a sulker.
When he asks if you’re alright and you snap back ‘Yes, I’m fine!’ He’s going to think that you are fine. Either that or that you’re a 10 year-old in a 32 year-old’s body.
Without communication, without being able to voice your feelings, concerns and opinions within a relationship, you basically don’t have one. It’s not a relationship per se that will bring you ‘everlasting joy’ it’s an honest one – one where you are heard and understood as a person. And don’t just take my word for it, according to Stephanie Sarkis Ph. D talking to Psychology Today “I’ve never seen a healthy couple that doesn’t argue. If a couple comes into my office and tells me they’ve never argued, something isn’t quite right.”
That’s not to say that a healthy relationship consists of nothing but blazing rows but that, being scared to say how you feel, for fear of rocking the boat, appearing too needy or paranoid doesn’t just undermine you as a person it also means that essentially you are living a lie and, by doing so, you are cheating both yourself and your partner (Who, by this stage is probably so confused by your mood swings, grumpiness and ‘if you’re doing it then I’m going to do it too’ distance that he’s begging for a way out anyway).
A strong relationship isn’t about second guessing and game playing. It is about two people being totally honest with each other and communicating. To be worried about what might happen if you voice an opinion or get pissed off now and again is, ironically, a fantastic indicator that you’re in the wrong relationship anyway, save yourself the bother of having a conversation and go and find someone who won’t ‘freak out’ if you’re unhappy about something or feel a bit insecure now and again.
However, If you do try this method out within your relationship and your partner does run a mile, claiming that you’re too needy/complex/ demanding – or whatever imaginative word he might come up with to brand you something you are absolutely not, then no, I will not be issuing refunds.
Why? Because I have, though you may not feel it at the time, done you a complete favour. Who, after all, wants to be with a person who can’t look you in the eye and have a heated discussion? Who wants to be in a relationship that can’t withstand a rocky patch, that’s discussed and resolved?
So by all means add ‘a relationship’ to your ‘to-do in order to be happy’ list, but, for heaven’s sake, make it an honest one. Talk to each other, argue, discuss, dispute and resolve – you’ll be amazed at how much more fun it is than sulking.