I got engaged to my childhood sweetheart when we were 18 and then married at 21. My idea of love, relationships and marriage were based mostly on the outsider’s view of the various relationships around me and the addictive versions of Love displayed on the TV. Obviously, my perceptions were wrong, and our relationship failed less than a year into the marriage.
Now years later I can take a 360° look at the situation with clarity and objectivity.
So what were the life lessons?
- No two relationships are the same
- Communication is key
- Empathy makes all the difference
No two relationships are the same
A common error that people make is to compare their relationship to those of the people around them. This is particularly problematic as most people are selective about how much of their relationship that they let the outside world see.
By making comparisons especially vocal comparisons, you risk upsetting, offending and alienating your partner and disappointing yourself.
Relationships are as unique as the people in them and any comparisons and preset expectations can only lead to negative outcomes.
Communication is key
Sadly your partner is unlikely to be telepathic, so they don’t know what is going on in your head. To ensure that there is alignment with expectations, values and beliefs you must communicate with your partner.
To communicate effectively you need to consider the how, why, what, where and when of your message:
- How do you communicate, what is your tone of voice and is your body language and behaviour in line with what you are saying?
- Why do you need to communicate this message? Sometimes your motive for sharing information may be spiteful or in retaliation. True growth comes from deciding whether a message truly needs to be communicated.
- What are you trying to achieve beyond voicing your message? Would you like something to change, stop or start? What happens after you deliver your message what do you expect to get back from your partner in response?
- Where are you when you deliver the message. I have watched couples get into painful and private exchanges in public because one party failed to consider the impacts of what they were about to say. The where is crucial to effective communication.
- When you deliver a message can have a significant impact on the response that you get. Consider if your partner is a morning person or a night owl. When are you likely to get their full attention and therefore their best response? Self-awareness and self-restraint are key to this step as you must be able to hold your message in while you wait for the best time.
Empathy makes all the difference
One of my biggest failures in my marriage was that I was devoid of empathy for him. I spent the whole marriage looking at things from my perspective without being able to reflect on how he must have been feeling. Coupled with poor communication and my preset expectations of him as a husband and the relationship was doomed to fail. Take a moment to think about how your partner feels about the situation and whether it can be improved.
To be clear, I’m not saying these three steps alone create a perfect relationship, but from my experience, they can make a difference.