12 December 2011

How to Survive the Relationship Struggle


Most people have a fantasy about relationships. It goes something like this:

One day they'll meet their ideal partner. This person will understand them completely and will easily connect with them. There'll be no arguments. Everything will be perfect. Magic will happen and continue forever.

The reality of relationships, you know, is quite different. An intimate relationship is one of the most powerful opportunities for personal growth. And growth -- even for the most transformed person -- often brings pain. But it also brings incredible joy. Relationships are akin to life -- sometimes sublime and sometimes challenging, and, as with life, the amount of satisfaction you derive depends on how much you're willing to move outside of your comfort zone.

Sometime between three and 12 months into a relationship, a couple enters a period of struggle. During this time, the couple begins having disagreements and one or both partners blame the difficulties on the other. This period lasts approximately one year, depending on the individuals. In my coaching practice I've seen this happen to every couple -- without exception.

What's actually happening is that the couple is establishing the rules of conduct for the relationship. Each partner, having grown up in a different family culture, has different conduct rules. Since these rules are subconscious, neither is aware they're enforcing their own standards. For example, a woman may have been raised in a family where feelings were not expressed and communicating her feelings was scorned. Her partner was raised in a family with excessive emotional closeness and sharing. While she may not expect any emotional expression and sharing in the relationship, her partner does.

The couple's task during this period is to create a shared set of rules that are independent of their respective family dynamics. Each one must look inside and discover what they want from this relationship, which requires a strong commitment to the it and detachment from family patterns.

Without realizing it, most people are deeply loyal to their family patterns and beliefs. Each partner will believe that his approach is the correct one. If and when the other partner does not comply, he will be made wrong and attempts will be made to force compliance.

This period in the relationship is frustrating and painful and it's the point where most relationships end. The key ingredient to the survival of the relationship is the willingness of each partner to grow. Both must be willing to rework their rules of conduct and meet in the middle. If one partner becomes unwilling to grow and change, the relationship is functionally over. A vital, dynamic, loving partnership cannot exist when one partner exerts his will over the other. The relationship will eventually end with both people deeply wounded.

Relationships are not the way they are portrayed in fairy tales, but the true beauty of relationships is that they're an opportunity for each partner to transform. Growth will be painful at times because it will require each partner to go beyond what they already know about relationships. And if you're unwilling to look within yourself and move outside your comfort zone, stay single and date casually. But, if you're willing to grow, you'll reap the benefits of a dynamic, loving partnership.


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