A lot of my work is with relationships, so divorce – the “D” word – is often an issue that brings people to therapy.
The good news is that the divorce rate is now dropping. Still too high in my opinion at 41 percent for first marriages, according to 2011 stats. Second marriages are at 60 percent and third marriages 73 percent.
We are biological driven to connect with others, so why is it so difficult for us to stay together? As a society we actually encourage and glamorize independence rather than encouraging inter-dependence. I believe that we look negatively at being dependent on one another. If life is not about relationships, and being dependent on each other, what is it about?
I remember reading ‘East of Eden’ by John Steinbeck many years ago, when he talked about in the beginning of the early 1900s and a man’s handshake and keeping his word was more important than anything else. In other words, being honest, and having integrity in all relationships. Also dependence and inter-dependence was essential for survival. Today we do not need to rely on each other so much. However, we are much happier when we live being inter-dependent with others.
We can confuse inter-dependence with co-dependence, which became a popular term in the 1970s. The difference between co-dependence and inter-dependence is that co-dependence is about sacrificing your own needs for someone else, while inter-dependence is about knowing and honoring your own needs but also considering and respecting another’s needs.
So going back to the issue of the divorce rate, part of the reason it is still such a high rate is we have lost touch with the idea of making someone else important in our lives.
In Matthew Kelly’s book, “The Seven Levels of Intimacy,” he talks about how not only do we need to be the best version of ourselves in a relationship, but also we need to bring out the best in another by helping them be the best version of themselves.
Do you bring out the best in your relationship? And how do you do this? One of the problems is that our brain likes to focus on the negative, and we may also believe that focusing on the negative helps us feel safer in relationships.
Both of these things do not work. All these two behaviors will do is make us part of the 41 percent divorce rate and poor other relationships.
Studies show that we get more of what we want by building people up and focusing on the positive rather than telling them what they are doing wrong. The difficult part is we have to go against the biology of the brain. The good news is if we practice focusing on the positive, our brain will rewire itself and then it will become more positive automatically.
Across many studies on marriage, the one key factor that stood out was marriages that lasted had eight more positive interactions per day than marriages that did not.
The second key to a successful relationship is to listen. We are so often wanting to be heard and not willing to listen. When people feel heard by another it makes us feel connected. In school we are taught to speak, to write, to perform, but not how to listen. Again, this might not come naturally, but it’s a skill that with practice can make a big different in any relationship.
There is a third dimension that needs to be displayed in all relationships: vulnerability. The problem with putting yourself out there emotionally, physically and possibly spiritually with someone is, as Anne Campbell says, “Love means to commit yourself without guarantee.”
That’s right, there is no guarantee, and you could get hurt. But you could also have some of the best experiences life can offer. Yes, it is a risk, but one worth taking.
So if you want to have a great relationship, then listen, be your best version, help the other person be their best version, focus on the positive, and allow yourself to be vulnerable.