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A Sociologist’s Insights: 5 Tips for Healthy and Long-Lasting Relationships and Marriages
Statistically, divorce rates are quite low these days. Compared to the 1950s (a period to which many people compare modern-day family life because it was supposedly more idyllic), the current divorce rate of 40-50% seems very high. The collective feeling that relationships and marriages don’t last as they used to dominate the minds of many people. We witness separations and divorces in our families, circles of friends, at work, etc. quite often. And we ask ourselves, “How do I make sure this doesn’t happen to me?”
That’s it five concrete tips how you can increase the lifespan of your marriage and relationship:
1. Don’t take yourself too seriously!
Remember that you are committed to maintaining a bond between you and your partner. Selfish values often stand in the way. Historically, the relationships and marriages we find ourselves in have come a long way. Stephanie Coontz researched the history of marriage and found that emotion was not the basis for entering into marriage in former times. Nowadays, people usually enter into relationships or marriages because of various emotions, such as love, intimacy, lust, trust, etc. Selfish motives sometimes take the upper hand in our relationships, because we want our needs met, to receive love and attention, and to know that someone cares about us. However, it may not always be about what you want. Rather, it should be about what is best for the connection between you and your partner. In reality, we see many relationships and marriages falling apart day after day because both partners are generally dissatisfied or face insurmountable challenges. We hope that the same fate will not befall us, and while individuals witness breakups all the time, they often minimize the likelihood that it could happen to their relationship or marriage as well. If you manage to negotiate individual wants and needs while maintaining the bond between you and your partner, your relationship has a good chance of surviving.
2. Let dads be dads!
Mothers still tend to exclude their husbands or partners from infant or child care tasks such as changing diapers, preparing formula, choosing clothes, etc. That is why many fathers face a very difficult challenge in today’s society. They are expected to not only bring home the dough, but also take active roles in their children’s lives. Research shows that many modern fathers still do not participate equally in child-rearing tasks. One could say that this is so because they simply refuse to do so. However, the fathers’ efforts to be that active parent are often more or less unconsciously undermined by the mother. Women often feel that they can take care of the baby more effectively. That’s why they don’t let the fathers do their part. For a child, however, it is more important how committed both parents are, not so much who can bathe them better.
3. Forgive the unforgivable
Infidelity is as old as relationships between people. However, in the past 50 years we have seen an unprecedented societal demand for partner fidelity. The romantic marriage, linked to sexual exclusivity, is the most institutionalized form of this expectation. Many marriages break up because one partner, not automatically the man, by the way, has cheated and the better half finds out about it. Without a chance for rehabilitation, the partner is often condemned. However, sometimes it’s worth digging deeper into the reasons, especially when the relationship was otherwise intact. Cheating can be a sign of frustration or feelings of worthlessness within one’s relationship or marriage. Walking away from this situation would be the same as giving up Mac & Cheese based on having one bad dish at a particular restaurant. Maybe the chef had a bad day, or maybe the ingredients weren’t that fresh. Here, we meet the ego again. Our feelings are hurt, our pride diminished, and our conviction of the truth of the bond distorted. But what about the partner we claim to love? Isn’t love forgiving and accepting the other person’s shortcomings? Or is this criterion valid only as long as our degree of comfort in relationships is not blamed?
4. Be realistic about human nature: everyone has secrets.
Complete honesty in a relationship will not keep for a longer period of time. We all lie day in and day out. To protect ourselves and those we care for and love. Humans are selfish creatures by nature. Love requires sacrifice of the self, as society, religion and culture teach us. But is this really possible? Balancing the delicate relationship between selfishness and couple well-being, many people fail. Experience tells us that people do have secrets; things they don’t want to share with anyone else. However, there is also the expectation that couples are completely honest with each other. Otherwise, a true and real relationship is supposedly not possible. Let’s face it: the likelihood of someone putting everything on the table, whether about the past or the present, is not 100%. The more we acknowledge that our partners are keeping secrets they don’t want us to know, the sooner we realize that it’s too much to ask for total honesty, the better off our relationships will be. An old saying goes, “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to.” A secret is a secret precisely because of that.
5. Communicate clear messages
Communicating clear and precise messages is probably the hardest thing to do. In relationships we often develop an indirect style of communication because some things could hurt the partner when we say them directly. An example might help you understand the problem better. Partner A comes home and Partner B says, “I’ve had such a headache all day.” Partner A could understand this message in different ways. Maybe Partner B is trying to ask for some attention, in that Partner A gives them a massage, pops the aspirin, or runs some hot bath water. Partner B might also respond by saying, “Yeah, my day was terrible too.” It is not easy to do the right thing in this situation, especially if the partners do not know each other too well. Say exactly what you want and expect. If you want your partner to run you some hot bath water, ask for it. Maybe offer to join you in the bathtub. If you have a headache and can’t get up to get some aspirin, ask your partner to get some for you. The more clearly we communicate our messages, the easier it will be for our partners to respond to the situation in a way that we approve of.
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