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Partnership & Marriage really require a lot from both people. Marriage ceremonies really don’t prepare anyone for the work that is demanded. Everybody loves the falling in love part. There is an energy & excitement that can be astonishing. It’s the repair that can be hard to sort out.

Partnership & Marriage Are Fragile Craft

Partnerships & Marriage really require a lot from both people. Partnership demands that both people share their points of view & that we must reshape our own personal reality to be more accurate. This is truly very hard work because part of being human is favoring our own point of view.

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When I visited India I asked everyone about their arranged marriages. Everyone I spoke to seemed happy. One taxi driver was very proud his two sisters knew him well & spent 3 years looking for him before the choice was determined. It’s my conclusion that the reason arranged marriages can be successful or mail order brides in the West is because the partnership is viewed more as a contract to work on. The commitment to figure it out together when you are strangers may often be based more on respect than love so it works.

When someone leaves a partnership or marriage by having an affair they may be so enchanted with the novelty of a new relationship that they don’t give their partner the opportunity to solve what’s been missing. The romance can be so inviting that betrayal becomes easy to do; the betrayal of not giving your partner a chance to really learn & grow by being honest about what’s been missing in the marriage or partnership. It robs the partner who is left behind of doing the work to evolve into a more satisfying relationship.

We are a culture that tells lies to each other & wants to take the easy way out of things. I’d say we might even be addicted as a culture to taking the easy way out. The right thing to do is always the hard thing to do. The hard thing to do is the work of improving a partnership or marriage.

Think about how rare it is to hear hard truths about yourself…..that’s why so many people deflect & avoid the hard conversations. We are passionate as a society about staying comfortable. This is why people embrace the fantasy that “If you love me you’ll know what to do to make me feel better.” or “If you love me we will feel the same way or have the same values.” the reality is that partners can be very confused about how to be helpful, that partners have very different ideas & accommodating the differences with fairness can be a very tricky business.

We also tell lies to ourselves. As a culture we seem to be in love with our own personal reality; we have fallen in love with our version of the truth. It is impossible to know reality alone. Reality requires the messiness of two points of view engaging. No one person can ever be in charge of reality.

So one person in a partnership is tired of living with unfinished projects & a constant mess. In their mind it’s a nagging parent, avoiding teen scenario. The other partner may have ADD & doesn’t recognize it. If they each insist on their separate realities as true instead of having 20 conversations where together they can explore both points of view. They could both grow & learn from each other instead of silent resentments piling up and getting distant from each other.

Partnership demands that both people share their points of view & that we reshape our personal reality to be more accurate. This is truly very hard work, part of being human is favoring our own point of view.

Why is this so important you may be wondering??? Contact is the bedrock of any relationship. Contact is about deeper connections; when you allow yourself to be influenced, shaped or altered by someone else’s point of view. “you are right, I’m sorry I was bossy, I’m sorry I was unfair, I’m sorry I crowded you with my agenda” You recognize an unpleasant truth about yourself, swallow your false pride & step forward into growing & learning. That is real contact.

Ask someone who has been divorced what were the problems & they love their personal version of blame & how the ex “done them wrong”. If you are more grown up you are able to describe how you both created & added to the problems. Believing our own personal reality that avoids any responsibility is a whole lot easier but it’s not the truth, because it’s not the whole story. The whole story includes how BOTH people contributed to the demise of the marriage. If you meet someone who can describe their own contribution you are meeting that (sadly) rare authentic person.

In our personal reality, we are victims, we are innocent bystanders. It’s amazing how people exonerate themselves & avoid self-awareness. Self-awareness can make us wince at ourselves, “Yes, I can be a nag.” one of my clients said & I was glad she’d been with me long enough to recognize she is not without blame.

I was having lunch with my 4-year-old grandson Tucker & I observed a family of 5 at 2 tables nearby; I almost took a picture for Instagram but they were too close. Every one of the 5 was on their phone. My therapist Sonia Nevis told me many years ago “Restaurants were made so people have to talk to each other while waiting for the food to arrive.” I leaned over to Tucker & whispered: “We will never sit in a restaurant together & be on our phones.” Phones interrupt the possibility of contact. That family represented another missed opportunity for connection. Phones help us create a personal reality.

The work of marriage & partnership can be summed up in this 2-minute wedding reading I wrote for my son’s marriage 6 years ago:

Sustaining longevity in marriage is not a small achievement. Longevity depends on building an infrastructure based on truth, growth & substance.

Infrastructure requires respect. The proof of respect in a relationship is when you open yourself up to being influenced by the other. You are willing to strive to be a better person, to take a risk, to face something hard or to make a sacrifice.

Stay real with the one you come home to. Learn how to dialogue instead of the ever-so-popular parallel monologues. Have 75 conversations when something is difficult instead of giving up.

When you argue, learn to have enough imagination to know there will always be merit to BOTH points of view. Embrace the complicatedness of the differences, because they add spice to the relationship & you will never be bored.

Substance requires the courage of truth-telling & the determination to be authentic with the one you love the most……for decades. It’s the layering of truth over the years that builds into the most enduring of connections.

Learn to take great care of the committed US that begins today.

5 Mandates for Effective Partnership:
1. Partnership mandates some level of self-awareness. Are you someone who never apologizes? Are you someone who can be obsessive & rigid? Are you growing up… someone who always needs to be Top Dog as discussed in my last episode. Are you someone who stash resentments silently & waits for your golden opportunity to dump your anger in one big unmanageable mess? Are you someone who avoids disagreement? Are you someone who people pleases instead of being authentic? Are you someone who expects too much? All of these questions you should be able to answer whether or not they fit you. Owning up to how you make things difficult really matters in partnership & marriage.

2. Partnership mandates some skills in negotiating. Someone only wants to go to beach vacations & their partner isn’t really wanting to do that again. Do you speak up about not wanting to go or do you listen to the truth you don’t want to hear? Speaking up & listening to disagreement are essential parts of negotiating.

You have to begin to think of partnership & marriage as a growing up machine. That’s the truth.

3. Partnership mandates growing up. Everyone has a tired 4-year-old inside of them that wants what they want. I just spent 10 days with our grandson negotiating & making deals & it’s a pleasure to ride home in the quiet of being a couple again. Growing up is honestly facing painful situations. You will encounter so many opportunities to face difficult truths. So decide it’s a good idea to do the hard work of growing up when you love somebody. Give up your personal version of reality & step up to being able to look at yourself more honestly. I promise you will never regret it over the long haul & yes short haul it’s very difficult to recognize your own uglies.

4. Partnership mandates that you have to sustain your belief that your partner is worth it. Even when they disappoint you which I explored in episode #45. Everything in life boils down to is it worth it.

5. Partnership mandates asking the tough questions instead of pretending everything is fine. Ask why sex has evaporated. Ask how can we make the relationship better? Ask Do you think power is unfairly distributed? Ask do we have enough money to get a new car or should we buy used? Don’t be afraid of asking, it’s really better to know than to not know. Information from questions can be a powerful help to do more honest problem-solving.

All of these requirements are why the divorce rate stays at 50%. You have to have to do the work. I quoted Joseph Campbell in episode 40 which got over 16,000 downloads & he said: “Marriage is an ordeal.” It’s not a love affair, make the distinction that partnership necessitates a lot of work. You are fooling yourself if you don’t recognize that hard truth.

Marriage is a fragile craft that deeply needs to be taken care of… both people.

My challenge for you today is to consider how self-aware you are; that means being able to recognize how well you take responsibility for how you contribute to problems. How often do you steamroll your partner or swallow what you want? When was the last time you negotiated? Have you grown up in your relationship? Do you respect & have faith that your partner is worth it? If you don’t feel your partner is worth it have you talked about it? What is the last tough question or disagreement you both dealt with?

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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