My husband and I are celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary this year.
This is my husband’s first marriage, and my second. This is important because we didn’t start with having all our ducks together.
What I have learned about building a successful relationship may not be in tune with the standard expectation, though is what I notice in enduring relationships. The ones that stand the test of time.
It’s about communication and intentions, attitude and actions.
A successful marriage isn’t one that never has problems. It’s about how successfully do we navigate through those challenges, and whether we can be kind to each other on the way.
So many people seem to have difficulty with what to do when things aren’t going well.
I had one young client say, she and her husband needed to learn how to fight functionally. Meaning separating the deed and the doer, focussing on the issue not the person.
Whether in business, regular life, at school, at home. The willingness to pause, and really listen to the other persons perspective. Avoiding taking things personally.
As silly as it may sound, when in the midst of a disagreement, most of the offence comes from reaction. It’s a natural human behaviour, it’s that it’s not that helpful if the intention is to find a solution.
IF having successful relationships is the goal it’s appreciating that there will be phases we have to grow through.
In the beginning
In the first few years a marriage (whether formal or agreed) it’s about getting to know each other. Learning how to accept the things that drive us nuts but are who they are. How to love unconditionally and accept them as they are, so that we work together in partnership and each become the best version of ourselves.
I am fortunate that David had the intention of success as I would have been easy to give up on. Even though I had been separated from my previous marriage for three years, I was still very much a bit of a minefield. I had a lot of emotional baggage plus David and I are opposites in almost every way.
I also brought my then four year old, wild and wool child into the marriage with me. A big adjustment for a quiet young man.
It’s appreciating it’s not the behaviours or styles that need to align, it’s the values that are core to every successful relationship. And when children are involved, it’s remembering that they are going through a much bigger transition comparatively than the two adults.
When the family expands.
When adding children it’s learning that with every new child, you have a new family. There will be disruptions, there will be challenges, there are disagreements. This is not a reflection of poor parenting or even poor relationship skills. It’s about learning how to adjust to the new environment, the different roles and needs of each.
As parents, we must not only be bigger and stronger, we must also be wiser and kinder.
My kids were so fortunate to have a dad who knew how to be a trusted advisor. How to be a leader, though quiet and pastoral in style. His zone of genius is to listen. A natural coach.
David is a retired Naval Officer, many years ago I remember one of his senior sailors saying, he’s like to learn how David managed to reprimand someone and have them feel better from the experience.
He was like that with all of us. Even little old firebrand me.
We have such a great marriage because we support each other become even better versions of ourselves. Yes, we have had really difficult times, personally, professionally, with each other, and with the kids. As a family, particularly a military family, I reckon we have experienced a variation of practically everything a family can go through. It’s what makes us stronger.
Navigating the Challenges
A successful partnership of any kind is not based on how well we do in the day to day. It’s how well do we do when things get tough.
Are we able to stay focused on the problem and not take pot-shots at each other? The pot-shots being a tactic of those who didn’t learn the skills in the imprint (0-7) stage of development. Our insecure injured inner child has to deflect the pain that we inevitably feel.
Are we able to avoid taking things personally? IF things get personal, it’s remembering that the words are really a reflection of how the other person is feeling/coping. It’s not against us, it’s for themselves. This is a core skill when dealing with children. It’s appreciating that when an adult does this, it’s their inner child not coping.
Foundations for Success
When things get tough is when having clear long-term goals and intentions becomes extremely useful. It provides a touch stone or north star for you to check back into.
It’s easy to get caught in the whirlwind, though a bit like Dorothy, when we stay with the whirlwind, we end up not in Kansas anymore. We get distracted from what is important.
Knowing where you are headed is what enables you to work to become the people that live that life, have that family.
It’s not in the moments of difficulty that define our future. It’s how we grow through them that makes the difference.