The secrets to a happy relationship
Valentine’s Day has thankfully come and gone and the commercial frenzy of teddy bears, hearts and chocolates is finally over. Just last year alone, in America people were expected to spend an estimated $19.7 billion on Valentine’s Day; that’s almost the GDP of a small country!
The five most common items purchased for the holiday are a box of chocolates, diamond earrings, a dozen roses, dinner for two, and a bottle of champagne and 53 percent of women in America said they would consider dumping their boyfriends if they did not receive any of these for Valentine's Day. That is a shocking statistic and it raises the question: ‘what is it that we truly want in a relationship?’
The answer seems to be that we’d like our partner to fill every void in our life and not only be a partner, but also our best friend, our soul mate, sometimes even our business partner. In reality, we expect a single person to consolidate and play the roles traditionally played by a number of different people around us. I am not suggesting that your partner should not be your friend. But when we put so many demands on a single individual, we are really setting them up to fail. The reality is that to have a fulfilled life we need a number of people around us, some are family, some are friends, some others are business associates; all playing a very different role in our lives.
Our views on relationships
This has changed dramatically over the centuries. Historically, marriage was a means of preserving power and maintaining wealth. In the West, that changed in the 17th and 18th centuries when the idea of the ‘pursuit of happiness’ was born during the Age of Enlightenment. Fast forward to today, and our “buy and throw away” culture is manifesting in everything from our purchasing habits to relationships. If a partner does not meet our expectations, there is a view in many countries that we can just trade them in for a better model.
Having certain expectations from our partner is of course healthy. It shows that we are clear about what we want in life, it shows emotional maturity. However, unrealistic expectations can put unnecessary strain even onto a healthy and strong relationship, primarily by making us judgmental. As a result, we spend more time focusing on what is lacking rather than what works. By doing so we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.
These unrealistically high expectations are today the main cause of the rising divorce rates, according to functional sociologists. In addition, comparing ‘the grass on the other side’ is now easier than ever before. Though it’s normal to wonder how we measure up to other people, dwelling too much on these judgments has a cost.
Such comparisons lead us to determine our own social and personal worth based on how we stack up against others. As a result, we are constantly evaluating ourselves and our relationships based on what we see on others. Comparing ourselves to others, based on what we see on social media, can lead us to overlook the complexity of others’ lives; we tend to ignore what lies under the surface and focus on selective idealised images. The reality is that most people only showcase the best aspects of their life. That is enough, however, to shape a false image of what relationships should be and what we should be aspiring to. These images of what is acceptable become such a vivid mental guide that determine how we rate not only our partner but also ourselves and the level of effort and commitment we are willing to put into the relationship.
So how can we avoid this trap?
Perhaps consider the words Henry Ford who said at the turn of the 19th century, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right”. And now more than 100 years later, this is more applicable than ever, not only to our personal success but also to the success or failure of our relationships.
One of the primary factors in getting what you want out of life, or out of a relationship, is believing that you can have it. This is because we always follow in what we think and what we believe. So if you believe in yourself and your relationship and you think positively about it, you will act in a way that will support this belief. On the other hand, thinking that you cannot - or you do not deserve to - have something will ensure you fall short.
So, just take the time to ask yourself what you really want in a relationship. This should be a partnership that you think will work for you, not what is imposed on you through social or other media. And not what you think your friends or parents expect from you, but what you really want. And accept that all of life’s nuisances that come with it are part of the game. The important thing is to get to know each other and work through these challenges. It is through the ups and downs of the relationship that we get to know each other and it is these ups and downs that bring us closer together.
When you’re 85 and you’re sitting on your rocking chair, looking back at your life, it is these moments, the memories and the wealth of experience that we gathered on the way together, that will define our relationship. And let’s be lear: it is not the number of teddy bears or boxes of chocolate we have received through the years for Valentine’s Day.
Sophia Fromell is an executive coach specialising in career coaching, corporate management and change management. See sophiafromell.com for more information.