Unhappy wife. Unhappy life
You don’t have to be a marriage counsellor to know how much of a positive impact a happy, healthy relationship can have on our overall well-being, and in turn how much grief a not-so-happy one can bring us. Throughout my years as a physician I have seen countless clients whose relationships have, unfortunately, taken an enormous toll on both their physical and mental health. In fact, depending on how you quantify it, we can even say that a bad relationship can be more toxic to one’s health than having a chronic disease such as heart disease or diabetes.
The older we get, the more of an appreciation we develop for the complexities of relationships. A certain amount of emotional turmoil is par for the course when it comes to matters of the heart. Maintaining a deep emotional bond with one person over a long period takes work, and let’s face it, we humans are far too “emotionally complex” for our own good.
It is no surprise then that divorce rates are very high around the world. The Belgians lead the way when it comes to break-ups, with a staggering 70 percent of the country’s marriages ending in divorce. In the United States, the number sits at 50 percent, while a look at Europe reveals that Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic all have a divorce rate of 60 percent.
In the UAE the exact divorce rate percentage is harder to come by, but rates seem to be on the up, with 2014 divorce filings up 34 percent from the year before.
Can I strive for a healthy relationship?
While it is easy to get dejected by those stats, let’s not forget the thousands of couples who get married around the world every day and go on to have long and happy lives together.
I believe that many relationships can be improved by the simple acknowledgement that marriages and relationships are not always smooth sailing, and sometimes even the best ones can be downright difficult.
Married life throws up all sorts of challenges, and the responsibility of compromising your own wants and needs with someone else’s – not to mention offering continued emotional, social and even financial support to another person – can be a burden on even the broadest of shoulders.
But if there’s one thing that’s worth the effort to get right, it’s your life partnership, so let’s take a look at a few things we can do to boost our chances of nurturing a long, healthy and most importantly, happy relationship.
Don’t shy away from the issues
Obvious yes, but it must be included on every list addressing relationships, because too many people are not doing this or just don’t get it. Communication was cited as the most important factor in a healthy relationship by 67 percent of people who took part in the “The Way We Are Now Report 2015″, a study put out by Relate, the UK’s largest relationship counselling service.
Communication can mean many different things. While it’s great to see good dialogue between partners on a regular basis, many couples are not the chatty types, and have no problem being in each other’s company without exchanging too many words. There is no harm in that. Every couple has to strike their own balance there, and that will vary greatly from couple to couple.
The one type of communication that matters is the one that doesn’t happen because something is not being said when something should be said. When we are angry at our partner or feeling resentment over something that happened – or didn’t happen – we very often withdraw and stop all communication. The problem is that every time we do this we are straining the relationship. It is that simple.
One type of communication that matters is the one that doesn’t happen because something is not being said when something should be said
Over time this turns into a habit, and problems are not properly talked about at all. Instead, you simply wait for the anger and resentment to die down following an upsetting situation. This means ongoing damage to your relationship.
The bottom line: It is your duty to talk things out when those negative feelings come up, and to do so rather quickly. There is no way around this one. Healthy couples don’t avoid conflict, and the healthiest see these situations more as differences that can be openly worked out, rather than a situation that is about “me versus you”.
Say goodbye to social media
I’m sure this may seem like an unusual inclusion on this list, but studies indicate that technology can place a huge strain on our relationships. According to one psychotherapist and relationship counsellor based in Dubai, around 85 percent of couples he counsels claim that social media has caused an issue in their marriage. The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children estimates that of the 5,000 cases of marital conflict they have dealt with in 2015, around 50-60 percent have been related to social media.
It is hard not to see the ridiculousness of our actions, in fact. Go to any restaurant and watch how the couples or even large groups of people are interacting with their phones instead of each other. This carries into the home no doubt, and what we are essentially doing is not giving ourselves a chance to be alone with our partner. There is always someone else there – as in all of your Facebook friends, your WhatsApp texting partners, etc.
No, no, no, this won’t do. Know when to have these devices around and when not to so you can be sure that you are not prioritising your virtual relationships and communications over the real-world ones with your significant other.
Hit the gym together
Couples that exercise together stay together. Many studies over the years have pointed to the fact that after exercising with their partner, couples report feeling more satisfied with their relationships and even more in love. For reasons that are not so clearly understood, it appears that sharing and working towards a fitness goal increases the emotional relationship bond.
What’s more, as exercise includes many symptoms of physiological arousal – such as sweaty hands, a racing pulse, shortness of breath, and so on – exercise can even make you and your partner appear more attractive to one another. So for your next date night, skip the romantic meal and head for the gym or go jogging down Jumeirah beach.
Just as you and your partner grow, evolve and change over time, so too does your relationship. Instead of trying to roll back the years and reignite those same sparks that flew when you were lovesick teenagers, embrace the new type of love and intimacy that comes from being in a healthy, long-term, mature relationship.
For example, many people worry perhaps a bit too much about no longer feeling the same level of passion or infatuation that was abundant in the honeymoon phase. But let’s be realistic, that is not something that maintains that level of strength throughout the years. While a healthy level of intimacy should be present, that will mean different things to different people.
Concentrate on all the positive ways in which your relationship develops over the years, recognising that those lifetime partnerships go through a number of phases.
Here is the biggie, and so please listen up: We can’t use the “relationships are tough” line to excuse bad behaviour. If you want to have a good relationship, you have to do your best to be a good and balanced person. You cannot be hot one day and cold the next, making all of those around you – your partner included – uneasy with your behaviour. Choose your actions carefully, your words with care, maintain your duties as a family-man or family-woman, and don’t make it all about you.
This again goes back to the old emotional rollercoaster that humans spend much of their lives on. Life is up and down, and a lot of that is simply in our heads. This can cause us to act out and make poor choices, and generally just take something that is all very well and good and muck it up.
Do not avoid your home duties, do not think you can maintain your partying ways of pre-married life, do not be disloyal, do not be unnecessarily confrontational, and so on. This is indeed a very long list, but the long and the short of it is that you have to play fair.
Along this line comes the very matter-of-fact realisation that we might need to get some help with a few things. There is no harm in working on yourself through counselling or self-help books. Not all of us are “rays of sunshine” that others find so easy to be around. Some of us need work to “make things work” with others, and if you fall into that category, recognising it is a first step in becoming that person who plays fairly.
It’s not about easy
Shakespeare once said: “The course of true love never did run smooth.” Now, he was a man who knew a couple of things about love. If we are looking for relationships to be easy or expecting them to be easy, that right there is a mistake. While relationships are something that humans want and need, we cannot make it our goal to find an easy one. In many ways, you get what you get. Who among us cannot say there is an element of fate in all this?
Just know that once you are in the relationship, it is no longer about fate. If you are going to stick it out, then you have to work on it, and some of those tips above just might help you out.
I started off with a mention of relationships and health, and so as not to overlook the importance of this, let’s end on that note: According to a study by the University of Missouri, people who are in what they define as happy marriages are more likely to positively rate their health as they age. The university’s study looked at over 700 married adults over a 21-year period and found a very clear link between well-being and relationship quality.
Of course such studies just remind us of the obvious. What they don’t do is tell us how to get and stay at that happy place. That’s a long journey between you, your partner, and whatever wisdom you can apply along the way.
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The opinions in the column are by Dr Graham Simpson, and are not necessarily those held by Esquire or Hearst International. Dr Simpson is Chief Medical Officer and Founder of Intelligent Health, a preventive medical centre located in Jumeirah, Dubai. He graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand Medical School in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is board certified in Internal Medicine and Emergency Medicine. As a founding member of the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA) Dr Simpson is also a licensed homeopath.