Trying to avoid his father’s mistakes, Steven Lake shares what would have made a difference in his understanding of relationships if . . .
Getting involved in a marriage is a complicated and tricky business for most of us. In my case, the only reference I had was watching my parents work out their relationship and bringing up my brother and I over an eighteen year period.
In all that time my father never said a word to me about marriage or relationships. He wasn’t talkative at the best of times and he certainly wasn’t going to talk about personal stuff. That is why in the title I say what I “wish” he had told me.
Here are the five things I wish my father had told me about marriage:
1) It is easy to get into a relationship and harder to get out.
It is only in retrospect I see my parents did go through some difficult times. They also overcame those hardships and are still together 63 years after getting married. Not too shabby.
I wish he had cautioned me to take more time before getting too serious with a woman. I tend to dive in head first and break the cardinal rule about diving into water when unable to see the bottom – NEVER dive in if you can’t see the bottom.
I took a few headers and broke my neck more often than not. It is impossible to see the bottom of a relationship, so walking slowing in and feeling how deep and if there are obstacles under the water is the smart thing to do.
Unfortunately, most people I know not only dive in, they dive in with their eyes closed and hope for the best. It is pure luck when you don’t ram your head into the bottom.
Assuming you survive the initial plunge, knowing how to swim in a relationship is a basic skill. After all, you are in over your head often with little experience.
But no. Most of us were not given relationship swimming skills. At best, we mimicked our parents and again that is the luck of the draw if they were good at managing their relationship. For most of us, it was diving into the deep end and sink or swim.
I don’t know about you, but it took me a while to learn the art of relationship survival. It took several live-in girlfriends and one marriage before I figured out how to stay afloat. I discovered that drowning is painful.
2) Winning an argument with your wife does not improve the relationship.
What a concept! I was brought up to win at everything – arguments, sports, and academics. It was all about winning. We would have lengthy conversations at dinnertime vehemently arguing politics without mercy. Having a plethora of facts handy and a willingness to use them with creative flair was not only expected but demanded.
Acting this way in an intimate relationship doesn’t work. Winning means there is a loser. You don’t want your partner to feel like a loser. This builds resentment and weakens the relationship. Payback can be nasty.
I did not know this going into relationships. So, I just tried to win every discussion and argument thinking that expressing myself and trying to get my way was how things were done. Over time, the only thing that was done with this approach, was the relationship.
Now, I have learned that creating win/win experiences is the way to go. I approach engagement with my wife from a place of inquiry and trying to understand her reality.
Sure, I am human and get upset at times. However, I have learned to temper these outbursts, own them, use them to understand my inner realities, share with my partner what is going on, and work towards harmony and understanding (and if not understanding, at least appreciation).
3) Be prepared for tough times.
What does that mean? I think what I want out of this statement is being prepared to go through experiences with my partner that I could not have imagined. Big stressors include: work, kids, the relationship, family, illness, and unemployment to name a few.
In other words, to know that life is full of hardships and they don’t have to be an excuse to question the relationship but an opportunity to strengthen it.
I have struggled with finances and health over the years. I have a friend who lost his child. Others who have had their spouses die from cancer.
In the end we all die. Think about that when fighting with your spouse. As a former business partner said to me many times, “What will this mean to you ten years from now?” Not much. Thinking about what he said helps me keep life in perspective and focus on what is important.
4) The relationship changes over time.
This would have been helpful to know. I have discovered that there are developmental stages in a relationship. There is the “honeymoon” stage where the other person seems perfect and you are constantly in a blissful state – it will end.
Sooner or later the veil will come off and you will see the other person – not just your idealized version of who they are. This can be a rude awakening.
I’m sure we all know people who are in love with being in love. Once that “love” feeling diminishes they are history. Knowing that the enhanced love feelings, or infatuation, wears off, takes away some of the fear and self-questioning when it happens.
Assuming you get past this stage you are faced with the “power struggle” stage. For some couples this can become a life-long experience. Personally, I recommend understanding what is going on and getting past it so that life becomes much more pleasant.
At the very least, this stage is tiring. At the worst, it leads to a lack of self-esteem (if one person wins most of the time), emotional exhaustion, and bitterness.
I have seen couples who have been together for a long time who argue, contest, and challenge each other every day and in public. It doesn’t look like much fun and I see the hurt and anger in their eyes.
Getting through the power struggle phase quickly allows the next stage to emerge. If not managed with alacrity, many people will abandon the relationship at the “power struggle” stage.
Moving on, we enter the “healthy committed” stage of the relationship (some people enter the “unhealthy committed” stage). Having successfully passed the power struggle phase the two of you are feeling pleased with yourselves and think that you can handle anything – maybe.
In this stage you are feeling secure about the relationship and begin working towards mutually agreed upon goals. Life could go along smoothly for a while but eventually a challenge crops up.
It could be a job promotion which requires a move, a job loss and the turmoil of quickly shifting finances and priorities, it could be a pregnancy, expected or otherwise, it could be an accident, addiction, job stress, or an old boyfriend or girlfriend re-appears. You are now entering the “test” stage.
As it sounds, this is the phase where you and your relationship will be tested. The tests are rarely predictable and come as a surprise if not a shock.
This is when you and your partner need to pull together if you are to come out the other end stronger. This is the time when weaknesses in the relationship will make themselves apparent and some tough choices will have to be made.
In a long relationship you will have a number of tests – just letting you know. If life becomes relatively stable and the years go by, you might notice that you and your partner are taking each other for granted, or there just isn’t the old passion between you, or one or both of you have developed in new, different, or unexpected ways and you are not sure what to make of this.
You know you still love your spouse but may not feel “in love” anymore. I call this the “old hat” stage. The relationship is well worn, comfortable and predictable. No surprises here.
Beware! This is a dangerous time. Affairs abound at this time as people try to wake up to life and get in touch with passion and excitement.
For others, it is a time of quiet acceptance of the limits of the relationship. They have their separate lives and make little demands on one another. Excitement is the last thing they want. “I like my old hat thank you very much,” is a phrase that sums up this stage.
However, for a lucky few, those who are committed to a relationship that lives, breathes and is authentic, this is the time to rediscover or see your partner and the relationship anew. I call this the “rediscovery” stage.
The rediscovery phase is not something that happens only in the later stages of a relationship. It can happen at any time and many times throughout the life of the relationship. The more the better when it comes to how many times you rediscover your partner.
The rediscovery phase is an opportunity to fall in love in a new way. It is a love based on appreciation not infatuation. It is an opportunity for a spiritual love to evolve (whatever that means for you) because it is not based on receiving but on giving.
It is a love based on shared time and experiences where a glance can say a thousand words of mutual understanding and send feelings of love and support instantly through the space between you – dissolving time and distance.
5) Time goes quickly in a good relationship and slowly in a bad one.
This nugget of wisdom would have saved me years in my troubled relationships. It is a good measure of whether the relationship is working or not – how time passes.
I have been together with my partner for almost eighteen years. Those years have gone by so quickly it takes my breath away. I feel like there will never be enough time to share with her, to learn all of who she is, and to share the wonders of this world. I guess its working.
I don’t blame my father for not teaching me what he didn’t know and had yet to learn. For the fathers who have sons, I encourage them to share what they have learned so that these men will not have to repeat the mistakes of past generations. Let’s teach our sons well.
Also by Steven Lake
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