Love and romance, infatuation, starry eyes, “finding your soulmate” – these are usually the things that bring couples together. But they are not enough to sustain a long and healthy marital relationship.
There are distinctive skills involved in interpersonal relationships. Research has shown that self-esteem, contentment, and fulfilling relationships increase as these skills are learned and mastered. Yet, most of us grow up without any training in relationship skills. We watch significant others in our lives (parents, teachers, relatives, friends) as models and develop our own personal styles from a hodgepodge of what we’ve seen and experienced. If our experiences are positive, that’s great, and we are more likely to have strong, lasting relationships. If not, we are left to adopt the same unsuccessful styles we’ve seen or make it up as we go, hoping to hit upon something “good”.
Each of us has strengths and limitations in our relationship skills. After the newness wears off in marriages both begin to show more clearly. Recognizing and affirming the strengths reinforces and encourages their use. Limitations can also be recognized and improved. Doing both will create an environment in which a marriage can evolve to new levels of intimacy and satisfaction and shore the marriage up to weather the inevitable storms of life.
Here is a list of some basic relationship skills. Look at each one and ask yourself, “How often do I use these skills in my marriage?”
LISTENING – research suggests that when most of us are listening, about 20% of our attention is spent actually hearing the other person. The other 80% is spent trying to decide how we will respond. Learning to truly listen, with all of our attention to the other, hearing not only words, but the feeling will increase our “listening accuracy” and communicate caring to our partner.
RESPECT – valuing the uniqueness of your partner and his/her experiences as real as your own.
ACCEPTANCE – loving and accepting your partner for who s/he is today, not for who s/he could be or you wish s/he was.
ASSERTIVENESS – a willingness to take care of yourself while respecting your partner; expressing your opinions and desires openly without bullying your partner into agreement.
OPENNESS – expressing thoughts, feelings, desires, and fantasies spontaneously; willingness to discuss your limitations as well as strengths.
INTEGRITY – consistently being who you are; maintaining values; keeping your word. Just as a car that remains intact even after being hit and dented is said to have integrity, a person can make mistakes, suffer damage and still maintain his/her integrity.
EMPATHY – “Walk a mile in my shoes.” Empathy is an understanding of what it must be like to be the other person, to understand where s/he “is coming from”.
LOVE – Scott Peck, MD (The Road Less Traveled) defines love as “a verb, the active support of the spiritual health and growth of another person.” Not to be confused with the butterflies of infatuation, sexual desire, or wanting to possess another human being.
Relationship skills, like any, require practice. Imagine trying to serve an ace in tennis without first learning how and then practicing over and over again. And, just like other skills, there will times when you perform better than others. The commitment to being a”relationship pro” will surely enhance your marital relationship and increase your chances of reaching that coveted Golden Anniversary crown.