Partners Have To Be Friends First

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

A lot of people accept their friends just as they are, but when it comes to their partners they tend to be too critical and rather intolerant.

When I told this to a friend, he said, "Of course, you can accept friends just as they are because you are not married to them." He has a point, but research shows that you will do better if you treat your partner as your best friend. Among happily married couples, 70 % of the satisfaction in marriage is derived from the quality of friendship between them. So, it is the quality of friendship that determines if a marriage will survive in the long run.

Many partners think that if only their partner changes a little, their marriage might work. In most cases, waiting for your partner to change is not only futile, but you also run the risk of being burned out and totally frustrated. Asking your partner to change on demand may be more difficult than to demand changing of the guards in London to suit your schedule. It happens on their schedule, not yours. To be serious, acceptance rather than change is the key to a happy marriage.

Andrew Christenson, a noted marriage researcher emphasizes, "loving your partner, not in spite of your differences but because of the difference. It means loving your partner as a package deal, with no line-item veto."

When a marriage starts falling apart, partners search for explanations. They try to figure out what happened in the marriage and how they started drifting away from each other. Often their explanations are inaccurate because they are guided by self-serving interests and based on certain cultural myths. Here are a few examples of inaccurate explanations:

1. "We didn't have much in common," or "We didn't have the same interests." If that were true, you wouldn't have fallen in love in the first place. The fact is that given the same interests or hobbies, one set of partners work as a cohesive team while another set fights over "my way is better than yours."

2. "He didn't live up to his part of the deal." The fact is that when relationship begins to deteriorate, partners begin to keep score about who did what. When the relationship sours, partners begin to tally the score, for example, "I cooked the dinner, you can at least wash the dishes." In fact, partners in love just help each other without tallying the score.

3. "Our personalities clashed." Take for example John and Jane. When the knot was tied, John used to be a mild mannered and rather unassertive guy and Jane could be described as a strong-willed woman. As years went by, Jane became more and more controlling and John became more and more submissive. The cause of break-up: she saw him as nothing but a wimp and he saw her as a controlling witch. Neither could stand each other any longer. But another couple who we shall also call John and Jane had a different outcome. As years went by, John became more assertive and expressive and Jane began to yield more and more to his wishes and preferences. They lived happily ever after.

4. "Everything was going great in our marriage. Then, he (or she) had that affair." It may be accurate if the partner is compulsively promiscuous. Generally, an affair by itself doesn't ruin a marriage. An affair may be the last straw on the proverbial camel's back if the partnership has already ceased to exist. Sometimes, deprived partners, while seeking friendship, support, respect, or understanding stumble upon a relationship and "fall" into it.

5. "We argued all the time. We didn't communicate at all." That is not a cause but an outcome of a relationship that had already become toxic. Happily adjusted couples also ague but they don't inflict so much pain on each other. They stop before the fight gets "bloody" and they are back to normal interaction before the day is over. Some happily married couples dialogue with each other, others resolve a disagreement without any dialogue. If the love and understanding are in place, they work out a system that works for them because they have the willingness to do so.

Not understanding the real cause of marital breakup leaves couples exposed to future failures in relationships. Here are a few examples of the real causes of breakups: disillusionment with each other; unrealistic expectation from your partner; abuse; disrespect; intolerance or a rigid and uncompromising attitude on the part of one or both partner.

People who stay married live, on average, four years longer than those who don't. But, there is a downside-if you are unhappily married, your chances of getting sick increase by 35%. So, it pays to change and it pays to accept the other.

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Copyright 2000, Mind Publications 


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