What fairy tales don't say about relationship difficulties
In Britain each year 300,000 couples take the decision to marry. They buy a ring and a dress; they stand in front of friends and family; they vow that neither poverty nor infirmity will ever wrench them apart. We buy them the toast rack and the teaspoons; we admire the young couple who make the pledge to each other for the rest of their lives, through children, mid-life crisis, weight-gain and bad hair days, 'til one of them finally is able to rest in peace. Throughout, as we stand and watch behind them, we know 50% of marriages end in divorce. The other 50% will forget birthdays and forget to say “I love you” and argue about the kids and “my mother”. Yet they continue to enjoy each other’s company and grow into old age together...and the rest of us are left asking how. How did they tackle the difficulties in the relationship and come out happy?
Relationships, like many things in life, don’t come with a manual. We don’t learn in school how to be in a relationship, nor is there a definitive model. The shelves of any bookshop or library are lined with authors queuing to offer advice...yet, ultimately, we are left with our partner to make our relationship work.
Most weddings and fairy tales end with “happily ever after”; yet the reality for longevity is very different. Many of the books on the shelves will talk about communication, and that is a huge term. It is important to keep reminding yourself why you got together in the first place; prize and celebrate your partner and create little rituals you do together (“our tune”, our favourite restaurant).
It’s also important to pay attention to the quality of the conflicts; can you resolve issues and difficulties in your relationship? Often in the heat of arguments we struggle to listen to our partner, struggle to hear their point of view. It’s about things: we didn’t do the dishes or take out the bins. Often, listening lets you become aware that the fear is much deeper; it means that that you have stopped caring for your partner. Take time during conflicts - don’t interrupt. Take turns to listen and speak and check what you are both going to change.
Since few of us are Princesses or Prince Charming, it’s important to recognise the human element in our relationship. Accept the person that they are and stop focusing on what is missing. Focus on the good. The fairy dust is in celebrating the ordinariness that attracted you in the first place.
You are not your relationship; spend time alone. See friends, have hobbies, recharge; by being comfortable on your own you will feel safer and more secure in your relationship.
Finally, pay attention to your relationship. Do things for each other; send that text, rub her shoulders, buy him flowers. These plus ones all count to build the relationship. Often when couples arrive at therapy the relationship in intensive care; it's so much easier to fix it earlier and one simple step at a time.