In September I took a trip to Houston (post-storm Harvey) and attended a workshop on Gottman-style relationship therapy. This is something I have had a growing interest in; the wealth of ultra-useful data grows by leaps and bounds. This week, I am also teaching my undergraduates about marital therapy which has caused me to update my lecture materials and contemplate again, about what we know and do not know about long term romantic partnerships.
As an introduction to what I hope will be short series on couples, I will say this: what we know about how to keep a partnership together is simple. Even though John Gottman (among others) has an intricate and complex data set about what makes marriages work, much of it boils down to something akin to the ‘Golden Rule’ or ‘do unto others…’
Just because something is simple however, does not make it easy. I, like most people, know that to stay fit I basically have to engage in some amount of cardiovascular training every day and eat in an reasonable way. That does NOT make that task, easy, however. Staying mindful and making deliberately healthy choices requires focus, energy and will. Similarly, staying married requires daily attention to your spouse, and to your emotional state. It requires being willing to sustain habits both on your own and with your partner that will keep you all in emotional equilibrium. It requires that you try (and succeed, on occasion) to NOT say that critical thing about your spouse, just because it pops into your mind. It requires loving kindness and treating your spouse like a valued friend.
I think that some couples decide, ultimately, that it is too much work to turn things around for their relationship. I do not think this should be judged or that is a morally ‘wrong’ decision in some way. For some, ultimately the will decide to cut their losses and try to forge ahead to a new relationship and attempt to learn, with a new partner, from past mistakes. This is, and should be a valid choice.
Here is the news article that inspired me to write, today: