We have been brainwashed about relationships. They are hard work. Real love is romantic love and relationships don’t really work anyway, etc. In fact, statistics seem to support these conclusions. In Canada, something like 40% of marriages end in divorce. Many of the remaining 60% are in hot relationships (a lot of fighting) or in cold relationships (passion is gone. But could it be that the statistics don’t prove relationships are hard work, as much as they prove that what we are doing isn’t working!
Putting in Effort
I would be the first to admit that to do anything well we need to put in effort. Think of a job, school, athletics, raising children – we need to put in effort if we want to be good at any of those activities. The right tools just make the job a lot easier. Whether you are a plumber, carpenter, chef, teacher or a machine operator – good tools make the job less difficult.
My contention is that the tools are available in today’s world to have the kind of relationship that we all want. On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the best and 1 not so good, I believe we can consistently live at 9 or 10.
History of Relationships
But if you look at the history of relationships down through the centuries, what we are attempting to create in the 21st century is very recent on the evolutionary calendar. From hunter/gatherers to farming and even into the beginning of romanticism in the 18th century, it was pretty well a male-dominated universe. Often, women were seen and treated as property.
It wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that the women’s movement gained momentum. The divorce rate skyrocketed as they demanded to be treated as equals. Generally speaking, there just wasn’t a good model for what a true partnership relationship might look like.
Imago Relationship Therapy
In the late 1970s and early 1980s Harville Hendrix and his wife Helen LaKelly Hunt cobbled together what is now known as Imago Relationship Therapy. It provided a working model and good tools for couples to create a partnership relationship; one that was safe, connected and fully alive. The key to a great relationship is safety. Why? Because of our brain stem, that oldest part of our brain which we share with all mammals, fish, birds and reptiles.
If I don’t feel safe I will defend – that goes back 500 million years and we won’t change it. So what tools do we need to remain safe? I believe there are four key skills or tools, which if couples can learn and implement, they will have a much better chance to create the relationship they truly want.
4 Tools to Make Relationships Less Difficult
- Firstly, couples MUST learn to communicate safely – no put-downs, no attacks, no hiding out. As Imago therapists, we all use the intentional dialogue process, which includes mirroring, validation and empathy, to ensure that the communication is safe.
- Secondly, we suggest, making an appointment for anything that might be negative. Think about that from your old brain point of view. If I don’t know when an attack is coming, for sure I will have my armour on. As I tell clients, it is hard to be intimate when they are both clanking around the same house with their armour on.
- Thirdly, remove all negativity from the space between – that sacred space between and around couples. In other words, there can be no blame, shame or criticism between partners. This is because again, from an old brain point of view, if I feel threatened I will defend, either by exploding outwards or constricting inwards.
- Lastly, couples need to learn to amplify the positives – to appreciate, to thank, and to affirm one another and to say those appreciations out loud. If I am constantly hearing positives, my old brain can relax. This is not the enemy over there, it is my ally, my partner, my friend.
As we said at the start, any job is easier with the right tools. These four key skills or tools, make any relationship much less difficult.