I am currently reading Jonathan Maberry’s novel “Kill Switch”- the latest in his Joe Ledger series. Think 24 Hours meets the X-files and you have a sense of his Joe Ledger stories. In his current book the villain has created a machine that allows travel between dimensions and the protagonist Joe Ledger gets glimpses of alternative Universes, each with different outcomes depending on different choices and random events that have occurred in that particular universe. Some of us may find it fun to read these types of stories (or not). However, I would like to ask for your indulgence and imagination in the following thought experiment.
Imagine you are able to visit 3,000 different universes for 40 years. In each of these universes you exist and you are in a relationship with your partner. Due to random events and choices you make as a couple the level of happiness and fulfillment you have in your relationship varies quite a bit. In some universes you end up getting divorced from your partner, in other universes you end up living in an unhappy relationship with them, in other universes your relationship is good enough, and still other other universes you notice the two of you are happily married for many years in a fully supportive relationship. The full range of possibility. What if you were able to study the patterns associated with each of those outcomes. You notice that in the scenarios you end up getting divorced or live unhappily together there are certain relationship patterns. Moreover, in the scenarios where you are happily married in a supportive relationship you notice that not only are these destructive patterns absent, but that certain other constructive patterns are present. Now imagine you were able to visit a few more hundred universes and teach yourself and your partner these principles. You notice that the adoption of these principles improves your relationship.
While such an experiment is not possible we have the next best thing. Somebody (Dr. John Gottman) actually took the time to study over 3,000 couples during the last 4 decades and learned to identify the destructive relationship patterns that are associated with divorce and unhappiness as well as identify the constructive relationship patterns that are associated with supportive and happy relationships. These patterns could predict divorce with over 90% accuracy. Moreover, when the knowledge learned from this research was taught to couples in a workshop format – these couples relationships improved (see blog “What Makes Relationship Succeed or Fail”).
I think a lot of us, including myself, can be skeptical of relationship advice. Others may also feel skeptical of scientific research when it comes to such human matters such as love and the heart. While advice can be unhelpful and scientific research can be cold, love and happiness in our lives is very personal, important, and meaningful to us. Who among us does not want to be happy and avoid suffering? We do not need a Ph.D. or to read scientific journals to know that the quality of our relationships have a profound influence on our happiness and health. I think most of us also know that our spouses or partners play a particularly important role in this equation of happiness and health. This is not the relationship we want to take for granted or to be unprepared to navigate. The stakes of these relationships could not be higher – a broken heart vs. a peaceful heart, divorce vs. a supportive relationship, a relationship of contempt or indifference vs. a relationship of love.
Finding someone special is a gift from the universe. There are no guarantees that it will happen. Moreover, relying on the default conditions that you and your partner have going into the relationships may or may not be enough to sustain it. Are you living in one of those 3,000 universes where conditions come together for a sustained supportive relationship or are you in one of those other universes? With approximately half of marriages ending in divorce and another large percentage of couples staying in unhappy or ambivalent marriages – the odds are not in our favor. There are no guarantees or absolutes in life. However, I know when Stephanie and I have a disagreement I have a choice and I also have principles to guide me. I could ignore her and play a familiar tape in my head about how I am right and she is wrong. Or I can turn towards her and let her into my experience and express what is in my heart and what I need with loving words and sincerity. Making the right choices and having effective relationship principles and skills can make all the difference in the universe and relationship that matters the most to us – our own.
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