A buddy of mine recently sent me a pretty interesting article on relationships.
The article talks about a study of couples that was done where they looked for a correlation between marital satisfaction and how couples handled relationship “milestones”. Here’s an explanation of what it means by milestones:
Every relationship goes through milestones, or transitions, that mark how serious the relationship is getting. Going on a first date is one; a first kiss is another. Other milestones might include the “define the relationship” talk—the moment a couple says they are actually a couple—sex, engagement, marriage, and children.
What they found was that there are couples who, as they put it, “slide through these milestones”; and there are couples who made conscious decisions on these milestones. Not surprisingly, the couples who made conscious decisions on the milestones reported a higher degree of marital satisfaction then the couples where things just kind of happened.
Happiness and Choice
If you’ve read any of my previous entries hopefully it’s clear that I believe life is all about choice. Life is a journey where we are faced with choices every step of the way. Some are small (what should I have for dinner tonight?), and others are a bit more significant (do I want to marry this person?). Some choices are easy, while others are very difficult to make. Each choice we make closes certain doors and opens other ones.
I believe one of the keys to happiness is being active in decision making. Sometimes you make good decisions, and other times you wish life had a rewind button. But as long as you have consciously made the decision, you own it, and it’s up to you to make the best of it. Because at the end of the day, the only person that you have control over is yourself.
One of the things I really like about the article is it suggest that when we actually put some thought behind “why” we do things, we are able to get more enjoyment out of things.
Think of marriage. Generally marriage is something that people do by choice. But what are the reasons behind the decision? Did you get married because you were pregnant, and felt you had to? Did you get married because you felt it was time to “settle down”? Or did you get married because you looked at your partner and you knew that you wanted to build your life around theirs?
All of those reasons result in marriage, but I think there is a big difference between wanting to be with someone, feeling that you probably should be with the person, or just not wanting to be alone. It stands to reason that doing something because you “want” it will result in more satisfaction then doing something because…
…well, just because.
Something I’ve talked about before is that I don’t believe romantic love is really love. Romantic love as portrayed in poems and movies is a wonderful thing, but it’s really just the first stage of love and it’s largely a biochemical response. Real, mature love can only blossom after that infatuation stage has passed.
At that point love becomes a choice. Do you accept the other person as they are, flaws and all? Because they *will* have flaws, but you’ll be largely blind to them during the infatuation stage. Do you look at the positives, and value them for who they are, instead of who they aren’t?
Looking at the milestones listed earlier, only things like the first kiss and the first time you have sex seem like things that you shouldn’t plan. Somehow that seems a little bit too calculated. I can just picture it:
“So, we haven’t kissed yet. Do you think we should? Yes? Well upon contemplation I’m inclined to agree. What are your thoughts on tongue? No? Fair enough. Alright, let’s count to three and then do this.”
That’s probably not the way you want your first kiss to go, never mind the first time you have sex (at least not unless you are someone like Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory”. In that case I could see the conversation).
But even for things like your first kiss and sex, you both should feel that you are at a place in your relationship where you are emotionally ready for it. You may not discuss it with each other, but you should at least have had the discussion with yourself. Those aren’t things you should be doing just because you feel you have to.
Placing Importance on the Relationship
One of the indicators of success in a relationship is the importance people place on the relationship itself. Especially when it comes to marriage, studies have shown that people who value the concept of marriage have both higher satisfaction and success in their marriages.
The article talks about the same sort of idea:
Deciding rather than sliding revolves around commitment. Not just to each other, but to the decision itself. Making a decision, research shows, sets individuals up for better follow-through.
I think this is all about buy-in. When you make a conscious decision to do something, you have a greater emotional investment in it. You have greater incentive in seeing it succeed.
Ultimately love is a choice, and commitment is a choice. In any long term relationship, there will be times when it is tested. When you are having a hard time liking each other, it’s hard to see why you should be committed to each other. But if you see the relationship as something larger than just the two of you, having commitment to your Commitment (capital “C”) can help you get through the tough times.