When we fall in love it's tempting to believe that "love can conquer all," as the saying goes. But unfortunately, the reality is a little more sobering. Most of us know the commonly referenced statistic that 50% of marriages end in divorce. Well that statistic doesn't account for all of the unhappy marriages that don't end for societal, religious or financial reasons.
That feeling of love is so hard to maintain. But why?! Well, when we fall in love, we often unconsciously attract those who reflect our disowned qualities — "our shadow," in Jungian terms. These are those unintegrated aspects of ourselves that we repress, but qualities we find endearing, special and charming in our partner.
For instance, perhaps your partner spoiled you with extravagant presents or spontaneous weekend getaways when you began dating. But once the initial glow of romantic love began to dim, you also discovered that his/her romantic-spending spills over ends in serious credit card debt each month.
In order to avoid compartmentalizing like this, we can look at our relationships as a spiritual pathway to healing and wholeness. Even the most difficult conflicts can be used to both grow individually and as a couple if they are handled properly. The trick is figuring out which issues can be worked through and which ones are the deal breakers.
Whenever I'm working with someone who is unhappy with something in their relationship I always ask the Golden Question:
If the other person doesn't change, and right now is as good as it gets, can you still be happy in this relationship?
If you ask this question before you get married and intertwine your lives — you will avoid a lot of disappointment, frustration, heartache and more.
So much time and energy gets put into wanting, hoping and trying to change what we can't control: other people. Sure, you may be able to influence someone else. Say you tell your partner,"Hey, let's make a budget and live within it," and he/she is amenable to making productive changes. Great. But this is not common.
Regardless, it's important as a first step to recognize that we can only truly control ourselves. This is part of the Golden Question.
If your happiness is based on someone conditional future that involves another person changing, then you're in dangerous territory. When we're dating it's tempting to think If she really loves me she can change. But this is never a good basis for a relationship – needing, hoping or thinking someone will be different from who they have historically demonstrated they are.
This doesn't mean that people don't change and grow over time but once we're adults it's dangerous to count on this happening. In fact, once we settle into a long-term relationship we tend to relax more into our ingrained behaviors.
Fights happen when we frame our partner's behavior in a necessarily negative light. It may be a cliché, but it is a matter of how we see the particular behavior, regardless of what it is (in many cases; of course there are non-negotiable, harmful behaviors). Say you often see your partner's laid back attitude as laziness. But maybe without your partner's laid back attitude, you'd constantly be over scheduled and busy. Likewise, without your attention to time, commitments and schedules, you'd both never get anything done.
So rather than seeing the other person as trying to sabotage you focus on the balance and synergy you create as a whole. Try creating a list titled "What I love and appreciate about you," and share it with your partner. Ask for what you need and want to be different. And if your partner isn't able or willing to shift their behavior it's never too late to ask the Golden Question.