It would be nice if life’s most important lessons came wrapped in a neat package and delivered to your front door. Unfortunately, many of the most essential lessons about life and love come the hard way—through disappointments, setbacks, and failures.
Beginning in 1986, Dr. Terri Orbuch tracked the lives of 373 married couples and found that, more than two decades later, nearly half had split up. The lessons for those broken-up couples may serve as helpful advice for singles who want a relationship that won’t end in divorce. Here are eight things those people wished they’d learned sooner:
Recognize and honor your key life values.
When you think about your life, what’s most important to you? Having a family? Financial success and a thriving career? Having a balanced, spiritual life? These are a few examples of key life values -- and they are values you’ll certainly want to share with your life partner. The time to determine your compatibility in these essential areas is before you make a long-term commitment.
Deal with problems -- don’t avoid them.
Many of the split-up individuals admitted they had not addressed disagreements in a health way, if at all. Conflict can be positive for a relationship, as long as differences are handled in a constructive way. Fighting or arguing with your partner means you are tackling important issues rather than looking the other way.
Learn the art of apology.
Sometimes, managing conflict and defusing tension involves acknowledging you were wrong -- and saying you’re sorry. We hurt others by lying, procrastinating, breaking promises, and giving put-downs. The best response when you blow it is to own up to the mistake and apologize.
Don’t weigh down your relationship with emotional baggage.
If you have unresolved painful feelings from your past, you’re likely carrying those around with you and into your closest relationships. Emotional baggage prevents you from being fully present in your current relationship.
Do away with jealousy.
This is one of the most powerful and potentially damaging emotions, often bringing out the worst in someone, especially in the context of romantic relationships. The divorced people Orbuch studied readily affirmed that jealousy is toxic.
Recognize that money matters really do matter.
Nearly half of the divorced individuals said they fought over money in their past relationship. One study showed that money-related conflicts are more intense, last longer, and have greater implications to a relationship than other types of conflict.
Forty-one percent of divorced individuals say they wish they had communicated better. According to Orbuch, “Many people regretted not asking more questions and not revealing more about themselves.” When divorced men and women from her study find a new partner, Orbuch asks what they’ve done differently in their new relationship. The number one response is always, “I changed how I communicate with my new partner!”
Shake it up, baby.
Many relationships become stale and stagnant if fresh energy isn’t infused into them. Look for new endeavors and adventures. Break out of the rut. Not surprisingly, numerous studies show that couples who explore new activities and play together were happier and more likely to stay together than couples who settle for a routine existence.
What's the most valuable lesson you've learned about love?
It’s date night. Should you serve oysters? Ask your significant other to feed you clusters of grapes? Are chocolate-covered strawberries worth the effort?