What is the biggest challenge to helping married couples build strong relationships? Over the last several decades, researchers have discovered many new findings about what makes relationships work, and we now know quite a bit about what couples can do to establish happy partnerships that will last a lifetime. But, it is not enough simply to know what couples need to do to have good relationships. The biggest challenge is getting couples to actually do the things that are best for their relationships. Even when people know about what they can do to make their relationships stable and strong, they often fail to do those things. I have seen this time and time again in my work as a marriage researcher and clinician. If I give a couple some advice about something they could do to make their relationship better, they often respond by saying, “That’s a great idea,” or sometimes they say, “Of course, I knew that all along.” But, it is somewhat rare for a couple to actually follow the advice they receive.
This is, of course, just part of human nature. As humans, it is normal for us to fail to do things that we know would be good for us. This is especially true when it comes to building a lifetime partnership with one’s mate. Even though a good relationship can be an essential part of a life that is meaningful and rewarding, we often take our relationships for granted. There are three primary reasons that couples often fail to do the things they need to make their relationships great.
First, many couples neglect their relationship simply because they are not currently experiencing any relationship problems. This is unfortunate, because the best time to work on one’s relationship is at the time when everything seems to be going great. It is much easier for happy couples to learn the skills they need to keep their relationships healthy for a lifetime than it is for distressed couples to fix a relationship after troubles have already developed. The problem is that, when couples are not experiencing any problems, they do not feel motivated to work on their relationship.
The second reason that many couples fail to work on their relationship is actually the opposite of the first. Many couples neglect their relationship because they ARE having problems. Couples often wait until after they have begun having some difficulties before they recognize the need to work on their relationship. But, once problems have developed, the work becomes harder. To build strong relationship skills, partners need to take an objective look at their own thoughts and actions, show understanding for each other, and develop tactful forms of communication. These are all things that can be extremely difficult for partners to do when they are angry with each other. Once problems develop in a relationship, many couples find that they are too upset to do the things that would make their relationship better.
The top reason that couples fail to work on their relationship, however, is that for many people, it simply feels too awkward or threatening. As humans, we like to think that we are valued and admired by others, and that we have excellent relationship skills. As a result, it is natural for us to feel somewhat threatened by the possibility of discovering areas in need of improvement. In addition, relationship work often involves trying out new ways of communicating that may seem silly or unnatural, or it may involve discussing uncomfortable topics. Sometimes, people think that, if they are working on their relationship, it must mean there is something wrong. For many couples, then, the process of working on their relationship simply feels too strange or too intimidating.
To build a strong relationship, couples need two things. First they need information on what they can do to make their relationship the best it can be. Second, they need the motivation to do those things. Although both parts are important, the most difficult part is having the motivation to take action. Of course, this is something that each person has to decide for himself or herself. The tools for building strong relationships are available to many couples, but only some will choose to use those tools.