For sure no outsider will ever really know what’s going on in a relationship, married or not. In many cases, the two insiders can be equally ignorant of how the other partner really feels, how happy or unhappy they truly are. When a partner commits to an exclusive relationship, to marriage, to be part of a couple, what does that statement really mean? Commitment means a lot more than saying yes, I want to be a partner in this relationship. Commitment means being there for my partner, ready to support the other, to help each other achieve, understand what’s important to your mate and making necessary sacrifices for mutual happiness, to enrich the other’s life thus building lasting contentment and trust. Commitment requires time, at least 15 or 20 minutes every day to talk things out, to truly be in each others life, to make love endure.
Yet, the divorce rate is hovering around 50%. Long terms marriages are breaking up at an alarming rate. Several serious researchers are trying to find answers on how to reduce relationship stress and identifying how to keep love alive and couples together. A study published in a recent Journal of Psychological Science by Northwestern University psychologist Daniel Molden and colleagues examined differences between the ways married and dating couples feel. They asked 92 couples who were dating and 77 couples who were married questions about satisfaction in their relationships. Not surprisingly, married togetherness seems to loose a lot of its charm versus the intoxicating times of a new dating courtship when each sees the other through rose colored glasses.
What all participants agreed on -- married or not -- is their belief that the best partner is one who supports the other through thick and thin, brings out their best. Molden’s study identified that satisfaction in the relationship is based substantially on a person’s perception about the other partner, not on facts. So if we perceive that our partner is supportive of our goals, we’re happy. If we feel that he or she is truly committed to the relationship, we are happy. However, perceptions can change quickly. The real problem for enduring love or happiness is the very issue of projecting anything on another person, good or bad that’s not reality based.
Most couples would argue that they know their partner well. Research seems to contradict this belief. Why? Our own issues and needs get in the way to see and hear the other partner’s point of view clearly. When we perceive that we are truly on the mind of our loved ones, that our needs and well being are what they are thinking about, we may be surprised to learn that they’re totally involved and consumed by their own agendas. Then what happens? Was the vow to commit real or simply based on the perception of an illusionary life together.
In some cases both partners continue to have rosy perceptions about each other. Such a relationship may well endure as long as their perceptions are not destroyed by real events. It is quite possible that “perception” based relationships may work as well as the relationships that are reality based. And some couples’ reality actually matches their perceptions. Maybe that’s the formula for enduring bliss.