From Dr. Jane's Notebook

Relationship report card: What's your grade?


    Valentine’s Day is filled with dread. As though it were a national report card, this so-called holiday has some kind of power that causes singles and couples alike to consider their levels of isolation and connectedness. Long before February rolls around, newspapers, TV, and the internet remind us to brush up on our dating and mating skills, to check our mail boxes for surprise valentines, and otherwise inflate our expectations for the day. But for those of us who are in relationships, what if this were a day when we received actual report cards? How well would you score when it comes to relationship satisfaction?


·         Love: a matter of talk and touch. People fall in love when they are satisfied that it is safe to communicate. Early in relationships, couples often recall talking easily for hours on end. This kind of communication is indeed a game of “catch” where folks toss the conversation back and forth while paying attention to each other. When we disclose our deep dark feelings and experience acceptance, our hearts swell with positive emotions. From here it is a short step to communicating through touch. The more we feel accepted, the safer it feels to be close and to share, and this keeps the game of “catch” going. But when acceptance turns to disapproval, harsh words make us vulnerable.  If the communication in your relationship is not all it should be, find a way to put down your sword and shield, and pick up a ball and glove.

·         Loyalty: Shared decision-making with lots of Love. Sexual intimacy is an important barometer of closeness in marriage; it is the closest two people can be. When sexual love is absent in a lifelong relationship, partners become insecure. Sexual rejection undermines trust, creates resentment, and leads to power grabs. Faced with the possibility of lifelong rejection, your mate will become vulnerable to attention from others.  

    When people speak of growing apart, they have literally lost track of one another. They have stopped living in a democracy, they make decisions without consensus, and what was ours becomes referred to as mine and yours. Gone is the sense of teamwork and shared victories; gone is the trusting intimacy; gone is the love and the sense of loyalty.

·         Shared Family Values: Managing conflict and managing roles. We are the architects of our families. Marriages and families are built according to a set of specifications. As children, we collected various blueprints from our families that describe ways to talk, fight, solve problems, and show love. When two people create a new family each brings a set of blueprints from our families of origin. Unless those blueprints are specifically changed, we will remain automatically programmed to behave as our parents did. Unless we hear otherwise, we expect to have the same ideas about “who’s supposed to do what”, how we’re supposed to talk to one another, and who’s in charge.

·         Even when things seem okay, never take your marriage for granted.   Like co-owners of a business or co-captains of a ship, it is essential for members of couples to talk about their likes and dislikes, and make joint decisions about how they will get along. Your job as a couple is to talk about how you want to be treated and what you wish to accomplish in your lives. Without these discussions, you may be running the “company” or steering the ship in two different directions. Couples who cannot discuss their differences and find ways to compromise will make their decisions on the basis of tug-of-war.  But beware that as soon as one person becomes aware of the imbalance of power; trust will break down and so will the love.  


Recommendations for improvement: Ironically, most of us treat our co-workers better than we treat our families. At work, we try to be polite, control our tempers, and use our manners. But at home, it is tempting to leave our manners at the door and treat our loved ones with disrespect; a habit which is guaranteed to sabotage any relationship. Keep your relationship in check by examining your language. The words, please and thank you must be used regularly, and we must speak to each other with respect. Our relationships are voluntary but we still need to hear that we are appreciated. When loved ones help each other, it is as though they have given a gift. These gifts include things like cooking, cleaning, bringing home a paycheck, or taking care of the kids. When our gifts to each other are not appreciated, it’s like going to work but never receiving a paycheck. Take a moment each day to express appreciation to each other. You’ll be amazed at the difference.


      For those who now worry that they have received a failing mark on this report card, take heart. The day after report cards come out, each of us has a new opportunity to make things better. Beginning today, there are many opportunities for improvement.

©Copyright, 2007, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.            

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