How To Avoid Marriage Failure

When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce.
Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person.
But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument.
– Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and zen master, author of Being PeaceNote that the monk stresses that blaming does no good at all. Neither does it help to adopt blame for something ourselves. Blaming is not a winning strategy in relationships.

At the time of breakup of a marriage, seldom does it happen that one of the couple admits to having done wrong. When it happens, the one who admits having done wrong usually has some excuse that is valid to him or her, usually that the other has abandoned him or her physically or emotionally and he or she committed some unacceptable behaviour out of need. In a majority of cases, each blames the other for something.

In some cases, the couple chooses the middle path, counselling. Someone with a certificate in something–usually marriage counselling–interrogates each individual of the couple to find what behaviours could be changed in order to reduce the stress or improve the interaction between them. That’s “using reason and argument.” Sometimes it works, but the success rate is not high.

Thich says that “if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well.” In other words, if we know how to take care of each other, our relationship will grow.

Very nice. Glib. The divorce rates in industrial countries (above fifty percent in almost every case) gives evidence that we don’t know how to take care of each other. Without that key element, knowing how to take care of each other, we have little hope of forming a long term successful relationship. Where do we learn this skill, this knowledge?

To be fair, some do learn on the job. They muddle through the rough patches to form something wonderful, as if they knew what to do in the first place. Few do.

In no society I know are the guides for forming and cementing successful relationships taught to everyone. Ideally they should be taught to children, as young as possible. Preferably at the sandbox age. That’s the age when many people learn the value of friendships, at least of having allies as opposed to enemies.

Not long after the sandbox age kids form friendships if they can, temporary alliances if they can’t make friends. The temporary allies are still called friends. The friends that are really allies are more like buddies that share similar interests, even if those interests include protecting themselves from a mutual enemy or bully.

What’s the difference between allies/buddies and real friends? It’s the same difference as between those who form successful marriage relationships and those whose marriages break down when the two people “grow apart.” It’s a question of who is more important.

That’s not the Who is the head of the household? question, but Who is more important to each member of the couple? If each member believes himself or herself more important, that his or her own best interests must be maintained as higher priority than the other, the two are buddies, allies. It’s effectively a business relationship marriage. Businesses fail.

When both individuals believe that the best interests of the other are more important than their own, the marriage will likely succeed. The friendship will last.

“What happens to you affects me, so it’s in my best interests to see that you have a happy, successful and fulfilling life.” Don’t blame the lettuce. Learn how to grow it so that it becomes more valuable.

The lettuce will appreciate it and reward you greatly. In human terms, that reward continues throughout the lifetime.

When you are the more important person in a relationship, more important to yourself, then your relationship is like a business association. Buddies. Allies that help each other, but always have their own bests interests at heart.

That’s a pretty simple lesson to teach to children. Very hard to teach to adults. Most kids don’t receive that as a consciously and proactively taught lesson.

Unless they have been taught that lesson, most kids will grow up believing that their own best interests are what they should keep in mind most of the time. That’s what nature teaches them. Marriages where one or both parties believe that will eventually fail. Worse, one or both parents will be blamed by the kids and they will grow to do the same in their own marriages.

Stop the endless cycle. Teach the children.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow children who can handle successful relationships as adults. The world doesn’t need more buddy marriages.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

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