Two Elements That Make Relationships Work

My son, Jonathan, just got engaged. He and his fiancé are absolutely head over heals in love with each other and will likely plan a wedding over the next twelve months. Our family is excited for them and their future.

Jonathan and Ashley Mae have made me think about relationships in our 21st century culture. Today, I want to provide fodder for conversation between you and the young adults in your life. While the vast majority of young people envision getting married, many will never marry and between a third and a half of those who do will get divorced. This has become a norm in our society.

What’s Happened to Commitment?

As far as I’m concerned, too many young adults are giving up on committed relationships. The “hook up” and the “break up” have replaced the “make up” when it comes to relational impasses. According to a report from iBuzzle, when young couples or even young friends encounter hardships too many just throw in the towel. Quickly. Approximately, 50 percent break up in a “very short period of time.”

In that same report, we discover that 75 percent of young adults believe in “love at first sight.” Apparently, there’s a correlation between this belief and the practice of “breakup at first hardship.” What’s more, according to the Pew Research Center, 30 percent of teen breakups occur via a text message. Still more, about 50 percent, do it via email or through a friend. Both staying together and breaking up are too hard.

Can you blame them?

We live in a world of options and on-line connections, where it’s easier to move on than to stay committed to something that requires work. The adult generation hasn’t given them lots of hope either. Did you know that a child growing up in America is more likely to have a pet in their home than a live-at-home father? No matter how legitimate the reason for the divorce or the breakup, this is a sad truth.

What We Learn from Reality Television

After reflecting on the high school and college relationships I’ve encountered this school year (some of them long-distance relationships) I have drawn a conclusion. Too many of today’s connections resemble reality TV:

  • A serial full of episodes.
  • Parts are scripted and parts are serendipitous.
  • Lots of drama and theatre.
  • In each episode, judgment is leveled on whether they continue.
  • They are virtual; they look real but are often only a facsimile of reality.

So here’s an interesting fact to ponder.

Did you know that more successful marriages have been produced in “The Biggest Loser”
than in “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” combined?

In short, the TV program that’s all about launching a successful relationship doesn’t achieve that goal so well. The other program—the one about weight loss—fares far better. Do you suppose there’s something for us to learn from this? 

  • The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are all about relationships. Find the perfect “hunk” or the perfect “Barbie Doll” and woo them. The show is about the speedy assessment of appearance and chemistry.
  • The Biggest Loser is a show about losing weight. It’s about beating obesity; improving yourself slowly. It is built upon discipline and the pursuit of a goal. Relationships form as two people pursue, not each other, but a mission.

Someone once said that mature love is not about two people gazing at each other, but about two people gazing outward in the same direction. Communication (which is the top reason relationships succeed or fail) is natural as two people are intent on the same target. Connection comes as a by-product of similar values, interests and goals. It isn’t all about appearance; it is more about shared mission.

Is it possible the “superficial” plays far too large a role in our relationships?

Two countries in our world today are discussing legislation that would allow for ten-year marriage contracts and one legislator in Mexico has proposed two-year marital contracts. An astonishing 40 percent of people polled by the Pew Research Center say the institution of marriage is obsolete.

Is it possible we’ve given up too quickly? Do we just expect less of ourselves?

A Different Paradigm: Time and Commitment

Let me suggest a different way to look at healthy relationships. Genuine intimacy occurs only when two ingredients are present: commitment and time. The greater the commitment, plus the longer the time-elapse, the better chances you have to experience intimacy. Check out the diagram below:

What if we slowed down and let relationships mature? What if we stopped rushing intimacy and allow it to become a product of both time and commitment?

No doubt, some marriages should never have happened. I know divorced people who are marvelous individuals and were victim of abusive relationships or immature partners. Due to the toxic experience, these people either don’t seek another partner or do so with great apprehension. It’s time we rediscover that the intimacy we seek comes from time and commitment. Unless we’re wiling to offer both, we diminish our chances at lasting relationships. In fact, couples who live together before engagement have higher divorce rates than those who wait. You can’t rush intimacy. It is an experience not a feeling.

My wife and I celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary this June. Relationships can work.

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Two Elements That Make Relationships Work