Being the best partner — 04 January 2007
Relationship education is a wise choice for all couples

Many of the difficulties couples encounter in their relationship originate from their individual beliefs and attitudes about themselves, their mate and the nature of love relationships. Many believe that the mere act of commitment to a mate is the beginning of living happily ever after with no need for further education or training. This myth is detrimental to maximizing one’s relationship bliss.

Much of our preconceived views about relationship and marriage are fostered by media images in which love conquers all. It portrays people who are in love as winners whose problems are washed away by their desire to be together. Lust, attraction and passion rectify all ills.

Childhood stories amplify the myth that since the shoe fit the abused Cinderella became a princess and lived happily ever after with her prince in the castle, and when the frog was kissed he transformed into a prince. The goal then is to find the right match and the rest is pleasantly assured. This sad notion is perpetuated by various matching services some of which pride themselves by psychologically picking the right mate for you.

Much is said about the process and nature of finding a match, little about this being only the first step of an ongoing process of education, training and practice at being a good partner. Many couples thrive on the early euphoria of love and connection assuming that no further work will be required to maintain this idyllic state.

Couples, who are not in severe distress or are not required to attend premarital counseling, rarely seek relationship education. Yet, knowing more about human nature, effective interaction and relationships “dos” and “don’ts” can greatly improve one’s capacity for intimate connection. Knowledge is indeed power when it comes to being able to create the life you choose to have.

When couples are troubled enough to seek counseling they often learn communication skills, greater appreciation of each other’s nature, needs and wants, how to accept each other fully and how to create the safety necessary for trust and intimacy. These tools and others would have served them well earlier in the relationship to keep their love alive.

Nowadays there are relationship classes taught in many colleges, there are relationship seminars in churches, marital enrichment weekends that help committed partners strengthen their bond. There are also many books, magazine articles and lectures on various aspects of healthy relating, as well as websites dealing with marital education and/or specific issue resolution.

Availing oneself to these educational opportunities is the intelligent way to go about improving your skills as you do in your work and even hobbies. People take tennis or golf lessons and practice often to improve their athletic abilities. Why then would one not pursue information and guidance about improving his/her relationship? We are born no more skilled in committed love than we are at driving, playing the piano or flying a plane. Whatever is important to you in your life – requires ongoing training and practice.

• Accept that knowing how to be a great partner is not innate- but learned.
• Realize that a marriage certificate or a stated life commitment to a partner is only the first step of undertaking a new role- not the mastery of it.
• Good intentions and being loving people are not sufficient requirements for a good life-partnership.
• Making your relationship successful requires appropriate training, ongoing education and practice.
• Being intimately connected to another person is an ever-evolving state. Both of you change with time, as do your wishes, preferences, dreams and joys. Keeping abreast of your own emotional growth and your partner’s is a complex task.
• Assuming that love will protect you from relationship woes –is an illusion. Love is the lubricant of the relationship machine that requires ongoing attention and fine-tuning.
• Believing that if you need to learn how to become an even better partner demonstrates a failure – is a grave misconception. You would not assume that once you are employed that further training is evidence of incompetence.
• Marital education is not therapy – it is insight and skill building for more effective relationship.
• Reading and studying about relationship mastery is not just for women. It requires understanding by both genders and should be viewed as a sign of responsibility and wisdom, not weakness or needless emotionality.
• Committing to your relationship wellbeing is a significant contribution toward your overall health and longevity.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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