Our highly stimulated world is jammed with mental intrigue, starkly contrasting the stable calmness of past generations. The innovation of the computer changed the experience of living with instant updates and billions of messages fighting for a sliver of our attention. Modern businesses have adjusted to the fast pace by trying to keep employees engaged before losing them to the next sparkling opportunity. As people change, internal stability is a premium quality when external stability is lacking. Relationships provide that stability. Well, they should. Too often, we make relationships just as unstable. Disposing of them as soon as they demand effort. We don’t need a disposable relationship. We need secure attachments that lift and support.
How do these changes impact relationships? Will life-long bonds become relics of the past? I don’t know. But secure attachment is fundamental to modern well-being. Any environment that destroys attachments will also damage well-being. We must proceed with caution.
Current divorce statistics don’t indicate any alarming change (they actually have dropped over the last two decades). However, marriage rates have also dipped as millennials wait until later in life to marry. Divorce is still common with over 40% of first-time marriages failing.
Divorce in History
We have long abandoned the traditional family unit common in the mid 1900’s, where divorces were frowned upon, and legally difficult to obtain. This doesn’t mean all marriages were happy. Many people lived together in agony—because that’s what you did. Our nostalgic views of Disney happily-ever-after relationships are distorted.
Many dysfunctional parents from that time period gave unintentional gifts of chaotic attachment to their children. Disconnected moms and dads raised disconnected children. The children often felt that something was wrong but didn’t know how to fix the problem, so they continued carrying the family torch, giving the gift of broken attachment skills to their children.
“Many dysfunctional parents from that period gave unintentional gifts of chaotic attachment to their children.”~T. Franklin Murphy
Healthy Happy Relationships Take Work
The truth is relationships are difficult. Happy couples still require work, sacrifice and even some suffering. We propagate a lie of fairy-tale connections. It is a beautiful lie. We grasp the visions of an eventual paradise where insecurities vanish, and unconditional love flourishes. We believe in a fairy-tale sort of love. Consequently, because we have been gifted with occasional glimpses of elated and magical feelings of romance, we believe true love should always provide these heightened emotions, where troubles disappear, and joys are magnified.
We readily and repeatedly jump into the commitment fray, ignoring warning signs and defying the differences with our “love-conquers-all” dreams, only to discover our mental resources do not match the relationship demands. The fast-life attitude pushes us to move on, dispose of the relationship instead of repair, seeking healing through another chaotic foray into fruitless relationships searches.
“Love isn’t just hearts, rainbow, soft pinks and reds, it is more like fireworks – thrilling, aggressive, surprising and frightening.”~Pretty LifeStylez
Secure Attachments and Wellness
The psychological sound advice is to learn, grow and develop the skills to maintain and benefit from a secure attachment. The evidence is clear—there is a positive correlation between secure attachments and well-being. Seventeenth-century philosopher Francis Bacon said that intimate relationships “redoubleth joys, and cutteth griefs in half” (Ben-Shahar, 2007 pg. 112).
We need to fight the fairy-tale lie. Romance unfettered with worries is attractive, tickling our idealistic fantasies, but this doesn’t match reality. Real love takes work—lots of it. Managing our emotional stability is a chore, requiring skill and maturity. In a relationship, the stability is complicated by the complexities of two living, breathing, reactionary creatures. Conflict is inevitable. The strength and success of a relationship depends on a couple’s ability to manage these conflicts, working through the ebb and flow of feelings. We can’t run, disposing of the relationship once it demands effort.
Skilled partners soothe the emotions while inexperienced lovers magnify the feelings and poke the sensitivities. Contrary to our dreams, many relationships heighten insecurities rather than solve them. For some, these relationships become disposable.
“The good news is that we can still learn new dance steps as adults. But…you have to face your fear of commitment. At first, this means nothing more than: endure. To not run away. To resist the impulse to escape.”~Julia Vergin
We All have Psychological Baggage
People bring baggage into the relationship. We have pasts and those pasts intrude on the present. We cannot discard our histories. Therapy patients spend years learning to understand how their personal histories impact their lives. Learning to understand ourselves within a relationship often compounds the work of self knowledge.
Even the best relationships involve moments of intense love and frightening indifference, connection and disconnection, attunement and misattunement, feelings of importance and emptiness. If we want security and intimacy, we can’t quickly dispose of a relationship once the fun is over, and work is required.
If we burden relationships with expectations of perfection, believing unconditional love will eliminate the necessary work, reality will disappoint. We must either deny and bury, seek fulfillment elsewhere or courageously face reality and learn to commit, resolve and connect. Like the title of Aaron Beck’s classic work, “Love is Never Enough” (1989).
Leaving a Relationship When Children are Involved
Unfortunately, children are often involved. Children complicate the decision to stay, leave or improve. When we make our relationships disposable, we become part of the multi-generational chain of dysfunction, passing our incompleteness to kids that absorb everything we do. However, we can break this awful chain and invite something new and better into their lives.
Perhaps, the next few decades will continue the downward divorce trends will continue, and marriages will stabilize as a growing number of lovers learn the messy requirements for happy bonds. And then again, maybe not.
The world will do what the world will do. We live in a wild time with ever-shifting demands. Hopefully, we can break our dysfunctional chains, find enjoyment in connection and provide loving attunement and secure attachment to the children that desperately need these skills without the driving need to discard relationships that fall short, failing to serve our inflated expectations and impractical needs of perfection.
Beck, A. (1989) Love Is Never Enough: How Couples Can Overcome Misunderstandings, Resolve Conflicts, and Solve Relationship Problems Through Cognitive Therapy. Harper Perennial; Reprint edition.
Ben-Shahar, Tal (2007). Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment. McGraw-Hill Education; 1st edition.