"When I first met Sally, it was just like a fairy tale," Walter confided. "Love at first sight. Music playing. Bells ringing. Everything . . . except the 'happily ever after' part. I'm not exactly sure what went wrong, but a few weeks later the magic was gone and we broke up."
"I wonder why relationships are so complicated," Andy mused thoughtfully. "I keep hearing that relationships take work. I guess I grew up thinking they just happen. You meet someone, fall in love, and get married. I never have given much thought to what I might have to do to build a lasting relationship."
"I know what you mean!" Carol shared. "Working at a relationship seems so unromantic! But in the last three years, I've had eight unsuccessful relationships. I think it's time to reevaluate my attitude."
A lot of single adults can identify with Carol, Andy, or Walter, because relationships today are complicated and fragile. The pain of broken relationships is one most people have experienced at least once in their lives.
Why Are Relationships Fragile?
A loving relationship between a man and a woman can be the strongest unit of society, able to survive any problems, external or internal. Why, then, are many man-woman relationships so fragile that they disintegrate in the face of seemingly minor challenges? Perhaps we do not take time to understand the dynamics of relationships or to develop appropriate relational skills.
Many people grow up believing that somewhere out there is one person without whom life will be forever incomplete and with whom life automatically will become blissfully perfect. The only perceived problem is finding and recognizing that one-and-only.
The myth is kept alive by thousands of romantic novels published and eagerly read each year, hundreds of sentimental movies with passionate scenes and tender music, and the promise of romantic fulfillment seen in almost every television commercial. Even men's magazines and fashion magazines hold up the ideal "playmate" companion or caring lover. How could such a popular idea be false?
Because it is!
There are not only no lifetime guarantees handed out at the altar but also a whole gamut of interpersonal emotions often interpreted as true love. Infatuation, sexual attraction, and romantic attachment make people feel so good in the presence of the object of those emotions that the experience is labeled "true love" and expected to last forever. Yet, true love is so much more than good feelings. It is the choice to invest in the life of a beloved, not only when it feels good but also when it doesn't.
Therefore, we sec that romance is not the same as having an ongoing relationship. Relationships take time and work to develop and maintain; romance is a positive feeling toward another person. Romance without a relationship is a brief encounter at best. Still, people tend to seek romance, somehow believing that a lasting relationship will be part of the package. So, in today's disposable society, alliances are often hastily devised and easily discarded at the first signs of conflict or disillusionment, as people search for the magic of instant love.
There are several reasons why people pursue the dream rather than taking time to develop skills for building lasting relationships.
A more casual society
Society used to have very strict rules for man-woman interactions. Time alone together was limited, their dates carefully supervised. Because courting was only allowed after a man had asked for and received permission to pay serious attention to a woman, the decision to enter into such a relationship was not made impulsively. A broken engagement was not only a great tragedy but also grounds for a breach-of-promise lawsuit! People were expected to keep their commitments.
Today's casual lifestyle has given people almost total freedom to couple and uncouple at will. Doing what feels good will never build lasting relationships, because when conflicts arise between people what often feels good is walking out.
Changed sexual mores
Society in general no longer accepts biblical principles of sexual morality. Sex is considered a normal part of a dating relationship, and couples very often live together either before or instead of marrying. Consequently, singles meet, are attracted to one another, and become sexually active without making a genuine commitment to a permanent relationship.
Because many Christian singles have fallen in with the current practices of sexual freedom, singles choosing not to be involved sexually outside of marriage may find their dating options severely limited.
Poor relational skills
Because they cling to the myth that the perfect mate will guarantee a perfect marriage, some people have not taken time to learn how to build a lasting relationship. To build a solid union, people, at the very least, will need to understand how relationships develop, to make a commitment to the relationship, and to be willing to grow and develop as a partner in that relationship. Developing these skills takes lots of energy and practice, but the results are worth the effort.
Reinforcement of the myth
Sometimes the love-at-first sight fairy tale seems to come true. Inevitably, at least once in a lifetime, people fall in love. It is fantastic! It is everything the myth said it would be, and more! All the old sayings about love seem new and specifically created just for us. Love is truly a many splendored thing.
Life becomes more exciting when we're in love. We glow. Being with our beloved is so wonderful that being apart is agony. The romantic high permeates one's whole life, making the future seem brighter than ever before imagined! And, people-reason, since romance has turned out to be everything it was expected to be, then it follows that the rest of the dream must be true also: This feeling will last forever!
Consequently, when reality intervenes and the relationship is recognized as less than perfect, partners become disillusioned about romance and blame themselves or their partners for ruining the dream.
Unfortunately, the partner is often abandoned along with the myth, and the potential for a genuine relationship is not developed. But it need not be this way. The key to building strong and permanent alliances is understanding and controlling the progression of relationships.
Can Relationships Be Understood?
A relationship is an intimate alliance between two people. The more intimate the interaction, the more significant the relationship. An acquaintance becomes a close friend as we increase the level of social intimacy and confide in that person. Among our many friends of the opposite sex, the one who becomes a serious dating partner is the one with whom we develop a greater level of emotional and/or physical intimacy.
We must be careful, however, of seeking "instant intimacy" and mistakenly assuming that such intimacy constitutes a lasting relationship. When two people begin to move toward one another in a relationship, they experience good feelings. In fact, the level of excitement rises in direct proportion to the speed with which they become intimates.
Karen shares. "The first night Bob came to our singles group, he asked me out for coffee afterwards. We sat and talked for hours. I felt I'd known him forever! I told him things I'd never shared with anyone else, and he understood just how I felt. We saw each other every day after that first night. A week later he proposed marriage, and I accepted. He was the most exciting man I'd ever met! So sensitive. So understanding."
Bob remembers that initial excitement also. "I thought Karen was the most attractive girl I'd ever seen. And she was intelligent. That first night I kept wanting to reach out and touch her. She was so sweet. So sexy. I had to see her every day. When I discovered that she loved me, I knew she was the woman for me. We just had to get married!"
Karen had talked with lots of other guys, and Bob had kissed other girls; but because they rushed into an intimate relationship, they mistook excitement and romance for true love. Married a month after they met, Karen and Bob soon discovered that the initial excitement cannot continue forever once unfulfilled desires begin to be realized. Four months later, disappointed and disillusioned, Karen and Bob separated and filed for divorce.