From Frustration to Fulfillment: Mastering the Three Essential Relationship Skills

Mastering the Three Essential Relationship Skills

Michael and I have been teaching couples for over thirty-five years now. There is a lot to learn about staying connected and growing together as well as individually throughout the lifespan. We talk about the big picture: how our focus and values evolve over time and the skills we need to understand and develop our romantic partnership with these changes.

The good news about this project is that it is doable if you really want it. A deep and loving connection is good for your heart, your health, your children’s well-being, as well as the stability of our culture. The hard news is that it takes attention and consistent effort. You need to learn skills and practice them consistently. This involves taking control of yourself and shaping your behaviors so that you contribute to love and understanding daily.

This has been our message for over 35 years

It is not a small commitment, but it certainly pays off. Along comes a book that makes my case from a different angle. Jonathan Rauch reports about a U-shaped “happiness curve” that appears cross-culturally, where research shows we descend from our optimistic youth to a slump in middle age until we start to ascend to greater life satisfaction in our fifties. His report on the research shows that this U-shaped pattern is characteristic in every country and every culture.

This happiness curve does not happen automatically, and it is not guaranteed. This is my message, too. Mr. Rauch calls it growth toward wisdom, and he identifies three components. He even says it takes decades to accomplish this. I agree. This is not a 6-month project. You learn skills, and then you must practice them day after day until it becomes automatic. You change, and the dynamics of your relationship changes gradually over time. The ultimate outcome is a huge transformation, but it is not dramatic on a day-to-day basis. Time and practice provide you with self-knowledge, self-control, an understanding of how life works, compassion for others, in other words, wisdom.

I believe that it is in our best interest to seek love and wisdom in life. Our culture needs this more than ever. It will satisfy our individual longing for love and respect and provide energy for creativity.

Mr. Rauch identifies in abstract terms the skills he associates with ascending happiness. They match the goals of our courses for couples. Wisdom involves learning about how life works and weaves together three skill sets: affective skills that allow you to empathize, reflective skills that enable you to see another point of view equal to your own, and self-regulating skills that support calm self-expression. That means no drama.

An easy way to remember these three skill sets

An easy way to remember these three skill sets is through the characters of one of my favorite TV shows, Star Trek. Vulcan Spock was clearly the most knowledgeable of the three characters in the intellectual and technical sense. However, he lacked the empathy of Dr. McCoy and the practical decisiveness of Captain Kirk. The interaction of these three characters produced wise actions and special friendship, just like the weaving together of these skills will produce loving behaviors, wise decisions, and deep connection for our relationship.

We want to set the direction of your growth in your romantic relationship so that you do the same, weaving together of these skills that will produce the love you have always wanted. Your intuition is that the love is there, even if it is weak and covered with hurt and disappointment. The message of the happiness curve, and my message, is that it takes intention, practice, and time. Let us get you started on your voyage to great love.