The rule is simple, but the point is there are good and powerful reasons for why it is difficult to follow the rule. Knowing what must be done to achieve personal fitness is simple, but implementing this knowledge is not easy.
We believe that good, healthy relationships – maintaining interpersonal fitness, if you will – work in much the same way. Just like many diet books and newspaper articles say the same thing, many self-help books for relationships also offer a simple rule. And a lot of very good research supports that rule, just as in the case with exercise and diet. Pause for a moment and think about that: is there a rule like ‘eat less, move more’ that is inviolable for healthy relationships? A rule that is the sine qua non of strong intimate connections? What do you think that simple rule might be?
Once you define that rule, a big problem then looms its ugly head: the rule does not seem very easy to follow. After all, nearly half of all first marriages end in separation and divorce, and dissolution rates are even higher for remarriages. At least 3 couples in 10 who have managed to keep their marriage intact are not so happy with it, according to one recent nationally representative study. And relationship problems are the leading reason why anyone seeks any kind of professional counseling in the US.
People really do want and value healthy relationships, just as they want and value fitness and health. And yet achieving the kind of closeness we want is difficult. Knowing the rule that underlies healthy intimate bonds is necessary for achieving those bonds, but it is not sufficient. The rule is of little use unless we also know why the rule is so difficult to follow. Recognizing and confronting these hurdles is the key to building a great relationship.
The following webinar link outlines that rule: Relationships Webinar.
Drs. Bradbury and Karney are professors in the UCLA Department of Psychology and co-directors of the UCLA Relationship Institute. Follow their Twitter feed on couples, families, and relationships at: @UCLA_RI.