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Don’t Give Up
On Your Relationship

by Kelly Johnson, M.D.

There's no reason why your love relationship can't be all that you've ever dreamed of. Imagine that you and your partner are so connected that you never again have to worry about the relationship falling apart, so it becomes synonymous with happiness....

But is it really possible? Can any two people create and maintain a great relationship? You may not think so, because in your search for love, you've only met with failure and disappointment. In fact, if you're like a lot of my friends and patients, you may have given up completely. You may have come to expect that any love relationship you have will end up being quite painful -- nothing will ever change and you'll never get what you really need. It would be really sad for you to go through life with this attitude, because things don't have to be this way.

So, you've reached a fork in the road. You can continue to head down the path you're on, which promises to be easy because your inertia is already pushing you in this direction. You won't have to make any changes whatsoever. The problem, though, is that the old way will be tantamount to a lifetime filled with frustrating relationships and bad choices. But, hey, it will be easy, so many of you will just keep floating down this path ... complaining all the way.

But there's another route you can take. However, a journey down this avenue promises to be much harder and perhaps slower going. Yet when you've reached the end, the rewards could be tremendous. It's just that the process to get there will require much more effort on your part. This path will also challenge you to uncover the real issues in your relationship -- some of which, I'm sure, you'd rather not even think about.

What will your decision be? Take a few moments to think about this, because you may not make a more important choice in your life. Will it be more of the same or a change for the better? Will you take the easy way out, or will you make the commitment to do some hard work?

If you've chosen the first way -- the easier route -- then you might as well put down this book and stop reading right now. You're on the path of least resistance, and you have no desire to find out what really makes you tick.

But if, in fact, you've chosen the second path -- the longer and harder route -- you've just entered my office and are willing to engage in the process of relationship therapy. You're going to learn to understand your relationships and partners in an entirely different way. You'll be giving yourself a chance to change what you've been doing for many years. You're going to see what it really takes to make a love relationship work for you. Your experiences in life and love can only improve. And your eyes will be opened to a happy relationship -- one you thought could only exist in your dreams.

What Is Relationship Therapy?

If relationship therapy is the best choice for allowing you to achieve fulfillment and peace in your life, then exactly what is this process? Are you destined to spend numerous hours on a psychiatrist's couch trying to figure out where you went wrong in a broken relationship? The answer to this question is "not necessarily" although if the pain or unhappiness is too severe, you may require actual sessions with a trained therapist. Hopefully, by looking at your relationship in a different way (as outlined in the rest of this book), you'll be able to acquire the skills you need to become your own relationship therapist.

By this I mean that you'll have the ability to self-correct. You'll learn how to eliminate old behaviors that cause things to fall apart! This is one of the greatest gifts that you can give yourself. Wouldn't it be nice to say, "I'm trying to defeat myself again, but now I can change this course by myself"? You may never again feel the need to say, "I can't believe I did that!"

The best part is that you will have done it yourself. After all, even if you go into real talk therapy, the goal should always be to eventually become your own master at being happy. If a licensed therapist ever tells you otherwise -- that relationship therapy should be a process with no end in sight or that it will take a lifetime to figure out your problems -- then that person either wants a lifelong customer or is simply misguided in their approach. My definition of relationship therapy doesn't mean "for the rest of your life."

Therefore, the underlying theme that permeates this principle (and which will be utilized from here on out) is:

Relationship therapy is the process of learning crucial relationship concepts and then understanding the unconscious reasons why we follow certain negative patterns in life and in our love relationships. After we've come to this realization, we can then develop new and productive coping skills.

As you can see from this definition, I believe that a lot of what we do on a day-to-day basis is unconscious and automatic -- stemming from reasons that we usually don't understand. If we're lucky and have had enough positive life experiences throughout our childhood and subsequent adult relationships, then these automatic ways of coping may serve us well. Our marriage succeeds, we choose compatible and stable life partners, we have an inherent sense of worth and stability, people like us, and we move forward and grow.

If, however, the past was filled with disappointment, unrealized potential, or examples of unsatisfying relationships, then we'll most likely continue to live out this cycle of defeating actions. Even if we intellectually realize that this pattern is harmful, we'll continue to do what we know! So any therapy-whether it's done with an actual therapist or by reading a book must have the goal of understanding at its roots. We can then change these automatic negative behaviors into newly formed positive actions that will enhance our relationships.

I've seen many patients over the years enter therapy and say, "Just fix me!" I have to remind them that this isn't a "fixing" process -- because that would, by necessity, make me impose my own beliefs on them and not allow real growth to occur. Their life choices and patterns have to be based upon something, and this something must be put into context and understood for them to have a chance at better relationships. There's simply no shortcut. Understanding who you are is a struggle, but it's a battle worth fighting. Doing anything less than this is a disservice to you and those around you.

You may have had a decent upbringing, with parents who did their very best for you; perhaps there were no major traumas or losses, or any one particular moment that defined the rest of your life. Maybe you can't see an obvious reason why you haven't found happiness in your relationships, but somehow it's not happening as you envisioned. You can't seem to locate the answers that will bring everything together.

Don't give up, or become angry that you're not getting what you deserve. Understanding is a journey, and if you're curious enough about where it could lead, then you can move ahead.

The Core Principles of Relationship Therapy

First, there are certain basic concepts about managing a relationship that you must understand. You've probably never taken a course that has forced you to look at these issues, so think of the rest of this book as that course, one that will give you a "relationship education."

Let's take a look at the following four relationship principles:

Core Principle #1

Your Past Sets the Stage for Every Single Thing That Happens in Your Life

Like it or not, you can't escape your past. Recently, I saw a movie in which one of the recurring messages was: You may be through with the past, but the past may not be through with you. This is prophetic, and very true. Your memories and experiences matter, and they set the stage for everything you do in life. The partners you pick, the relationships you create, the jobs you choose -- it's all based on past experiences. If you don't believe me, then evaluate some of your friends who have ended up in unhappy relationships. I'll bet you can see that they never understood their pasts, and they're repeating old patterns over and over -- which brings us to the next point.

Core Principle #2

If You Don't Understand Your Past, You're Destined to Repeat Previous Failures

I should say that you're doomed to repeat old mistakes, because you'll continue to pick the same types of partners, make the same poor job decisions, and end up in the same unfulfilling situations in your life. The pattern is set in place, leading you to spiral downward in a vicious circle of destructive decisions, unless you follow the next principle.

Core Principle #3

You Must Begin to Process an "Objective Analysis" of Your Life

You don't need to relive every experience or memory in detail, but you must start to look objectively at previous relationships in your life, including the ones you've had with your parents, siblings, family members, friends, and people you've dated. This includes an analysis of the positive and negative points of these experiences. This means that you need to make the commitment to look inside yourself -- most people are quite frightened to do so. Sometimes patients will walk into my office on day one and say that they can't handle the process of talking about their life because it's too painful. So, they avoid the tough conversations with themselves and their partners.

I tell them that my hope is that by looking within, they'll enrich themselves and become more free. A key to good mental health is looking inward for the answers, rather than depending on others to provide direction, for what happens if they don't have the right answers and you decide to follow their advice? One of the primary concepts people with successful relationships know is: In order to understand another person, you first have to take a good look inside yourself. These individuals are aware that in order to do so, they have to follow their hearts -- but it's also necessary to use their brains and logistical skills in addition to their emotions.

Core Principle #4

Your Relationship Therapy Begins with Your Asking "Why?"

How do you go about looking within? First, you must be curious about your and your partner's motivations in the relationship. A real therapist asks "Why?": Why are you doing that? Why are you embarking on this path? Why are you feeling this?

Likewise, your challenge as your own therapist will be to also ask those (and other) questions of yourself, and frequently. Why did I feel like that? Why did I get angry with my spouse? Why didn't I do the household chores when I said I would? Why did I choose an incompatible partner again? Why am I attracted to a certain type of person? Why am I never happy? Why do I feel as if I never get what I want out of a relationship? The list of questions could go on and on, but approaching your relationship in this way can lead to some wonderful and productive discussions between you and your partner.

Now you're probably asking, "So how am I going to start doing this? I don't think that way!" I'll counter with my belief that you can think in this way if you put your mind to it, because the alternative is to be ignorant about what's driving your relationships. A practice of questioning will lead to a true understanding of your current relationship and previous experiences in life. Understanding leads to control about relationship choices, which leads to true freedom to make rational and positive decisions. All of this flows from the habit of using the word why in your daily relationship interactions.

I want you to keep this paradigm in mind:

Asking why à leads to an understanding of previous life experiences and current relationship issues à leads to true control à allows freedom to create a positive relationship.

The most important why questions that I want you to keep in mind throughout every day of your relationship are these:

  • Why am I with this particular partner, and why am I in this particular love relationship?
  • Why do I allow my partner to do certain things that upset me or make our relationship difficult?
  • Why don't I get what I need out of our interactions?
  • Why do I exhibit behaviors and emotions that could potentially end the relationship?

I know that at this point you may not have the answers to these questions, but the next thought that ought to follow any why question should be an answer that begins with "Because I . . ." This process forces you to think about your motives and behavior in the relationship, and from this will come an understanding of your choices.

The principles of my relationship therapy are universal. These aren't concepts that apply specifically to one situation or person -- they apply to anyone. I say this with confidence because every single one of us has a past -- experiences that, unless critically analyzed, will catch up to us. This is where our "emotional baggage" comes from.

Why Do I Need a New Approach?

Since I've just dared you to ask yourself "why" several times each day, it's only fair that you challenge me on the concept of relationship therapy: Is it really needed? Why can't most of us just wing it and hope that everything turns out okay? After all, many people find that perfect partner and enjoy a satisfying, healthy relationship -- but most of these people aren't reading this book, and you are. I have to make the assumption that you're not doing so well.

Incredibly, a lot of marriages are doomed to split up -- in the United States today, approximately half of all marriages end in divorce. That's an amazing statistic. Sadly enough, this shows that people can't hold relationships together -- even if they do, there's more trouble on the horizon. Several studies indicate that a large percentage of men will cheat on their partner at some point.

Women reading this book are probably thinking, Oh, those men! What jerks! I can't believe that they cheat on their wives. But hold on a minute -- the same studies indicate that at least 20 to 30 percent of all women in committed relationships will cheat on their husbands. The same research has also cited a huge percentage of people in the U.S. who have said that they're not happy in their current relationship, and given the opportunity, probably wouldn't marry the same person again.

Changing the Old Ways

So what has happened in our society? You probably heard your parents say, "Back in the good of days, no one ever got divorced." Mom and Dad may have been married for 50 years, and Grandma and Grandpa for 60. It appeared as if they had very happy relationships -- did they know some secret that we don't know now? Did they just stay together even if they hated each other? Or were divorce attorneys simply not as available as they are today?

There could be a lot of different explanations, but I believe the one that makes the most sense is that we move more quickly now. Sometimes both partners have to work many hours a day, almost every day of the week. We've moved away from our roots and our families, and while this leads to more opportunities to meet greater numbers of people, it also leads to more temptations to stray. It's easy to avoid communicating with someone you love, easy to drift apart, and just as easy to leave or get a quick divorce. We now think, If this doesn't work or it's too much work, I can end it quickly.

I sincerely hope this isn't the case. I can't fathom that everyone who starts a relationship has a fantasy that they'll probably get divorced and move on to someone else, but regardless of what people think on the way in to a relationship, it's doubtful that they realize that they're already starting out at a disadvantage. They've probably never truly analyzed the strengths, weaknesses, and patterns that they exhibit in intimate relationships.

Did you actually take a relationship course before you started dating or got married? Did you and your partner talk with someone about how you would make your relationship work, even in the difficult times? I highly doubt that you did. If you were lucky, you went to your local church and spoke to a counselor -- maybe you even took a personality test. Before we got married, my wife and I went to our church and took one. We answered all of the questions, and two weeks later, we were told that we were compatible and that we could get married.

We were fortunate -- at least we got to analyze some test results. But most people never even go this far. They don't really scrutinize themselves and their partner before they commit to a long-term relationship. It's not because they're lazy. Most people simply don't think of doing these things before committing. It's not romantic to talk about potential problems with your mate, for it shatters the illusion that "love will find a way."

So couples muddle along, hoping that things will somehow turn out all right, living through all of the fights and arguments, waiting forever for their day in the sun -- which never comes. Maybe they end up sleeping in the same bed night after night, never touching each other. Or perhaps they put all of their energy into the children. Or maybe they just give up and never find true relationship happiness.

I hope this hasn't happened to you. But if you're unhappy with the way things are right now, then have the courage to find a real sense of peace and freedom. Move ahead with the first thing you'll need to accomplish in relationship therapy: It's time to develop the habit of looking inside yourself for some definitive answers.

This article is excerpted from the book A Relationship For A Lifetime: Everything You Need To Know To Create A Love That Lasts by Kelly E. Johnson, M.D. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Hay House, Inc. Available at all bookstores, by phone 800-654-5126, or via the Internet at www.hayhouse.com

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About the Author

Kelly Johnson, M.D., is a nationally known psychiatrist and relationship therapist. He has appeared on Jenny Jones and Montel, and can be heard weekly on the number-one rated Sunday night radio show, Private Lives. Visit his website at www.DrKellyJohnson.net

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