You own many things. I have asked hundreds of people over the years to list all of their important possessions, from top to bottom, and they all invariably come up with similar lists. Houses, cars, furniture, stocks... and other material goods usually rank highly. Then I tell them that they have overlooked the number one valuable commodity in their life. They usually look at me with a blank stare, because the majority of us do not ever think of our personal relationship as something to be owned.
Why is it so difficult to accept the truth that you are the owner of a relationship? After all, you initially saw something that you wanted, took steps to obtain it, and then made a decision to keep it in your life. Sounds like a possession to me. But there's something inherently more complex about a marriage or long-term committed relationship that makes it harder to quantify. Perhaps it's because there is no definite point when you actually "buy" a relationship. Maybe it has something to do with the notion of love and romance, as most of us get caught up in the notion that we "share" a special relationship and it would appear greedy to claim ownership. But whatever the reason, I have run across few people who enthusiastically embrace the idea of seeing themselves as an owner. It's easier to just let it happen and hope for a good result. Avoiding the thought that you are responsible for the relationship also lets you avoid accepting the blame when something goes seriously wrong.
Being an owner also carries with it the responsibility of learning about your product. Unfortunately, you probably have never read a set of instructions that accompany your life relationships. The reason is simple - there is no instructional manual that covers all of the various situations that you will encounter as you put together your own relationship!
If you are lucky, you and your partner basically agree on the same set of instructions and the relationship works for many years. If you are not so lucky, you both attempt to construct the relationship in very different ways, and it breaks down. It then either has to be fixed or thrown on the scrap pile as unusable. Can this be avoided? Of course, if you take the time to educate yourself about the product you own and make it a top priority.
The Relationship Contract
So it is time to inject a little reality into your life. You and your partner are co-owners of what will be known as a "Life Relationship." As such, you will from this point be subject to the rules and conditions of said ownership, including the acceptance of the following Relationship Contract:
1. The owner shall be charged with the responsibility of caring for and maintaining the relationship in good working order, by exerting whatever effort is needed to nurture and grow it in positive ways.
2. If a problem arises with the relationship, the owner will make this his or her top priority and do whatever is necessary to make it right.
3. The owner will strive to understand the reasons for his or her behaviors in the relationship, and if these actions are self-destructive, will seek out help.
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4. The owner will understand that it is not selfish to verbalize his or her needs in the relationship, and expect the co-owner to at least consider and try to meet these needs.
5. Instead of blaming the co-owner for everything that goes wrong during the course of the relationship, the owner will always search inside to acknowledge his or her part in causing the problems.
You may think that the above looks like some kind of legalese, but you cannot escape the fact that a successful relationship is grounded in these conditions. Simply stated, those who accept these truths will greatly increase their odds at an intimate, loving, committed relationship. Those who believe that these concepts don't apply to them will most likely run into major relationship problems, and have few skills to solve these problems.
I'll bet that you didn't say these things during your marriage vows or when you first decided to exclusively date your partner. It's tough enough to decide that you've found a person with whom to spend a lifetime. But this doesn't change the fact that the above five conditions form the basis for your personal happiness! This is the soil from which your relationship will flourish. Ignore it and the relationship has a good chance of dying. You'll be going nowhere fast. Accept these conditions and you have a realistic chance of developing a wonderful relationship. The choice seems obvious to me and I hope that it does to you also.
If you refuse to see the relationship as yours, you will probably never do the work necessary to insure success. You will continually disregard the ideas in your relationship contract, because it's just human nature to care less about things that aren't our own. So memorize and try to apply these principles each day -- I'll bet you will be shocked at how many times you or your partner will break one of the conditions. Copy and post this relationship contract somewhere that you can reread it every day.
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.
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