The Problem With Modern Relationships (And The Bad Advice You Get)

Insight, mutuality, emotional regulation. This Ted Talk breaks down 3 important elements for healthy relationships.

In my couples sessions and the teaching I do I refer to all of this under the umbrella of “emotional literacy”. Often the work we do is about teaching people to prioritize work in this area and work on trying to stretch their “intimacy range”.

Modern relationships require not just communication training. They require knowledge of attachment style and interaction, biology, societal norms and myths, along with a healthy emotional literacy/romantic competence/intimacy range. And all of this under individual self regulation principles.

Because relationships are complicated, the approach is simple… but complex.

Because we grow into relationships based on modelling from family of origin, and cultural norming and that doesn’t necessarily equate to health and longevity. As we know with a 50% divorce rate for first time marriages, 73% for second time, and over 85% for third marriages.

If you don’t want the odds against you, you have to do this work. But it’s the last thing on everyone’s list and the “work” we do all tends to support and reinforce the cognitive bias that we already have. Which means we don’t actually grow or change. Most marriage books and counselling protocols cover one of these areas but tend to all spout the same things – with little buy in and transformation.

And what’s missing… (but under development) is a system that can lay out a no bullshit, no excuses, have a grown up fucking relationship that’s satisfying and fulfilling and can last type of program. 

The problem however with any program – is buy-in – from this group in particular. It’s easier to dig our heels in and complain than it is to do the multi-level assessment that’s needed and so we never find the satisfaction we’re hoping for in our relationships.

People only start to look at fixing their relationships when they’re already breaking down. Beyond that even though a lot of people go through pre-marital counselling now when they’re young-to-be-marrieds – it’s obviously not failsafe. But mostly a big part of the problem is that in our family of origins and in our schools no one is talking about healthy relationships. We talk about everything after connection as far as sex goes in “family life” programs (this is what they call sex ed now… but the content has nothing to do with families at all – a hearty “how-to” have sex program though is the bulk of it).

The other pitfall is that people only read up on things that support their own role and cognitive bias.

Men have only just started buying books on how to be better lovers for women… they’re still not buying books written by women for women on much else. And vice versa.

I already know all about myself and as a woman how I show up in a relationship. I can read those all day long and nod my head in agreement… and this is what everyone does which continues to polarize us. Men do the same – they read books about relationships for men that already confirms what they do, who they are, what they know. And most of these books are trash. They encourage each gender to be relatively the same and just communicate the sameness better.

We need to not be the same for this to work. Men need to read books for women. Women need to read books for men. And while we all can have understanding and empathy for one another – the problem is not communication. The problem is the books don’t tell us to stretch our emotional literacy individually. Mostly because no one wants to. No one says… my goals for this year are to really increase my emotional range. I’m going to work on my romantic intelligence.

So we’re getting bad advice. We’re lazy. And we aren’t prioritizing partnership in our lives.

But we complain about being divorced, lonely, jilted, rejected, unsatisfied in our relationships. Or a large majority just get bitter.

Relationships will never work if people aren’t actually trying to make them work and doing the work on themselves that will benefit the partnership. And the only time people do that is when the relationship is over or ending. And then it’s too late because years of damage has already been done and can’t be fixed.

We move on thinking about – well I just need to make a better choice next time. But the literature all exists to support that bias as well – it’s them, not you. Just build awareness and you’ll pick the right partner and live in harmony forever. Or you won’t but it doesn’t matter because there’s so many fish in the sea you can just circulate through until you get too tired to keep switching.

The swipeable society which promotes – “you must fit into my life and schedule as is” – trap of perfection.

We value independence in our mates but want a seamless fit into our lives. We continue to hold all our historical pains and patterns in place and forget that modern relationships have become the definition of insanity… being the same and doing the same over and over expecting different results.

So these are the truths of our culture. The solutions are obvious. But how do you market a need to an audience that doesn’t acknowledge or rejects the need entirely?

That’s the pitfall of relationship work and programs. Too little. Too late. And a lack of willingness to change how you show up in relationships to have a successful one. It’s tough gritty work and we’re marketed to to avoid it in favor of the buffet of swipeable options that are less work.

Doing something so deep and real and necessary that slaps everyone’s cognitive bias upside the head requires personal bravery that is easier to avoid by just getting naked. Or closing yourself off entirely. Or becoming bitter… and fully clothed.

Fast food culture, only the easiest of personal development options for mild superficial changes and lip service please. Can I have fries with that?

I’m developing a better way. Let’s see who’s up for it.

by Tara Miller

Psychotherapist & writer. Helping you live your fullest life using neuroscience based SRT (Self Regulation Therapy). Specializing in general and trauma therapy.

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