Do you know which five life events cause the most stress or upheaval in a person’s life? They are,
1. Death of a spouse
3. Marital separation
4. Detention in a jail or other institution
5. Death of a close family member
These five events came from a study that was conducted in 1967 by two psychiatrists, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe. The aim of the study was to determine whether stressful life events cause illnesses. As part of their study, Homes and Rahe examined over 5,000 patient medical records. Their findings included a list of 43 life events that cause significant stress for people.
The results of the Homes and Rahe study were published as the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, which is now commonly referred to as the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. Since the original study, there have been other studies that have validated the findings of Holmes and Ray.
If you take a close look at the top five most stressful life events, you will find that four of them — death of a spouse, divorce, marital separation, and death of a close family member — involve the tragic ending of a relationship. The fourth event — detention in a jail or other institution — involves the tragic interruption of one or more relationships.
Whether or not we realize it, one of the most important components that contributes to our happiness and good health is the quality of our relationships. While there is nothing we can do to avoid the death of a spouse, there is a lot we can do to avoid a future divorce or marital separation.
So why do almost half of all marriages end in divorce, while a significant percentage of those who remain married report that they are frustrated and unhappy in their marriages? How can this be? We live in the most advanced and educated society in the history of mankind. Why is it that we have not been able to figure out how to maintain and enhance our marriages and long-term relationships?
You may not be aware of this, but marriage courses have been offered by various colleges in the United States for more than 100 years. According to Stephanie Coontz, the author of Marriage: A History, during the 1920s and 1930s, it was considered the responsibility of women to keep their marriages going. Later, after World War II, it was the responsibility of women to be happy homemakers and to support their husbands, manage their household, and do whatever needed to be done to make their husbands happy.
In more recent years, the focus of college marriage courses has shifted to encouraging students to become more aware of how their own qualities, traits, habits, and faults have an impact on every aspect of their relationship with their spouses.
In an article that was published in The Atlantic in February 2014 — The First Lesson of Marriage 101: There Are No Soul Mates — the author of the article wrote about a successful college course — Marriage 101 — that was being taught at Northwestern University. The college course, which was limited to 100 students, was summarized in the article:
The Marriage 101 professors believe college is the perfect time for students to learn about relationships. “Developmentally, this is what the college years are all about: Students are thinking about who they are as people, how they love, who they love, and who they want as a partner,” says Alexandra Solomon, a professor and family therapist who will be teaching the course along with a team of four other faculty, all affiliated with Northwestern University’s Family Institute, and 11 teaching assistants. “We’re all really passionate about talking about what makes a healthy relationship.” The professors see the course — which requires journaling exercises, interviews with married couples, and several term papers — as a kind of inoculation against potential life trauma.
Here’s what Professor Solomon had to say about the Marriage 101 course:
The foundation of our course is based on correcting a misconception: that to make a marriage work, you have to find the right person. The fact is, you have to be the right person. Our message is countercultural: Our focus is on whether you are the right person. Given that we’re dealing with 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds, we think the best thing to do at this stage in the game, rather than look for the right partner, is do the work they need to understand who they are, where they are, where they came from, so they can then invite in a compatible suitable partner.
If Professor Solomon is correct — and I believe she is correct — then self-understanding is one of the most critical components of developing and maintaining long-term loving relationships. It is my belief that our society has deteriorated to such an extent that there is very little self-awareness among most of our population. This is true of most Americans, including our government officials, corporate leaders, journalists, media personalities, teachers, parents, and students.
When people are not sufficiently aware of their own qualities, traits, habits, and faults, they think and behave in ways that allow them to avoid personal responsibility for their relationship problems. Instead of focusing on what they may have said or done that was improper, they focus on what the person they had a dispute with said or did wrong. By focusing on the other person’s poor qualities, traits, habits, and faults, they never get around to analyzing, discovering, and admitting their own deficiencies.
And they never get to the point where they are willing to admit that they did anything wrong. Why? Because they placed all the blame on the other person, so there was no reason or need for them to think about and figure out what they did wrong or how they could improve their behavior in the future.
So the first and most important step to developing and maintaining a long-term loving relationship is to make it your lifetime goal to get to know yourself and see yourself the way God knows and sees you. If you have a desire to continually improve and enhance your relationships with each other, you must have the humility to discover and admit who you are, where you came from, and most importantly, the faults that have held you back and will continue to hold you back until you learn how to manage and conquer them.