Written By School Mum Contributor Carla
“Science says lasting relationships come down to—you guessed it—kindness and generosity.”
EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH.
No actually I didn’t guess it, but sure, I’ll go with that. Tell me more. I am genuinely interested as a Single Unmarried Mother of two currently living with an ex I have been separated from for eight years. So I wonder what will eventually, potentially be the reason for my in the future – lasting relationship.
I’m even more interested in why those few who last a life time do so.
Relationships today so rarely consist of two people who are married and have their own children who they raise to adulthood together. There are so many different coupling arrangements out there and just as much “conscious uncoupling” as Gwenyth Paltrow put it recently as well as bitterly dysfunctional divorcee’s and it really does feel impossible to know whether what we are doing is the “lasting relationship” kind of thing.
I’ve been asking around. For the last 12 months I have taken myself off the market while I have tried to find the answer. I’ve spoken to men, women, married’s, singles, Single Mothers, Single Fathers, joined families, separated families, divorced families, separated families living under the same roof, shared parenting families and families of other unconventional arrangements such as mine what THEY think is the answer for those that last and equally why they think the failure rate is so high in our present day.
Most of those I’ve discussed this with are people with children in their care one way or another. My interest was more about the children than the adults to be honest. I’m carefully watching these arrangements being made and wondering what are the long term affects going to be on our kids. Therefore, what are the long term affects going to be on their future relationships. However I now see it is a flow on effect that first starts with me.
In an ideal world and speaking solely for myself I would like to be married. I would like both of my children to have the same Father. We would raise our boys equally. My husband and I would put each other first in our family and our children would understand this. One day they would leave us to go and find their own person to put first. Their person would put them first and the relationship would have a strong foundation of kindness and generosity like our marriage which would also consist of communication and compromise. Their relationship too would be of the lasting kind.
That is not the hand that I was dealt however and I hope their future is less complicated than mine has been.
For most of the 14 years raising my eldest child we have not known his Father. We have not known his whereabouts or had any communication with him. For the majority of this time this has made me a Single Mother. And so for the first six years of his life being an unmarried, un-partnered Single Mother I did not have the opportunity to put anyone other than my son first. I did not have anyone to compromise for, communicate with or practice kindness and generosity in a husband/wife or partner kind of way. Later and for some of his life I did find myself “partnered” however I still considered myself an unmarried Single Mother, especially to my firstborn. The difference was simply I considered myself an unmarried Single Mother with a partner feeling the need to put two people first.
So with all of these complicated arrangements being made and being unmade what makes some of us “relationship masters” and some of us “relationship disasters.”
Back to my original quote which was based on research by Psychologist John Gottman. “Kindness and generosity” may actually be the key despite the many family dynamic changes from the 80’s when his study was undertaken. In the love lab thousands of couples were studied, attached to electrodes and interviewed. Those “masters” named so as they were still together six years after the experiment showed clear signs of trust and intimacy, interest and support. One party would comment on something that was important to them and the other would engage vs the “disasters” that were already in flight or fight mode and not really showing interest in what the other was saying.
For example, he says “I’m really looking forward to the boys fishing trip this weekend.” She has two choices, she can continue to read her book and ignore him, roll her eyes and mumble “uhuh” or she can show interest in the conversation by saying “I bet! You guys are going to have so much fun!” (Even though she understands little about why this is interesting.) This conversation might seem irrelevant or even silly to her but the fact is he felt it was important enough to bring up in a conversation and her response will show whether she acknowledges and respects that or doesn’t.
Gottman found the couples that were still together 6 years later met their partners emotional needs 9 times out of 10 and he could predict with 94% certainty whether couples straight or gay, rich or poor, childless or not – would be broken up, together and unhappy or together and happy several years later.
My unmarried status does not mean that my children are not continuing to learn from the way in which I interact with men in my life, quite the contrary in fact. I have continued to search for not only the answers but the person that I could attach the answers to. I have therefore more opportunity now to show my boys how a woman should treat a man and what to expect from a woman themselves and I have proven that with kindness and generosity even a separated family can reside together without hostility and resentment.
In my opinion, communication, compromise, kindness and generosity are the four keys to ANY happy and healthy relationship no matter what your circumstance, your age, your position in life or the unconventional family that you have created.
The Father of my first born and I separated 14 years ago never again to lay eyes on the other. Eight years later, long before Paltrow made it famous the Father to my second child and I consciously uncoupled. And I have partnered with others since then that have not lasted the distance. Mostly because I did not adhere to this philosophy I might add…
The one thing that every man, woman, married, single or otherwise has said to me during my investigations on what works and what doesn’t supports Gottmans research and I am very much looking forward to someday having my own lasting relationship based on these principles. I know that whatever the circumstance I want to partner with someone who also adheres to these and together we can pass these onto my children, his children or our children to put into practice themselves one day in their own lasting relationships.
I want to be the pin up family for making it work in whatever the circumstance I find myself in and who says just because I didn’t get it right the first time we can’t be?!?