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Most relationships go south, not from lack of love, but from lack of understanding. It’s the lingering love that causes break-ups to hurt so much. The thing to understand is what keeps couples from understanding one another—what exactly sends relationships crashing into the rocks, and what keeps them alive and thriving. Also, what makes a relationship so good that even after years together, a couple is still rocking one another’s world in delightful and life-enhancing ways.

We all come into relationships with unconscious expectations that began forming when we were just toddlers. By age 3, most children have been observing their parents and coming to conclusions that will shape their relationships for the rest of their lives, unless they can see and reexamine those conclusions.

The 3-year-old looks at Mom, how she acts, how she treats her children and how she treats her husband, and concludes that this is what it looks like to be a woman, mother and wife. The child also looks at dad and does the same thing. Based on how he acts, how he treats his children and how he treats his wife, the child concludes that this is what it looks like to be a man, father and husband.

Then, as adults, we unconsciously bring those models into our life and relationships. They aren’t just models of how we should behave (or if we rejected the parental model, how we should never behave), they are also models of how we think our significant other should or should not behave. If our model doesn’t match their model, problems begin to brew.

Seldom do couples (or parents) realize that it’s these layers of conditioning that are driving behaviors and sending relationships into the rocks. It’s because of those old programs that we find ourselves behaving in ways we don’t understand or reacting negatively to things we don’t consciously think should upset us.

Happily, there are ways to prevent the past from sabotaging our future and to consciously build relationships that rock. Here are three:

  1. Explore the models we grew up with to discover the expectations that those models created. Awareness of what is driving a behavior is often enough to consciously alter it.
  2. Discover who we are authentically. Often, the authentic self is very different than the models and the stereotypes we have bought into. Through knowing our true self and that of our loved one, we can discover the core needs that drive behaviors and find ways to meet those needs.
  3. Build healthy boundaries around our true self and within the relationship, and give one another permission to say, “You’re in my space,” to prevent infringing on one another’s territory. Then honor and respect one another’s boundaries.

The key to fulfilling relationships begins with understanding. Only through understanding can we enhance one another’s life, and that’s what healthy relationships do.

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