Relationship training: Should it be mandatory?

Something is “rotten in Denmark”, or should we say in Australia, as well as other western countries that have followed

Something is “rotten in Denmark”, or should we say in Australia, as well as other western countries that have followed this societal trend.

What is the most significant contract that we enter into in life? It’s not a mortgage or car loan; it’s marriage. The effects of failed marriages and even de facto relationships can be devastating emotionally and financially both for the partners and the children involved.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australians – those over 50 – are divorcing at an increasing rate. For women aged 50 to 65, the rate has doubled in the last 25 years. Rates are similar in other Western countries. If you add to the number of divorcees the people in this age group who are separated and widowed, it’s pretty clear there are many seniors – particularly women – who are on their own.

It is interesting, don’t you think? Society requires training for a person to obtain most licenses—a driver’s licence, licences to practice law or medicine or plumbing. When it comes to marriage, though, no such training is required. The marriage license gives people the right to engage in a relationship that is meant to last for life with no preparation.

If we look at the marriages that don’t end up in divorce, many of those are not in a satisfying relationship and stay together out of habit or convenience. We can conservatively assume that only 50 per cent of marriages are successful. Would you go to a surgeon who only had a 50 per cent success rate? He or she would probably be deregistered.

What makes the statistics interesting is that women are driving most of the increase in divorce rates, according to both Australian and American studies. Many divorced senior women have either lost faith in ever having another relationship or, alternatively, feel desperate to find another man. Men are more likely to find a new partner more quickly than women. There are several reasons. For one thing, it’s culturally acceptable for an older man to be with a younger woman, but not for an older woman to be with a younger man. That broadens the base of potential partners for older men whose wives have died or divorced them, but the base is not wider for older women. Thanks to Viagra, men today are more able to establish a fulfilling sexual relationship with a younger woman than they were in the past—another fact that explains why more senior women than men remain partner-less. Also, women live longer than men, so with each passing decade, there are fewer men available for women. In senior citizen homes, women often vie for the attention of a smaller number of men. Some men complain they have to “fight off” the women.

Contrary to what some people seem to want the world to think, there are significant differences between men and women. A woman is less likely to feel she “needs” a man while a divorced or widowed man often will jump right into another relationship. Perhaps men need more mothering; we’ll leave that to the psychologists. “I am happy in my space,” or “My life is good, and I am contented,” are comments we hear from women. Are the women just kidding themselves, and have they simply given up on ever finding a suitable partner? Maybe; maybe not. We’re pretty sure, though, that if a suitable man could be found, many of these women who are happy by themselves would find themselves, even more, content with a companion. Humans are social animals, and the need to share our lives with someone is a deep and profound instinct.

Although connecting with other humans is a deep instinct that does not mean we all possess the skills to do so effectively. Some people say that we are not supposed to be monogamous over the course of a lifetime. Albert Einstein once said, “You must be aware that most men (and also not only a few women) are by nature not monogamous”. Was he right? That may be an easy way out. Rather than exploring how to build a successful marriage or de facto relationship, people rationalise why the relationship does not work.

It’s obvious that a relationship training program is a good idea, not only for the younger set but even for seniors. It so happens that second marriages have a higher failure rate than first ones, so history repeats itself. We often don’t learn the lessons from previous relationships.

So what can you do about this as working on a relationship is voluntary? First of all, appreciate that there are four pillars to successful relationships: Commitment, Communication, Trust, and Respect. These are in-depth topics, too detailed for a short article, however, one thing to consider is how we communicate.

Both partners in a relationship have their different priority of values. It’s important to do an exercise where these are written down in order of precedence. The secret is to determine how one person’s value can serve the other. For example, if a man has traveling highest on his list and his wife has art, these can easily be linked. By traveling the man gets to appreciate the great artworks in cathedrals and galleries of the world. The woman can learn more about how to become a better artist by traveling. The preceding simple example shows how we can serve both ourselves and our partner.

So back to the question: Should a relationship course be mandatory? The answer is a resounding yes! The positives would outweigh the negatives, and it could be done by local jurisdictions at minimal cost. It would undoubtedly prevent some people from entering into a destructive relationship and for others it would cement their future years together. Whether or not governments would have the courage to implement such a strategy is open to debate.

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