Preparing your kids for adult relationships can feel like an impossible task. No matter how much you attempt to drill into her head, “Relationships aren’t easy,” “They take work,” and “Nothing is perfect,” she’ll still look back on those fairy tales, bedtime stories and Disney® cartoons and swoon over the prince and princess living happily ever after. The end.
So how do you get through to your teen that “the end” is just the beginning, and the real work begins when the movie ends? How can you teach your children that love, by itself, isn’t enough to sustain a healthy relationship?
Love is just the beginning.
Love is the most important part of a healthy, beautiful adult relationship. But it is not everything. If relationships are houses, love is the foundation. With a strong foundation, anything is possible. With a weak foundation, no matter how strong the bricks, wood beams and roof, the house will collapse. And the relationship will crumble under its own weight.
Building on a solid foundation.
Once you have a solid foundation of love you have to build upward. But all buildings begin with a plan. And so should your relationship, at least in part. Have an idea of what materials you are looking to build with, what style of construction you desire and what interior design to go with before you begin. That is, make sure you and your partner are on the same page and are working toward the same goal. More than just liking the same things, make sure you are compatible on a deep level. Talk about your personal values, stance of social issues, desire for marriage and children, relationship with your family and day-to-day outlook and involvement with life.
If you skip steps at the beginning of a relationship, such as moving in too quickly, you will inevitably stumble and fall on your way to the top. Then you and your partner will have to pick yourselves up, bumps and bruises and all, and start from the bottom to work your way back up to relationship bliss. Only this time, slow and steady wins the race. Take your time to put each brick in place: trust, honesty, integrity, action, communication, values, etc. Each of these fitted tightly and layered on thick will create an impenetrable fortress for you and your family when the weather gets rough.
The ugly truth.
People make mistakes. People also intentionally hurt each other. They will say and do mean things to each other in an attempt to gain control of the situation, or their partner. Teach your teen to beware of these behaviors in their partners and in themselves. Teach your teen to be aware of harming others even when it is not his intention. Also teach her the value of forgiveness. Hurt people hurt people, and only she can stop the cycle once she realizes the power she has to make a difference and change her relationship.
When to walk away.
Sometimes all the work and commitment in the world can’t conquer what two people have built. The relationship itself is the problem and needs to be demolished to build something better. Whether this happens together or apart depends on the couple and why the relationship needed to sever in the first place. In the case of “irreconcilable differences” you can likely deconstruct what you have and reconstruct a new relationship, with yourself, each other and your higher power while staying together. But if you are facing abuse, addiction, or other circumstances, healing and growth needs to occur beyond the bounds of the relationship and the other person. The love itself may even need to be extinguished to recover fully from what was.
Relationships are lifelong commitments that begin with your commitment to yourself and your higher power. When this relationship is strong and healthy, building a strong relationship with a partner will run much smoother. Your impulsive, hormonal and eager-to-be independent teens have a long way to go in realizing this reality. Give them time, and tell them this story as much as you told them all the other tales.