‘I love you!’  The groom was calling into the dressing room where his bride was making the final preparations for the wedding that would take place in just a few minutes.  Expectations were high as family and friends packed the church to be part of this big day.  What a wonderful start to a life of togetherness, love and joy!

A few short years latter the same couple, now with a growing baby are squaring off as the bitterest of enemies separating their lives, accumulated possessions and fighting over child custody rights.  What happened to the joy and togetherness of their wedding just a few short years before?

Friendship moves naturally toward deeper understanding, for being friends has to do with enjoying and knowing the other person.  There are only a few people that we will be very good friends with in life, and the one we choose to commit to for a life partner should become the best earthly friend we have.

Understanding on deep levels takes time.  Why do we/they act as we do?  What do we/they really mean when they say things?  Are we/they extraverted, or introverted?  Or someplace in the middle? What do we expect from the other in certain circumstances? What do they expect from us?  How do we/they act in the same circumstances?  How does our friends’ sense of humour work? All these areas and more make up understanding the other person in a relationship.  What about communication styles?  Are we primarily verbal, or is body language and tone of voice the major factor in communication?  Are we literal, or do we use stories and exaggerated word pictures to paint a picture of what we are trying to communicate?  Some people try to deal in facts, while others see life more in strong emotional colouring. If you are an accountant, can you get along with and understand an abstract artist?  If you would rather listen to Beethoven, can you spend a lot of time with someone who is always listening to heavy metal music? Understanding how your friend communicates on deep levels is vital to developing intimacy.  They will never communicate the way you do, but by each understanding the other, your worlds can overlap in the most vital areas of life.

How can we make the other person happy in healthy and positive ways?  How can we help our friend to be a better person, and keep growing as they go through life?  Friendship is about sharing with another person, so finding out if the person you are seeking relationship with has the desire, will and capacity to share is vital to developing an ongoing, functional, relationship.

What kind of gifts will be meaningful to your friend?  How do they enjoy spending their recreational time?  If he enjoys sitting outdoors in a blind watching birds, and she enjoys racing sports cars, there may not be much mutual ground for ongoing togetherness.  These kind of things need to be discovered and reasoned through if two people are going to move into a deeply satisfying intimate relationship that will last for life.

Another big area that causes untold misery in relationship is gender differences.  We are more alike than different, but there are some very subtle and foundational differences between men and women that need to be understood and appreciated to get along together in the most meaningful way.  While these areas may not seem logical to the person on the other side of the gender line, there are, none the less, facts that need to be accepted and adjusted to, just like learning algebra or chemistry.

Someone once said that testosterone is the most dangerous chemical known to man.  Understanding the competitive, highly charged nature of manhood, appreciating it and making the necessary allowances for it helps women to get along with lessened stress in the relationship.  Likewise, understanding the nature of women’s monthly cycle, and what that means in terms of chemical interactions in her body and mind, is vital for a mans sanity and well being as well!  There are certain ways we can learn to approach and interact with each other that harmonize, rather than aggravate, these basic differences.

Something else that seems to be basic to our human nature:  Men require respect to feel loved, while women require emotional closeness to feel loved.  Some women will suggest that their partner is not respectable, therefore they cannot respect him.  Well, then why did you choose this depth of relationship with that person?  These are areas that should be sorted out in the first stages of friendship.  If we are already into a relationship with someone who has problems with destructive, dishonest or immoral behaviours, we need to confront these behaviours in a respectful way.  Like it or not when we are in relationship with someone, we become responsible for helping them to grow, not enabling dysfunctional and destructive behaviour.  If a woman treats a man with disrespect, the man will most likely respond in disrespectful ways and move away from her emotionally, and there is little chance of helping.  There are some things that it is important to seek competent, professional help with.  Serious problems need to be taken seriously; we should not subject ourselves or our children to situations that endanger.

Physical abuse should never be tolerated.  If you cannot respect a person, you have no business getting into a deep relationship with them.  This goes both ways, and men should not get involved with women just because they see them as sweets to be consumed.  If a woman cannot be highly respected for who she is as a person, there is no basis for deep intimacy and lasting happiness, and there will be no end of problems when the children come along.  There is hardly a more destructive thing that can be done to children than for the parents to separate. The best time to deal with serious issues and seek resolution is before getting deeply involved.  To try to make a life relationship work as a continual therapist/needy person cycle is dysfunctional and co-dependent—both will grow in resentment as the relationship grows.

Before two people get into a situation of having a family, they should intelligently assess if they will truthfully commit to a lifetime relationship and choose to respect and intellectually love each other.  By this I mean that we choose to give love and respect to the other from the platform of principle, not just feelings.  Our feelings change with everything from how much sleep we get to what we may have eaten at the last meal.  They are totally unreliable for stable, long term, decisions.  To really enjoy the best in life relationships requires a measure of maturity.  When we choose to step into a committed relationship in our teens or early twenties we need to realize that neither person is mature yet, and both will need to give allowance for the natural growth and maturation that needs to happen.  We need to choose to go on this journey together, realizing that the destination is ahead.  The mental maturation of young people doesn’t become complete until the later twenties, and many young relationships end about the same time, causing untold pain and creating much life long suffering for the offspring produced from these shallow unions.  We’re not advocating not committing while young, but only to understand what you are committing to and being prepared to grow with and through this process; for only then can the best stuff come in life.  Knowing and understanding someone is an ongoing process that never ends, but expands, deepens and grows as the relationship ages.

Another important aspect:  If we treat the other with respect, often they will come up to the expectations.  When a man is respected and made to feel like a man, he then has the capacity to give full and open emotional closeness and love to his woman. When he feels safe to open his heart, and knows that his woman respects him as the man in her life, he is enabled to give her his full emotional attention, which feeds her needs as a woman.  When a man intelligently seeks to understand and feed the emotional needs of his woman, he gains deeper respect and love from her.  When this kind of cycle gets going in a relationship, you have two very happy people who are dedicated to each other.  They intelligently feed each others needs and desires, and many of the rough places are smoothed by this understanding.  Conversely, if we develop habits of belittling each other, we create an atmosphere where intimacy cannot grow.  The saying ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’ is very true, for when we know someone closely, we know ALL about them, and let’s be honest, all of us have many areas of personal growth that need to be attended to.  Again, we need to assess, before we get into the deeper relationship, if we can overlook some things while enjoying and respecting the other even with their idiosyncrasies and annoying behaviours.  They may change over time, but then again some things never will.  Can you live with it for the rest of your life?

Many men spend their lives trying to protect their emotional natures from the women in their lives, and I suppose some of this has to do with the way the man was treated by his mother.  Either spoiling or being abusive to a child can create a lingering disrespect for women in a growing boy, which is then transferred to the life partner (or many times partners, as there is not the basis for lasting relationship).  Likewise, women who have never had a close, nurturing relationship with their fathers may have trouble developing a healthy relationship with their life partner.  Instead of going from one broken relationship to another, it is wise to get help with sorting out why we feel and act as we do.  What is our emotional baggage, and what is the other persons?  When we identify the demons in our own life, face and deal with them with God’s help and healing power, we can move away from them into a fuller, richer, experience with those we have chosen to bind our lives with.  The essence of a great relationship is having the capacity to focus on the other person, and it requires an emotionally healthy person to do this.

Another area that needs mention is the difference between the way most men and women process life.  While being general is never fully accurate, nevertheless there are general trends that can help us understand.  It’s up to us to study the person we choose to have this kind of close friendship with and see how they work.  Men generally compartmentalize life.  It’s like their brain is a chest of drawers, and they have a drawer for everything.  With women, it’s more like they have only one drawer, and everything gets thrown into it.  For a woman to be happy, her drawer needs to be straightened out on a daily basis, and she does this by talking about it.  A man who understands that he can just listen to his female friend, without having to fix anything, will find that he is highly appreciated by her.  Once she gets it all talked out, the drawer is in order and she feels relaxed with a renewed sense of well being.  If there is anything that the man needs to do to help sort things out for her, this will become apparent by listening and understanding.

With the man, he generally needs quiet time alone to sort things out.  This is a huge point of misunderstanding between men and women.  When a woman gets quiet, a man may think; ‘It’s grand, she’s sorting things out, it will be fine in a short time.’  Then when she passes him, while he’s sitting on the sofa watching the game, with a suit case in hand headed for the front door, he’s mystified about what went wrong.  When a woman become quiet, this is a serious warning sign that crisis is ahead, don’t ignore it!

On the other hand, when a man tries to get away for some quiet time, his woman may interpret this as a crisis and badger him with questions in her deep desire to understand, support and love him.  His withdrawing makes her feel insecure, the result being she becomes more intense.  The woman is concerned and wants to help, love and support, but the man may see this as emotional harassment, and further withdraw.  Generally, unless there is some sort of serious reason to expect there are problems that need intervention, just leaving a man alone for a time to quietly sort things through is the best course of action.  This serves the same purpose as the man listening to the woman talk through her current life issues.

How does this look in practice? 

It’s Monday morning.  The baby was up all night, the husband slept past the alarm and now everybody’s in turmoil.  The mother has to drop baby off at the crèche before she goes to work, and the heater unit on the shower quit working.  In the madness, father yells at mother because he can’t find his socks, and rushes out the door to join the rush hour traffic.  Meanwhile, mother has taken on board that the love of her life doesn’t appreciate all that she does for the family, and her feelings have been hurt.

Your man has plenty of time to sort his feeling and frustrations as he sits in traffic, has a reasonably good Monday on the job, and comes home with a spring in his step, looking forward to making romantic overtures to his wife.  When he comes in the door, it’s a completely new ‘drawer’—the morning is ancient history.  She, on the other hand, has been living all day with the last occurrence of the morning lingering on the computer screen of her mind, with all the unhappy feelings and personal injury just as fresh as when it happened.  When your man comes through the door, he is mystified by the ice, while she is completely turned off by his callousness and indifference to the state of their emotional relationship.

It’s the wise man who will arrive home with flowers, or some other peace offering, an apology, and plans to sit down and listen for a few minutes.  Ignoring it will only magnify the issue beyond salvageable proportions.  It’s the mature, caring husband who will call her as soon as he can after he leaves home, and help her to emotionally close the incident as quickly as possible, while not neglecting the other attentions later in the day.

 www.loveandrespect.com is a web site with much useful information.