Lessons for Happier Relationships

Marriage is an important relationship, so there’s lots of marital advice available. In the book, Eight Lessons for a Happier Marriage, cowritten with his wife Carleen, Dr. Wm. Glasser offers a “self-study” approach to improving marriage using Choice Theory/Reality Therapy.

Marriage, however, is not the only important relationship. Might the suggestions offered for happier marriages apply to other relationships? 

Let’s look at Kristen and Sherri, who are moving to the city. While the girls are not close friends, they share one strong characteristic: the wish to save money. So, they’ll share an apartment to reduce expenses.

Kristen and Sherri are different. Kristen is outgoing, meets people easily, and thrives on adventure. She rides the bus, explores, and tries new restaurants, even if it’s only for the appetizer. The city is where she belongs, and she can hardly wait to have enough money to buy her own condo.

Sherri’s idea of a great evening includes a book and a long phone call “back home” to share her day with the people she cares about. The driving force in her life is to work with animals. She sees living in the city as temporary; she’s gaining valuable experience working as a veterinary assistant, but only until she can move into a practice working with animals back home.

Can you see conflicts brewing? The potential is certainly there. However, for the sake of their bank accounts, Kristen and Sherri are determined to make this work. And with some Choice Theory, they can.

Well, they didn’t even make it through the first day without a conflict. Their first evening, surrounded by boxes and with the kitchen in chaos, Kristen said, “Let’s go out and celebrate! That Indian restaurant around the corner looks so cool. Besides, you need to relax.” Sherri’s response, “No, I brought stew from home. I don’t feel like going out; I want to get this mess tidied up. If you’re saving money, you can’t go out all the time.”

Kristen, “C’mon. We can tidy up any time. But we’ll never have our first evening here again.”  Sherri, “No. I don’t want to; besides, I don’t think I even like Indian food.”

The first lesson is, “External Control Can Kill a Marriage” (or in this case, a friendship.) If Kristen and Sherri begin their adventure by trying to control each other, they will have many unhappy incidents before they ultimately call it quits. External control, as Dr. Glasser puts it, is “a psychology in which people who practice it always know what is right for other people. Because they know what is right, they feel obligated to try to coerce others to behave the way they want.”

Does that sound familiar to you? Are Kristen and Sherri practicing external control on each other? Is there a way for them to resolve this first dispute and set the stage for a non-coercive relationship that will be satisfying for both?

This article is the first in a series on relationships.
The next article in this series is here.
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