Relationships are 90% emotional and 10% attitude. Successful relationships are the result of learning and practice, not luck. Couples in trouble are typically the result of one of three factors: 1) An immediate or recent event is so horrendous or awful an enormous split in the relationship occurs. 2) One or both of the partners brought into the relationship old emotional wounds, unresolved shame or rigidly held fantasies in direct conflict with reality, or 3) No previous knowledge of how to build a successful, healthy, intimate and loving relationship.
The first factor includes events like extramarital affairs, the death of a child, loss of a career, substantial life style change, victimization by physical or sexual assault, catastrophic body changes due to injury or sudden illness.
The second factor includes situations such as previous unhealed abusive adult relationships, past love relationships that are still active, alcohol and other drug abuse habits, compulsive gambling or inappropriate sexual behavior, and beliefs closely resembling the story lines of Cinderella and Pollyanna.
The third factor is the result of roll modeling. This is the most powerful and lasting way students learn. Children are like sponges absorbing what they see: the good, the bad and the ugly. By not seeing parents in a consistent loving relationship, they have no modeled foundation on which to build healthy attitudes and functional expectations for their own adult love relationships. They are left to learn by trial-and-error, maybe even saying they will never do the things they saw growing up. Unfortunately, the absence of positive knowledge results in a lack of confidence and reactive interactions.
When there is no consistency between what a parent says and what the parent does, the child will focus attention on the doing. It is human nature to trust our eyes more than our ears. That's why parental advice is usually unheeded. If you want your children to learn about healthy adult relationships, show them your healthy relationship.
Can adults learn better ways of relating rather than just reacting to the other? Absolutely. Can people with histories of bad love relationships change and have good relationships? Yes.