I recently asked a 46 year old man what importance his marriage has in his life, expressed as a percentage. His instant response was 80%, on the grounds that his marriage impacts and is impacted by his work and almost every other aspect of life. I then asked him how much education about relationship he received at school, from his parents or in the army (his first job). His equally instant answer was ‘None at all'.
What an extraordinary situation!
Many people are more emotionally involved in their relationship than in their job, and yet we dedicate a minimum of 12 years compulsory education as preparation for employment and virtually none at all to the art and science of relationship. Is it any wonder that we find it difficult to keep peace in the world?
It seems as if we still rather naively believe that relationship, like sex, is just natural, and will happen automatically. It is true that most relationships do happen ‘automatically' - driven largely by hormones in men and a need for love and security in women. Dating and falling in love is all very well, but few people are prepared for falling out of love. Watching parents blunder their way through relationship rarely provides a good model for the next generation.
Would education in relationship ability (not just skills) make any difference now or in the future?
The vast majority of people leave school able to read. This gives them skills for navigating their way around our society. It is basic literacy and highly valued. It is taught and practised daily for a few years at a minimum. Schools worry when children fall behind in reading and have special classes, teachers, schemes and research programs to provide additional support.
Now most people are like the illiterate struggling to make sense of a literate world. They don't know how to read the signs all around them to find the way to wherever they want to go. Relationship problems can cause havoc at work, destroy family life, undermine children's confidence and cause physical and emotional health problems.
It is possible to learn relationship, just like anything else, with time, practice and good teaching. The more you learn the more you realise that whatever you did in the past, from starting relationships to finishing then, and every step in between, could have been done much better. Learning relationship is like learning to ski - it's much less painful and much more fun with a teacher.
We still treat personal relationship as if it is a constant in life - never changing and therefore never needing an update. But relationships a few hundred years ago had totally different requirements from today - and what about the relationship of the future? Does anyone ever ask what that might look like?
Will we be like the couples in Stepford Wives, programmed for perfect partnership? Or struggling, Start Trek-style, to understand partners from truly alien cultures? Will Aldous Huxley's Brave New World become real, with cloned baby production? Or will we all have virtual relationships - with no need to face reality at all any more?
As Professor Irwin Corey said, "If we don't change direction soon, we'll end up where we're going."
By Sarah McCrum MA, PGCE, Dip LC
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