Embracing all chalks and cheeses


That's men for you: Padraig O'Morain'sguide to men's health

There are lots of people out there promoting products which will purport to tell you how to have a successful marriage but when the advice is relayed by John Grohol, it's worth our attention.

Dr Grohol, a clinical psychologist, is one of the pioneers of useful information on the internet. He launched his Psych Central website at www.psychcentral.com in 1995 at a time when relatively few homes anywhere had an internet connection.

Since then, Grohol has published thousands of articles based on mainstream research and has made them available, at no charge and in plain English, to anybody who wants to read them.

Grohol reckons he has cast an eye on about a thousand articles on how to have a long-term successful relationship or marriage. None of them, he complains, seem to capture the core ingredients he has found important in long-term relationships.

He believes there are five such core ingredients. Here they are:

First:Compromise. You may have found your soulmate but that doesn't mean you'll agree on when to put out the bins, how to discipline or reward the children or what time you should be home from work on a Friday night. So unless you both learn to compromise, your day-to-day disagreements could turn into something much worse.

Second:Choose your battles carefully. Once you accept that you and your nearest and dearest are never going to see eye to eye on everything - because that's the way people are - then the wisdom of this piece of advice becomes obvious. Is it really worth fighting over the cap being left off the toothpaste or the toilet roll being turned around the "wrong" way? Mightn't it be better to reserve your fighting time for more important issues, such as family finances or children?

Third:Communicate, preferably not in the middle of a row. The notion that "if you really loved me, you'd know how I feel" is, to put it politely, bull.

Even a psychologist would not know how you felt about anything unless you actually told him or her. So tell. And if you want to be heard, do it when you're at peace, which hopefully is most of the time, and not when you're fighting.

Fourth:Don't hide your needs from yourself or your partner. If you're unhappy with working too much, or not working enough, with the amount of affection or sex in the relationship or with anything else that really matters, you need to admit this to yourself and to discuss it with your partner. Otherwise these unexpressed needs can corrode the relationship.

Fifth:Recognise the importance of trust and honesty. People in long-term relationships need to be able to depend on each other. This is why betrayals of trust hurt so much and why the worst aspect of an affair, for instance, is that betrayal of trust.

If you do these things, will you have a peaceful relationship? No, of course not. Much of the advice above is based on the recognition that permanently peaceful relationships are not a human possibility. And, curiously, once you recognise that, your relationships can become deeper and more loving than before because you are accepting the reality of the other person.

It is as though we are shut into a room and each is allowed to look out through one of the windows in that room - but not the same window as the other. So you're both in the same room alright, but what you see and what your partner sees are different.

Each needs to accept that the other person's reality is different, sometimes radically so. And who knows which "reality" is the right one?

So to me, what is important from Grohol's five points is for each partner to accept that, in many ways, they are as different as chalk and cheese. Each needs to give up on the effort to turn them both into chalk and chalk or cheese and cheese.

That said, please don't ask me to put the bins out when I'm watching I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. Thanks.

Padraig O'Morain is a counsellor and his blog is at www.justlikeaman.blogspot.com