Set Your Relationship Up for Success

A quarter of thirtysomething couples are unhappy in their relationships, a new study shows. Just 51% of thirtysomething couples said they were "very happy" in their relationship, with the remainder saying they were "quite happy" but would like to see improvements.

While it's good news that over half of thirtysomething couples are 'very happy', more and more couples are tolerating the state of their relationships and don't know how to get the results they want. Many of them complain that a lack of respect, fun and quality time together contribute to being unhappy in their relationship.

The research (conducted by website polled over four hundred thirtysomethings in the UK and USA, and found that the biggest wants people have in their relationships are one to one time (17%), sex (10.7%), consideration (9.8%) and laughter (8.0%).

It's evidence that many couples lack the skills and motivation to improve things in their relationships, and are putting up with things they don't need to. Steve Errey, a coach who specialises in thirtysomething relationships says: "Couples don't realise that they are in a position to change things for the better. The simple fact is that bad relationships exist because they're allowed to exist by each partner. Rather than tolerating the bad parts of a relationship they can put effort into improving them or removing them altogether.

"Why tolerate something that you know is making you unhappy? People don't put up with a lack of respect or honesty with their friends, but accept it with a partner simply because they think that's what they're supposed to do. It seems crazy that people are prepared to live like that when all the answers are there for them."

Unlike getting a driver's license or getting a job, the frightening part is that there are no requirements for entering a relationship. Anyone can enter into a relationship without any training, skills or awareness other than lessons learnt by watching their parents. As a result, people enter into relationships without any way of knowing what they're creating or how to manage them.

"A relationship isn't something that sits outside of you, that you can point at and blame for what might be wrong,' says Errey. "What people don't realise is that relationships are about relating to another person, and that means that where there's a bad relationship there's bad relating." The good news is that relating skills can be picked up later in life and put to good use.

Ben and Vicky are a thirtysomething couple living in London who seemed to have it all, and they went to see Steve before their wedding. "We'd put our heads in the sand about the trouble our relationship was in," says Ben, "and with the wedding approaching we both owned up and wanted to do something about it. Talking things through with Steve gave us a really clear picture of what was working and what wasn't working for each of us."

"When I got into things I saw how big a part I was playing in how things were between Ben and me," says Vicky, "I thought the things that were wrong were down to what he was doing and not doing, and it was a real shocker to find out that I had just as much of a part to play. We worked with Steve and came up with different ways of doing things, better ways. We haven't looked back, and I'm so excited about being married."

Steve says there are three key things to bear in mind when working to improve a relationship. "Be absolutely prepared to own your part of it, warts and all. Nobody's perfect, and you need to honestly acknowledge your contribution to the state of the relationship and pin down the behaviours and patterns that you fall into. It's important to see that relating is an active process, not a passive one.

"It's useful to get clear on what kind of relationship you want with your partner, and to come up with a shared vision of the relationship. What qualities do you want to see? How do you want to feel? What do you want the relationship to be about? How do you want your partner to feel? You don't need to share everything, see eye to eye all the time or avoid arguments, so this is as much about debunking some of the myths and getting real as well as being absolutely clear on what you both want. Communicate openly about what's real for you and get excited about what you want for yourself and for each other.

"Lastly, you need to sweep aside the old behaviours, patterns, squabbles and disagreements if they're not working for you. If you carry on exactly as you've been doing you'll keep getting exactly what you've got. Don't get clingy or possessive about those things, but start fresh and recognise that in every piece of your behaviour with your partner you can send either a message of acceptance or rejection. That's where so many couples run into trouble ? it's easy to just be lazy and unwittingly sending a message of rejection."

"We still argue and tease and sometimes get frustrated,' says Ben, 'but we know how to deal with that stuff now and know it's just part of being together. It actually makes it all okay, because we know we can get through it all."

About the Author
Steve Errey specialises in personal growth for thirtysomethings, works with people on their careers, relationships and confidence and helps them get more fun, fulfilment and freedom. For more information please contact Steve on 0845 644 3001, by email at [email protected] or visit his website at

In The News:

How to Mend a Work Relationship  Harvard Business Review
How to sustain a healthy relationship  Kenya Broadcasting Corporation
What Playfulness Can Do for Your Relationship  Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley

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