Great relationships take a lot of work.
You’ve got to do your own work if you want your marriage to work.
If you don’t do the work, you won’t get the benefits. . .
If you haven’t heard one or more of these sayings within the past month, you’ve probably been living under a rock. The idea that we have to work in order to create a worthwhile relationship has been around for quite a while, and many of us, particularly relationship ‘experts’ and therapists, have been affirming the idea for so long that we rarely question its veracity. But what exactly does working on your relationship really mean? And is it really true that the willingness to do “the work” is the critical factor in determining the quality of your relationships? And what exactly is the work that relationships require anyway? The idea of work is so embedded in our beliefs about relationships that we rarely, if ever, question these assumptions when we hear them in conversation or read them in self-help books.
Might there be some benefit to taking a closer look at this notion? Perhaps. As my grandmother used to say, “it couldn’t hoit”. One of the first things that we may notice when we begin to examine our beliefs about work and relationships is that we often aren’t exactly sure what the “work” of relationships really is, and consequently tend to default to our associations with the word “work” in our efforts to better understand the concept.
When you think of “work”, like most people, the associations that you have with the word are not likely to be especially thrilling or even particularly pleasant. A brief perusal of the dictionary definition of the term reminds us that our mental and emotional associations with it tend to leave us cold, or worse. Case in point: The American Heritage Dictionary defines ‘work’ as “the exertion of physical or mental effort or activity directed toward the production of something.” Synonyms for work include labor, exertion, travail, drudgery, trouble, chore, and toil. “Toil” – a word frequently associated with work -means “to proceed to make one’s way with difficulty or pain. To labor continuously and strenuously.” Phew! Is it any wonder that most of us have a certain degree of resistance to the notion of embracing work as a path to anything? So if you have any confusion or mixed feelings and thoughts about doing your relationship work, it’s with good reason, and you’re not alone.