Ask Dr. Ellis
Question: How can we have and maintain a good relationship or marriage?
Dr. Ellis answers: It’s not very easy! As the Buddhists said 2500 years ago, people are usually self-centered, not relationship-centered. Yes, they think they absolutely need a good relationship to live and be happy—but do not need to give a good relationship in return. How wrong!
To become less needy of having and more centered on giving a good relationship or marriage often requires several thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Especially ...
- Put yourself, if you will, first—but others a close second. Focusing mainly on what you think you need may distract you from caring for others.
- Try both/and rather than either/or. Focus on caring for you and others. Concentrate on people who have good characters and who easily love you and others. They are often scarce; but, of many possible relaters, you can find them.
- Discover, of course, what others want from a relationship and go out of your way to find it. Among other things, frankly ask them what they want and do your best to fulfill it. If they are inordinately demanding without giving, take haste—run!
- Look closely at other relationships to discover what works for people. Some things are for you and your mate—and some are not. If you think one plan works, try it to see whether it really does.
- Read books on what supposedly works to provide and maintain a good relationship—but read them skeptically. Discuss their methods with your partner, and experimentally try them out.
- See whether techniques that supposedly work do so because of the special characteristics of the relaters or tend to generally work.
- Above all, experiment with different relating methods to discover your and your partner’s bents. Nothing works better than what is tried and true for you and your partners!
In my own case, I experimented with four major relationships, all of which were fascinating and kept me looking for better ones. I married my first and third choices but had amenable divorces and still was friends with them afterward—with Karyl, my first wife, for fifty years until her death.
My last choice was made when I was 90 years of age and still persists in marriage three years later. I think it will last till I die (preferably after the age of 110), because my wife, Debbie Joffe, is devoted to me and to REBT, is most helpful with my writings and other work, and shares my major professional interests. We also greatly enjoy being together when we are not working. A great choice!
Debbie also has an unusual, devoted, and helpful character, which very few people have. It makes her quite a rare, beautiful person. We both respect and love each other and expect to keep doing so forever.