All couples have disagreements, some more than others. A big key to happiness in a relationship is to learn to deal appropriately with those inevitable mishaps. Many of us have been taught by fictionalized characters, and perhaps our own families, that it’s OK to hold on to anger and behave selfishly.
To learn what not to do, let’s look at two of the poster children for dysfunctional couples, Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara of Gone With the Wind. Just think or how wonderful their relationship could have been if not for, their constant disagreements, their stubbornness—and the Civil War.
Rhett and Scarlett were continually breaking up with each other; it is as though they argued to punish one another. Sure, the making-up process was fun and very dramatic. But it only lasted for a scene or two and then they were back at each other’s throats. Scarlett would cry at first and then become angry. Rhett would start drinking and go somewhere, anywhere, to get away from her anger, and his own feelings.
The most common human action that gets in the way of the making up process is stubbornness. Admitting and apologizing appropriately allows your relationship to get back on track. Holding on to anger is both unproductive and unhealthy. To deal with his anger, Rhett would drink and party with his “friends.” Scarlett would use her passion to connive and manipulate those around her in order to get what she thought she wanted. It was only after she lost her true love that she finally realized she had what she needed the whole time.
Rhett and Scarlett never tried to actually work out or even talk about their problems and differences, no matter how small they were. Both of them were unhappy with their unresolved feelings so they hurt each other, and themselves, again and again. When they did apologize, they did it profusely, but never sincerely. The consequence of this is that they continued to hold grudges for all the times they hurt each other. This added fuel to the fire and made it very difficult for them to resolve their issues. And, like little children, when they got mad enough, they picked up their toys and went home…to Tara.
Being adult enough to realize you’ve been wrong, and admit it, should be one of the prerequisites for getting into a relationship. Trying to mitigate your embarrassment by blaming your partner for relationship issues is not only immature; it’s downright childish. M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, says that the difference between adults and children is that adults are (supposed to be) able to delay gratification. What that looks like in a contemporary relationship is that when a problem arises, both people have to be adult enough to put aside their anger and their need to be “right” and begin the resolution process.
True love and success in relationships are different in reality than it is in the movies. It’s actually much better. Real love, if it’s exchanged with consideration and caring, takes us to places we could never get to in fiction. Without the support and inspiration of someone who shares our life, we can never really know joy.
Rhett and Scarlett overlooked many opportunities to put aside their differences, take each other by the hand and rebuild their relationship, instead of watching it burn down around them. If you or your partner are holding on to any unresolved issues—and who isn’t—take a shot at talking about them like adults. You’ll be surprised to see how easy it can be to declare a truce and feel like both of you won. If you choose not to extend yourself and let go of petty differences, your relationship could be “Gone With the Wind.”