Do we learn relationship management skills, or is it instinct that matters?
The 19th century German poet, philosopher and student of human culture Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel said, ‘Every art should become science, and every science should become art.’ There are more than enough books around describing marriage relationship skills as a science. My counter-argument would be, ‘Then how come love is such an indelibly intuitive thing?”
I am more on the side of Ronald Rogge and his associates at the University of Rochester. Following a three-year study of three interventions, they concluded:
‘These findings cast doubt on the unique benefits of skill-based interventions for primary prevention of relationship dysfunction, and raise the possibility that relationship skills based interventions may inadvertently sensitize couples to skill deficits in their relationships.’
Do learned relationship skills create an artificial agenda?
Although conclusively based on scientific research, these findings are not new. Psychologists have known for ages that warring couples use emotions, and not debating techniques to try to have their way. It is as if we forget all the social skills that we have learned and revert to basic instinct.
When couples fight, relationship management skill sets become temporarily inaccessible, scrambled by emotion.
Rogge and his team’s findings are disturbing. The women in their study reported feeling emotional support declining following relationship skills training. Both sexes reported feeling less affection following 15 hours of relationship management skills advice. This may be because of a perceived phoniness of the situation. If someone coached my partner how to say ‘I love you Jo’ I might also question the motive when they said it.
Relationship management skills do not create sustainable change
I have learned from own experience that love is instinctive. Do you remember the Desiderata? In it, the writer says, ‘Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection … neither be cynical about love. In the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.’ Love is a situation we move to guided naturally by our instincts. I can teach relationship management skills, but these only tinker with the fundamentals of the program.
Emotionally based therapy transcends artificially learned relationship skills by reawakening instinctive responses to our partners’ needs. It empowers us to meet them in their present moment as if we have just caught love. When we release these messages from our hearts and stop feigning affection through a system, we achieve what relationship skills training never could achieve – connection and a natural outpouring of our concern for each other.
How do you feel about this, and where are you on the spectrum between skills and instinct? Is there a void you feel you would like to explore?