Top divorce lawyer Baroness Fiona Shackleton says she wants schools to help pupils see marriage as “the most important decision they make”.
Survey after survey reveals that many young people struggle with relationships.
But many parents feel embarrassed to talk about relationships and sex, especially if they’ve experienced relationship breakdown themselves.
We can’t leave young people flailing about in what’s now a toxic environment for healthy relationships.
It’s imperative that RSE (relationship and sex education) classes arm pupils with solid advice which helps them address real relationship themes that affect them in countless ways and which will affect every serious relationship they have in the future.
Here are 10 lessons which I would advocate.
Learn the Five F Factors before committing to each other
These factors determine long-term compatibility and harmony and are also the source of many divorces:
Finances and how much you agree/disagree on spending and saving.
Family – and how much time you are willing to spend with your respective families.
Friendships and what part they play in your day-to-day life.
Fun and leisure and how you may have very different expectations for how to spend, such as on weekends and holidays.
Frisky factor – your sexual compatibility.
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Marriage won’t solve a problem relationship
Always keep in mind that problems you have remain the same after marriage unless you work on them. Also don’t go into marriage believing “love will conquer all” because it doesn’t.
For instance, it’s totally unrealistic to believe that if you give you partner all your love, they’ll change issues they have like addiction. They won’t.
What you see is the personality you get. The person they are doesn’t miraculously change with a wedding band. If they’re unreliable, disrespectful or a cheat, this will continue after your vows unless you both work on it.
A wedding isn't the same as a marriage
Many people get so involved in the excitement building to the big day that they struggle afterwards, wishing the excitement could continue.
Keep one foot on the ground when caught up in your perfect wedding plans. Married life will have more highs for you to enjoy but it’ll also have lows.
Cherish your self-esteem
It’s essential that youngsters learn about building self-esteem and how good relationships are impossible without good self-esteem. With mental health issues on the rise in teens, far too many struggle.
Good self-esteem is all about knowing who their partner is, accepting that their feelings count, and recognising when they need support.
It includes having the self-belief that they can move forward successfully with a person and will not crumble in the face of life and relationship hurdles.
Respect and be responsible for yourself and others
Many teenagers struggle with understanding what self-respect and respect are. It’s about valuing themselves and their needs, and equally valuing their boyfriend or girlfriend’s needs.
Lack of self–respect makes it difficult for them to set boundaries when a boyfriend or girlfriend treats them badly. Equally, they need to be aware of how to respect a partner, and to accept it when they say yes or no to something.
It’s essential young people realise that relationships are two-way streets. It’s no good getting caught in the blame game, always saying it’s the other person’s fault when things get difficult.
Instead they must understand their responsibility for how a relationship is progressing. They must share responsibility for the wellbeing of their relationship, whatever their age.
Talking and listening
Many teens fear rejection, meaning that they don’t want to risk asking for something they need within the relationship.
They don’t want to rock the boat or appear to be a burden.
Equally, many adults get into the trap of believing they’re mind readers when it comes to what their partner wants. Learning to truly listen is vital for any successful long-term relationship.
Never be pressured into sex until you are ready
Whether 17 or 37, no-one should ever have sex before they’re ready. If you’re nurturing your self-esteem and respecting yourself, you’ll be able to tell your partner you’re not ready.
You’ll also be able to set boundaries on any further pressure. And again, if you aren’t sexually compatible before you commit, suddenly having a ring on your finger won’t change that.
Managing expectations in a relationship
Everyone has an idea of what a romance or relationship should be like. Such ideas can become absolute expectations.
Everyone should expect to feel valued within a relationship, to have fun, to grow in understanding of their partner and themselves, plus to seek solutions together when hurdles arise.
But when it comes to getting married, they need to have learned that it’s not simply about love. Commitment is about making they both want the same things from their lives together. Secretly hoping your husband-to-be will change his mind about wanting children once you’re married simply means you’re fooling yourself.
Mean what you say
Sometimes it seems easier to make promises when actually you know you probably can’t keep them.
This can be about delaying the fact you must tell them you can’t do it. Or having a lack of sensitivity to how they’ll feel when they discover you can’t. Either way, if you can’t do something, be straightforward about it. This makes for a far healthier relationship. If you make a commitment based on a lie, even if you think it’s a white one, it will always come back to bite you later.
Know when something is damaging you
At first everything seemed so good, but as time goes by your boyfriend or girlfriend lets you down. Maybe they let you down with plans, or ridicule you.
There is a key lesson here. If you wouldn’t behave that way to them, they shouldn’t to you. If discussing the issue with them doesn’t help, it’s time to realise you shouldn’t stay in a damaging relationship and neither time nor a wedding will fix it.