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Why is it that some marriages die while others thrive? I’m convinced that the reason is really quite simple.

Relationships die along what I like to call the “path of protection,” while thriving relationships flourish along the “path of growth.”

Now, any relationship might seem fine on the outside. But introduce a little conflict to the mix, and you’ll find out in a hurry which “path” your marriage is on.

When confronted with a problem, the dying relationship is only interested in one thing–protection against pain. Both parties involved avoid personal responsibility for their feelings, behavior, and the consequences they bring.

This avoidance leaves both parties with only three alternatives–compliance (giving up out of fear of conflict or disapproval); control (an attempt to change the other party by instilling guilt or fear); or indifference (resistance or total withdrawal). Thus, the relationship is damaged.

Not so with the thriving relationship. When presented with a conflict, both parties choose the path of growth, intent to learn more about what the other is going through. As a result, each assumes personal responsibility for their own feelings, behavior, and consequences.

In learning about each other, both parties also learn valuable lessons about themselves, leading to a season of exploration and understanding–ultimately resulting in a deeper intimacy in the relationship–a greater sense of well-being and love, more fun and joy, and also a greater capacity to bear each other’s pain.

Now, what about your marriage? How open and honest is it? Well, let me suggest you take the “Truth in Relationships” quiz and find out.

When confronted with a problem in your relationship, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What’s the “story behind the story” of what just happened?
  2. Are we being honest with ourselves and with each other about what’s really going on here?
  3. Are we willing to seek counsel and get the help we need to rectify this situation?
  4. Can we honestly admit to ourselves and each other the kind of relationship we really have here — either thriving or dying?

Understanding the answers to these questions is a great way to start or stay on the “path of growth.”