This post is published under my byline in Bazaar Magazine (Kuwait) Feb 2014
Those of us of a certain age can remember a cheesy TV series from the 80s called The Love Boat; a cruise ship with the ability to bring together diverse people and turn them into perfect couples – all within 48 minutes. Week after week strangers, conflicted couples, widows, widowers, cruise ship staff, and even Captain Stuebing found love, departing the ship at the end of the cruise/show with Disney-like hearts and flowers hovering in the air. It was magical …and make-believe.
Unfortunately, the way that love is portrayed in popular media reinforces myths that make love, and being a couple, even more of a challenge than it already is. Finding a life partner is a dream most individuals have in some form because we all have an inherent need to be known and understood, and this really only happens in intimate relationship.
I tell my clients, “Relationships are the source of our greatest pleasure and our greatest pain.” As couples, we can minimize the pain and maximize the pleasure and satisfaction in our relationships by discarding the Disneyland (or Playboy) myths about love and keeping it real.
1. “I’m looking for ‘The One’ for me. I just don’t know if I should commit to this guy/girl in case s/he isn’t right.”
This is possibly the most damaging – and false – myth out there. The amount of angst that’s been created by the perception that “There is only one person out there who is ‘perfect’ for me, and I have to find him/her in order to be happy,” is incalculable. Even if there were a ‘perfect’ person out there (not) as soon as that individual becomes part of a couple, perfection flies right out the window. There’s just something about being part of a ‘we’ that occasionally brings out the worst in us. So scratch the whole “Mr/Mrs Right” thing off your list.
2. Good relationships just happen ‘naturally.’ If it feels like work, then this is not the guy/girl for me.
There is no magic in making a relationship viable, enjoyable, and long lived …unless you spell ‘magic’ w-o-r-k. The individuals who create the “We” of couplehood remain individuals – at least they certainly should – and the overlap of the new identity that’s formed is solely and only what the two individuals who created it, make of it. The “We” rightly and necessarily excludes all others and is comprised of shared experiences, conversations, and memories, and emotional, psychological, mental, and physical work. This “We” must be nurtured, protected, and maintained by the two individuals. The reward is a vibrant, healthy, fulfilling and life-enhancing relationship. Conversely, just as anything withers and dies without care, so does the “We” of a relationship without the will or the work to invest in keeping it alive.
3. This relationship isn’t working out, I need to end it and find someone else who will make me happy.
Yup. Another myth. Actually, there are two for the price of one in that little gem. The assumption that ending a relationship will solve the problem, and the expectation that someone else will make me happy. Doesn’t work that way. Excluding relationships that include violence or gross breaches of decency in some form, the truth is, whatever isn’t working in your current relationship is very often a reflection of your issues, seen through the mirror of your partner …which immediately kills part two of the myth, because “Wherever you go, there you are.” This means that it’s worthwhile to stay and work out the difficulties. Get help if you need to. Start by rooting out a very basic error of attribution that usually goes something like this, “If s/he would only stop/start/change/do better at [fill in the blank] then our relationship would be good and I’d be happy.” Alas, it doesn’t work like that.
A significant body of research shows that each successive relationship has less chance of succeeding than the previous one(s) because we take our mythological beliefs into the next relationship along with a lot of emotional and psychological baggage. And with each relationship failure, that baggage gets more and more cumbersome. Better to work on the relationship with the partner you have. Do yourself a favour. Identify and root out those Hollywood beliefs about love and work at nurturing the real thing. You won’t be sorry.
The key to succeeding in relationship is not to find the “right” person; it’s learning to love the person you’ve found.
Happy Valentine’s Day!