“Love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image… otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” ~Author Unknown
There is probably not a culture on earth that values the ideal of long-term love and marriage as much as Americans. While more than 90% of young adults aspire to marriage, fewer and fewer are choosing it because as a country and a culture we have the highest rate of romantic breakups in the world. Although we generally think about our relationships in very personal terms, it may do us well to consider the cultural values that provide their context. Media and advertising shower us with both a plethora of choices and the inherent message that we are entitled to the best; always with the goal of achieving and improving our happiness. Consequently, and perhaps even inadvertently, many of us are continuously in a self appraisal of our emotional wellbeing and personal life driven by the erroneous idea that there is always another choice available that would make us happier.
This entitlement to the happiness belief system has silently infiltrated our expectations and practices within our relationships. More and more we expect our relationships to meet and even predict our emotional needs, which, because we are ever more vigilantly watching them, is an impossible task. Even worse it is fueled by focusing on and trusting the least stable aspects of our day to day personality, which are as momentary and changeable as are the ups and downs of living together.
Human relationships, romantic and otherwise, are rife with disappointment, alienation and even experiences of emotional betrayal. As we increasingly measure our relationships by their capacity to meet our needs, the missteps and hurts that accompany all long- term relationships are mistakenly interpreted as grounds for termination. In our minds, they take on the magnitude of tragedy and even abuse. Combined with our fantasy about the unlimited choices available, many of us hold the idea that there must be someone better for us out there (a la, Chemistry.com). The net result is that we often throw away perfectly good relationships that may well need work, only to find ourselves in the very same relationship, now called by some other name.
I always tell people who want to get into a relationship to think about 2 or 3 qualities that they want a relationship to bring to their life, and to consider what they are willing to give up in exchange. Some people scoff at me, believing that because they can envision their perfect mate, they will find him. I am here to say that the widely sold soul mate fantasy does not exist. We are all a unique mix of imperfect qualities and attributes that make us simultaneously loveable and annoying. Embracing the possibility of a successful long-term relationship refocuses the quest for the ideal partner back onto us.
The only person you can ever really hope to change is yourself. By refocusing your attention on your own capacity to partner and connect, you automatically change the nature of the relationship itself. A loving relationship is the safest place for you to redefine and improve the kind of partner that you can be. Approaching your relationship as the active and continuous improvement process of communicating and negotiating is a bold rewriting of the script.