Popular culture has done a disservice to real love. We tend to buy into romanticized ideals of how relationships are supposed to be. The extremes of falling in love and tragic break ups hog all the air-time. But lasting love can be pretty mellow, with sweet highs, inevitable lows, and a set-point of all-is-well.
Here are some falsehoods we’ve been collectively buying into that are holding us back from enjoying ourselves and each other more:
#1: Your happiness depends on them. As the fairy tale goes, he or she comes along and makes everything all right. Here’s the cold water; ain’t gonna happen. It’s not their job to read your mind, anticipate your needs, adapt their behavior to your liking, fulfill your erotic fantasies and rescue you from an otherwise cruel and harsh world. It may sound absurd, yet, such unconscious expectations unchecked can perpetuate disappointment. It’s time for an empowering perspective: your happiness is yours to create.
Who knows you better than you do? No one– not your mama, not your yoga buddy, not even your bedfellow. That means, you hold the key to your own happiness. This shock may initially seem like a burden, but it should be a relief because, guess what? Your partner is in charge of his or her own happiness as well. And there you have the recipe for a content couple. If you want your partner to smile more, start by smiling more yourself. Good vibes are contagious.
#2: When things go wrong, it’s their fault. Riiiiiight. Blame is a vicious cycle which leads to more blame. It’s also one of the biggest predictors of a relationship’s demise. If you think about it, pointing the finger is a childish response. The mature stance is to take responsibility for one’s own part. Aside from domestic abuse or other extreme exceptions, both parties contribute to conflict. How important is it for you to be “right?” At what cost must you assert your moral superiority? Defend your self-image? See justice done? It’s easy to get caught up in defending yourself. But do everyone a favor. Stop the madness.
Check yourself and chill out. Hint: practice using “I statements.” For example, if your spouse forgets your anniversary, instead of accusing, “You always forget,” take a moment and self-reflect. Your chat with yourself might go something like this: “I feel disappointed because I had expectations. Hmmm. Do I ever forget important things? Yes. I forgot my Dad’s birthday last year…” Then, after you’ve collected yourself, state your needs in a direct and loving way, “I feel the need to celebrate with you. Napa for the weekend? I’d love it if you’d plan a nice dinner for us somewhere fun.”
#3: If it’s not easy, this isn’t your Soul Mate. All relationships take work to maintain. Effort is essential, to a point. Just like good manners and good posture, good relationships require attention. So having to “work on it” isn’t necessarily an indication that it’s not the right match. The truth is, there are probably many potential partners out there who could serve as your “ideal mate.” And even ideal mates take maintenance.
Even as you work on your interpersonal skills, don’t forget to do your own personal work. A whole person attracts a whole person. A person with holes attracts a person with holes. So, get yourself straight before you date. And if you’re in a relationship, keep improving it from the inside out. Remember, “Us” starts with “U.”
People tend to believe pleasant myths of romantic love until they learn the hard way. But just in case you want to ride the fast track to truth, remember these tips: 1. Realize only you can make you happy. 2. Own your part in conflict. 3. Even the best relationships take effort. Now you’re ready to go forth and claim your happiness, alone and together.