Think back to your childhood.. what did you grow up thinking about relationships? Personally, I grew up with romantic fairy tales of knights in shining armour rescuing damsels in distress, followed by happy-ever after high school films and chick flicks and elaborate dreams of my wedding day. Relationships became something magical and idyllic to yearn for, the place where I would meet ‘the one’ and everything would be perfect and I would feel truly loved.
Better than ‘being in love’
The truth is that deep down I knew the reality was different – after all I had watched my parents argue, and felt the tension between them, and my mother had warned me often enough that “you had to work at relationships”. Despite this, I still held on to some sense of this romantic ideal. No wonder the reality was a bit of a shock, and disappointment inevitable – how could my husband, or any human being, ever live up to such a dream? But where did that leave my husband and I? We had no map or guide to tell us the way when our dream ended and somehow amidst the fear, shock and confusion we had to find a new path together. Little did we realise at the time that this was to lead us to something deeper, better and more intimate than the high of ‘being in love’.
So how do we handle the inevitable disappointment, when we realise our partner isn’t the person we imagined they were, that they can’t be the answer and make us happy? In realising that we have to take responsibility for ourselves and learn about being in relationship, it can help to know our experience is normal.
Relationship Truths you need to know
1. It’s normal to go through phases of feeling angry and unable to agree at all with your partner, even feeling resentment and hatred instead of or alongside love. At the start of a love relationship, our focus is on being ‘together’ and ‘in relationship’. Over time, once the ‘we’ is established and we have a sense of the relationship, we then have to find ourselves and our individuality again, so we pull away from our partner. This is a natural and essential phase.
2.It’s normal to feel disappointed that your partner is not who you thought they were. When we ‘fall in love’, we feel everything is possible and that we are whole again. There’s a magical way in which being with our ‘loved one’ enables us to access new parts of ourselves. In the process, we create a ‘fixed image’ of what our partner is like, that is more of a reflection of ourselves and what we want to love, than who they are. OK, so it sounds a little complicated and odd, but stay with me. At some point the mismatch between our ‘fixed image’ of our partner and who they actually are starts to hit home, and we feel enormous disappointment and start to ‘fall out of love’. Remember this is happening for both individuals in the relationship, but that they are likely to reach this point at different times. When we reach this stage in a relationship it’s normal to feel like it’s over and the end of the relationship. Yet, it is actually just the end of one phase and the possibility to discover the next. ‘Falling in love’ is a natural and powerful process that in time brings us to new self-awareness and the next phase of relationship.
3.It’s normal to need some outside help along the way. Relationships are very powerful and it’s not unusual to feel stuck and unable to change the way we are relating. Sometimes, we need a third party to help us break the pattern and understand what is happening, so we can find new ways to manage it and move into a new phase. As a couple’s worker I can bring safety to sessions that allows couples to talk about the unspeakable and help them interpret what has been happening in their relationship.
If as you read this you are nodding and recognising your own relationship then congratulations you are on your way to something deeper and sustainable, however tough and impossible it probably feels at times. Take a risk and chat with your partner about it if you don’t already. It is the conversations we don’t have that seem to lead to most regret and lost opportunities in our relationships.