As human beings, we are destined to be socially involved with each other. There’s even a special part of our brain devoted to recognizing faces. Engaging with and relying on other people has allowed us to preserve our species. I mean, it does take two of us to reproduce. Throughout our history we have kept each other safe and assisted each other in finding food and needed resources. We did this to help each other stay alive and well. Whether you want to believe it or not, people need each other. That being said, the world of humans has changed a lot over time.
We are now socialized to believe particular ideas and expectations of what a relationship should look like and how people should act in relationships. This type of judgment (I feel) is what impedes genuineness, builds subtle resentment, and interferes with moving through relationships in healthier ways. Judgment accompanies expectation; expectation often leads to disappointment. For example, many people hold an irrational idea that if the relationship doesn’t “work out” it is somehow their fault, or they have failed in some way. Many people take this idea to mean they are defective or that they need to fix something about themselves that is wrong. I do not believe that is the case most of the time. There are many reasons (discussed in future blogs) why we have a tendency to remain in “expired” relationships until they are just too horrible to tolerate any longer. The “rock bottom” in the relationship becomes the catalyst to change, and remaining in extended unhappiness for long periods of time will amplify any relief. In other words, we stay miserably patient waiting for our partner to change until the misery becomes too overwhelming. Then, when we exit the relationship, we confuse the feeling of moving out of unhappiness with the feeling of moving into happiness. We soon realize the grass is not greener on the other side as we deal with the same issues in new relationships. I’m just gonna be real with you…you gotta fertilize your own lawn.
Most people believe that falling in love is the end game. That’s the easy part! In the beginning, there’s all this courting and wooing each other. We try so hard to impress each other, and we take time to be sure the other person knows how much we care about them. It’s new and exciting, and all the songs on the radio are about your relationship. It’s the most awesome feeling ever!! Here’s the (not really) bad news. It will not stay this way. It’s impossible to maintain “romantic” or “passionate” love long-term. Seriously, would you really want it to stay like the beginning? Think about it. All that anxiety about what to wear, and how to smell, and saying the right thing; having to meet friends and parents, hoping to win their approval. All of that is beautifully replaced by the calm, safe feeling of being wholly accepted exactly as you are. Flawless.
Dancing the night away and long walks on the beach are wonderful. So are movie nights on the couch cuddled up with all your favorite snacks. The snacks your loving partner was able to get without having to ask what you wanted. So, let’s not run away in disappointment the next time passionate love begins to diminish. It may soon be replaced with a different type of love that is more stable and less selfish than passionate love.
People are drawn together because of an attraction. This is a physical attraction of some kind, obviously, since there is no way for two people to really know each other if they just met. Building a long-term relationship takes time…and skill…and work. We have all heard the saying love conquers all…except that it doesn’t. Love does not pay bills, love does not create agreement on every subject, and love does not take personal accountability for poor decisions or mistakes. These jobs are undertaken by each partner in the relationship. Like I said, relationships require work. Daily work. Nonstop work. Love is absolutely a key ingredient in intimate relationships, but love does not provide us with the skills necessary to resolve conflict or communicate effectively.
So how do so many people “get stuck” in relationships that are not satisfying? What reasons could there possibly be for individuals to stay when it’s time to go? Check back next week for "part 2" to read about some of the reasons people provide in defense of staying.