I’ve always liked movies and as a little kid/teenager/twenty-something year old I delighted in movies about falling in love and living happily ever after as much, if not more, than the hopeless romantic next to me. Most movies make romantic relationships look easy. Hollywood seems to acknowledge that it isn’t always easy to find the “right” person but once the main character snags that person with a magical look from across the room the rest is a piece of cake.
I think Hollywood has left many of us with skewed perceptions about love and relationships. Even the expression falling in love is flawed. Do we ever really just fall in love? It’s not like falling off our bikes or falling into a pool of water. It’s not supposed to be something that accidentally happens to us. We don’t instantly love another person. If we do, we may love them for who they appear to be rather than who they are. Truly loving someone means knowing who he or she is and loving that person whom you’ve gotten to know on a deep level. We may say we’ve fallen in love but the truth is we’ve chosen to be in love.
Once we’ve decided to love somebody else enough to be in a relationship we’ve also decided to work. We’ve decided to work because relationships are work. The word work might sound scary so I think it’s important to include a definition.
Work: activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.
Now if we look at the word in this context it makes sense. If the goal is a long term fulfilling relationship of course it will take effort to make that happen. How else would it be possible? While it’s true that all types of relationships take work, romantic relationships are different from other relationships in our lives. Unlike our family of origin we get to choose our life partner. Since most of us hope to have a partnership that lasts forever it means we’re committing ourselves to a journey full of effort. Don’t get me wrong, relationships of all kinds, are also a lot of fun. I simply wouldn’t want anyone to go in blind thinking relationships are easy breezy and then be shocked when they learn healthy relationships don’t just happen to us.
So why are relationships hard? Each of us comes from our own family of origin with our own history and our own way of doing things. Sometimes we forget that our significant other does not think exactly how we think. It might be natural for you to eat dinner at nine o’clock every night but your partner never ate past seven thirty when they were growing up. Maybe you feel closeness means talking to your parents everyday while your partner is close with his or her parents because they speak once every two weeks. One of you likes to plan what you’re doing for the next month and the other one would rather decide what they feel like doing that day in the moment. These may sound like simple differences but not discussing how you think or feel could lead any one of these differences to turn into a huge fight. There are bigger conversations to have too, such as how you both feel about how to spend money, having debt, where you want to live, if you want to have children, and how you want to raise those hypothetical children. Even talking about these topics and making decisions doesn’t mean the work is done. It’s easy to assume that because you agree on something you’re thinking the same exact way but you’re not.
Each person within the couple comes from his or her own personal experiences which forms how he or she operates. The best way to work as a couple is for each individual to be in touch with him or herself so they can communicate to their partner what they need or want from the other person as well as the relationship as a whole. Things get real when we meet someone and decide we want to build a life with them. Our needs are no longer the only needs that matter. It’s time to listen to what the other person wants too. It’s time for compromise. Most people want to believe happily ever after happens because they’ve found the person they want to spend the rest of their lives with. The truth is happily ever after happens because they work to make it happen.