Monday, July 26, 2010

A Distorted Lens on Love

That which makes good storytelling, rarely makes good reality. The kinds of story lines that make a compelling 2 hour movie simply do not reflect what happens in the real world, and that is a problem. The media gives two inaccurate views of romance. One image, generally shown in movies, is that two people will meet, know by divine inspiration that they are meant to be together, have a series of challenges, but finally overcome and live happily ever after. The other, generally shown in TV series, is that romance will always be fraught with peril, mistrust, and deceit.

Mrs. Jennings says: I was raised knowing that marriage was my path to happiness. My job was to prepare myself to find an excellent husband, and I feel I did that. I love Mr. Jennings, and I enjoy taking care of our children, but sometimes I wonder if I am doing things right. We don't seem to be as happy as we are supposed to be.

Amanda is discussing the problems that come from the perfection and simplicity that the media shows. The media, as well as society in the form of her friends and family, led her to believe in this image of the perfect fairy tale marriage. Movies show happily ever after because that is what people want to see. Real life is complicated, fiction should be simple. This is the common consensus among the movie viewer.

Unfortunately, this sets us up for disappointment. We go into a relationship expecting perfection and find normality. (Do you seriously think that Prince Charming never left the lid to the privy up?) The plain and simple fact of the matter is that the love of your life is just a person.

So, if a relationship is just two people coming together, with all of their foibles, different expectations, different opinions, and different habits, what creates a successful relationship? Communication. (Answering questions is easier when the answer is so often the same.)

For this purpose, however, communication is not simply talking. It is talking openly and honestly. For a relationship to survive past the New Relationship Energy (NRE) stage, a couple needs to be able to communicate without bias or assumption.

This is when you have to free yourself from all the assumptions of what a relationship should be like, what your partner should be like, and what you should both think and feel. For example, it is normal to notice and be interested in other people outside of your partner. This is not a problem. If these thoughts become so intense that they are distracting, then they are an indication that something is wrong. However, this is not the beginning of the end, but the beginning of the solution.

In many couples, if one person were to confide in their partner that they were finding themselves more attracted to other people, this would start a big ole nasty fight, encouraging this person not to confide again in the future. However, if you can speak openly and honestly, then whole new vistas of solutions present themselves.

The most important thing to keep in mind when trying to communicate openly like this is that your partner's comments do not suggest a failing on your part. They are not saying that you have failed to satisfy them due to a fundamental deficiency on your part. Rather, they are giving you the sign posts to show you how to give them what they need. If they really didn't like you, they wouldn't still be with you, so anything they say, even negative things, they say because they care enough to try to improve things.

In the specific example that we are discussing, where one partner finds their eye wandering, there is a wide range of potential answers. Perhaps the magic is gone because it is harder to think of your partner in the same way you think of that cutie at the coffee shop when you see your partner every morning, belching, scratching themselves, and smelling like an old shoe. A solution might be to schedule a special date night, where both partners go to separate locations to get ready. The answer could be that each partner will put in a little more effort to look good for and to pay attention to the other on a day to day basis.

The answer could even be to let you go and have some fun with that cutie at the coffee shop. I assure you that the first morning that you wake up with the cutie and realize that he also wakes up in the morning belching, scratching and smelling like a shoe, you will have greater appreciation for your partner. However, be very careful with this last one. Do not even think about trying to consider approaching opening your relationship unless you are comfortable with the idea! (This will be discussed in greater depth in future articles.)

Another great thing that open communication leads to is discovering common interests that you were not aware of before. If you are in a long term relationship, you should feel comfortable with expressing your desires to your partner, no matter how wild and crazy they may be. Perhaps they cannot be acted out literally, but maybe there is something else that you can do which you will find satisfying. Maybe you have always thought that it would be great to leave everything behind and travel the country in an RV. Perhaps that is not workable, but what about a two week vacation in an RV? If you can discuss what you and your partner want honestly, you will be able to find some way to satisfy your needs without needing to put your partner out.

Suzie says: I've had a few relationships that really started to go somewhere, but then something happened, and the trust just dissolved.

Society seems to recommend a one strike policy on relationships. Since we have this idea that our partner should be perfect, if he says the wrong thing, then perhaps it is just the tip of the iceberg of some great breach of trust. Your boyfriend says that dress looks bad on you? Maybe he's cheating. Your girlfriend comments on another man's musculature? Maybe she's looking around. Partner doesn't want you to read their email? Perhaps they are a spy for the Chinese! The airwaves are full of people trying to figure out what tabloid plot is taking place in their own circle based on single statements and vague innuendo.

Where does this come from? Watch any TV series that contains romance (Except for True Blood. That show gets relationships right.) and you will see that one single piece of unconvincing evidence is the beginning of a long struggle which ultimately reveals foul play.

You see the husband leaving a coffee shop at 4 in the afternoon! Why? Because he was meeting his mistress! What else would he be doing in a coffee shop at 4 PM?!?!

Thus, when anything remotely suspicious occurs in real life, people often suspect the worst. Unfortunately, this works much like the Law of Attraction, but negatively: ask for trouble, believe in the trouble, receive the trouble.

We do not live in the world of TV. Thankfully, our lives are much less interesting than that. When you come across a suspicious situation, always ask, is this really suspicious or is it just reminding you of a TV drama that you saw recently?

The media offers a fractured view of relationships. They tell stories which are fascinating to watch but would be gut-wrenching to live. Real relationships take hard work, patience and understanding, things that are very boring to watch on the screen, but at least they usually do not involve constant suspicion, betrayal and jealousy. If yours does, it's time to reconsider your situation.
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