It was Steve and Alicia’s second visit to my consulting rooms. They sat, tense yet determined, looking at me rather than one another. “so…” I said, “what exactly do you want from each other?” Steve looked at Alicia “you go first” he said. Alicia read out a list: “Steve, I would like you, my partner, to be my confidante, my comforter, the person who I most trust in the world, I need you to pick me up when times are tough, to make me happy. I want a great sex life and then to build a family with you and have a loving relationship.” Steve looked at her. “uhuh. Yeah, that’s pretty much what I want too.”
The Perfect Partner.
The whole shebang, relationship as Great Expectations.
Here’s the thing: perhaps nobody’s perfect, nobody’s “sorted”-perhaps we are in varying degrees a mess; we let our partners down, again and again. If you fall in love with the notion of the idealised or perfect partner you could be chasing a rainbow. There are no problem or conflict free couple relationships (if you know one, it’s in real trouble!)
Your partner is imperfect, messy, cracked and even at times broken.
So are you.
The author and relationships guru John Gottman “discovered that most relationship problems (69%) never get resolved but are “perpetual” problems based on personality differences between partners.” See https://www.gottman.com/about/research/couples/ . This could be a cause for celebration, when we finally accept this. It could be a freedom, a freedom from the tyranny of relationship idealisation, the prison of great expectations that we often find ourselves in.
We can view a relationship as a set of problems to be solved or a relationship to live with; providing that the relationship does not include hardcore hostilities such as domestic violence, drugs, serial affairs (and more) you may be able to shift to a position of getting real love, which stands in its own light as an authentic sense of presence, that loves in spite of the mutual flaws and insecurities.
I hope you never get to a stage where you really, deeply “solve” all your couple relationship problems.
Why? Because I hope that your couple relationship is characterised by a depth of feeling, experience and complexity that is so rich in its development, is such a dynamic crucible of passion and growth that it truly is human, an “unsolvable”.
I hope your partner challenges you and throws out of the nest of your comfort zone again and again, I hope your partner loves you enough to do this, and I hope you love your partner enough to appreciate this. And I hope it’s reciprocal.
The Couples Never Ending Story can feel like The Never-Ending Fight, especially if there is a buy-in to it actually ending. It probably will not; couple relationships at best can be a kind of psychological and emotional container for love and growth (see http://drbren.com/2012/02/01/marriage-as-a-psychological-relationship/ ) and if that container then in turn contains the couple, that is, if in relationship we feel we are emotionally and psychologically contained, we move past the idealised expectations that can bring our relationship to crash-and-burn, and move to getting real love.