Nothing in this world is more difficult than love. And nothing is more worth it.
Our media culture – with its happily ever after fairy tales – often creates the expectation that life is supposed to be like an endless day at Disney World. And nowhere does our media culture present a more skewed set of expectations than around intimate relationships. We are swayed to believe a great relationship is all sunshine and roses, despite the fact that most of us have witnessed firsthand the difficulties and disagreements our parents struggled through when we were kids.
Just as life isn’t perfect, intimate relationships aren’t either. They require effort and compromise. They require two people to practice patience and presence, and thoughtfully extend themselves for the sake of the other. They require us to redefine the fairy tale story of love that our media culture has attempted to brainwash us with.
It’s time to take a stand and acknowledge the fact that we’ve been fed lies. We’ve been told that love is just a feeling, but the reality is that love is an action – many actions. It’s continuous work. It’s something two people must commit to as a daily ritual.
When you’re able to accept this new reality, and get past the damaging lies about things needing to be perfect all the time, you make room for the true joy of engaging deeply in a great relationship, which holds a powerful, flexible space that widens itself to accommodate the necessary struggles.
Here are twelve tough truths about great relationships:
- A soul mate is really just a loving partner who’s willing to work with you. – To say that one waits a lifetime for their soul mate to come around is a bit of a paradox. People eventually get tired of waiting, so they take a chance on someone, and by the powers of love and commitment they become soul mates, which takes a lifetime to perfect.
- True love is often the most inconvenient kind. – Again, it takes two people who truly, TRULY want to work together, every day, compromises and all, to build something special. That’s what great relationships are all about – daily teamwork.
- There will be lots of little issues. – When we face pain in relationships our first response is often to sever ties rather than to maintain commitment, but the extent to which two people in a relationship can bring up and resolve issues is a significant sign of the soundness of their relationship.
- There will be lots of tough conversations. – The right words won’t always come easy, but when you don’t talk it out there’s a lot of important stuff that ends up not getting said. Every great couple needs to argue (consciously and mindfully) now and then, just to prove that the relationship is strong enough to survive. Long-term relationships – the ones that truly matter – are all about weathering the peaks and the valleys.
- Conscious, mindful communication is necessary, but takes practice. – You can measure the happiness of an intimate relationship by the number of scars that each partner carries on their tongues, earned from years of biting back angry, unhelpful words.
- There will be more honest misunderstandings than you’d like.– When it comes to understanding your partner, deal with them as they are, not how you’d like them to be. (Read The 5 Love Languages.)
- There will be lots of apologies and necessary forgiveness. – Love is living your own life, but sharing it. It’s forgiveness. It’s making a million little mistakes with each other and turning them into learning experiences. Love is patience, optimism, and sometimes it’s a simple kiss when there’s nothing left to say.
- Partners can’t force changes in each other. – People can only change themselves. Instead of trying to change your partner, give them your support and lead by example. If there’s a specific behavior they have that you’re hoping fades over time, it probably won’t. If you really need them to change something specific, be honest and put all the cards on the table so your partner knows how you feel and why. But keep in mind that the best way to love someone is not to change them, but instead to help them reveal the greatest version of themselves.
- A great relationship isn’t needy. – In a great relationship, you love each other more than you need each other.
- Even the greatest relationship won’t completely fix YOU. – If you’re not happy with yourself, or comfortable with your own truth when entering a relationship, there’s a good chance you’re not ready for that relationship. Work on loving yourself first. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the Self-Love chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Some people won’t support your relationship, no matter how great it is. – Great relationships don’t always make sense, especially from the outside.
- No relationship lasts forever. – People don’t live forever. Appreciate what you have with your partner – the loving moments and all the little things. You’ll never know how much they mean to you until the day they are no longer beside you. And remember, just because something doesn’t last forever, doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth your while.
The bottom line is that all relationships, including the greatest of them all, require patience and effort. And no relationship will work flawlessly all the time.
Being too hot and cold about the expectations and demands of what should or shouldn’t happen in a relationship always spells trouble. No matter what happens, or how great a relationship is, there will be struggles present, but you can still focus on the good. Instead of constantly looking for signs of what’s not working in your relationship, what you need to do is look for signs of what is. Because, as you know, what we focus on grows stronger in our lives.