My parents were married for 60 years. My father remarried recently, three years after Mom’s death. He and his new bride, both in their 80’s, had long, successful marriages and felt their life would be happier using those relationship skills again. They’re right. Most people are much happier when actively engaged in intimate relationships (romantic, family or close friends).
At the wedding, I was speaking with some of my nieces, who told me that it is nearly impossible to find a “good man” capable of the commitment my father has made twice in his life. A few days later, I heard the same complaint from some young men, who told me that there just aren’t any “good women” who are interested in marriage and raising a family.
The Unhappiness Myth of the Soulmate
Oh, the tortured quest for one’s soul mate that plagues young people. I’m glad those days are behind me.
I must confess. After being happily married for 32 years myself, I think the idea of a “soul mate” is a limiting, and in my opinion, a very silly belief. This happiness myth suggests that someone will swoop into your life, strike you dumbfounded, and magically complete you, filling all of the lonely corners of your soul.
Don’t misinterpret what I am saying. Marriage has been a wonderful experience for me and I can’t imagine my life without my husband. But, I think there are some strong misconceptions about how successful relationships work. These misconceptions will prevent you from finding and keeping a life partner until you decide to release them.
Marriage is about building a life together. It’s not some kind of emotional ATM that dispenses attention and devotion on demand. What people who have long and successful relationships know is that before you can be part of a happy couple, you must first be reasonably happy with yourself. In other words, the only person who can complete you, or fulfill you, is you.
Finding a Romantic Partner
That’s a nice thought, but most of us, both men and women, want to be part of a romantic couple. It’s no fun being complete all by your lonesome. When the relationship is good, we are happier being coupled with another. So, how does one go about finding the right romantic partner?
The way to attract someone to share your life is to develop good relationship skills. I know. That’s not a very sexy answer and it sounds a lot like work, but it’s true. When you fill yourself with fantasies of what should happen in a relationship, you overlook the genuine opportunities for commitment and companionship that come into your life. Before you can make room in your life for a mate, you have to be willing to give up the myths that interfere with successful relationships.
The Enneagram Guide to Avoiding Romantic Misery
The Enneagram offers guidance for building relationship skills. Many people read the Enneagram profiles to see how they match up. You can also use the defensive behavior patterns described by the Enneagram to observe your choices and actions. Each of us has the same psychological defenses described by the Enneagram Stress Arrows. Some are more dominant in your personality that others. You also have the seeds for all of the higher qualities of the Enneagram. By observing your defensive attitudes and behaviors, you give yourself the opportunity to choose a better, healthier way to develop relationships.
Here’s the nine ways we doom our relationships before they have a chance to grow. Does any of this sound familiar?
Ennea-Point One: The Myth of a Perfect Mate
Give up the idea of a perfect match. Finding a life partner does not involve a shopping list of “perfect” qualities to fit your fantasy. In reality, successful partners accept the weaknesses in themselves and their partners as part of the bond they share. Flaws are an opportunity to grow closer.
Ennea-Point Two: The Fulfillment Myth
Give up the idea that anyone will fulfill all of your desires for now and forever. Desires change as you grow. In mature relationships, partners share their dreams and desires, but it is your responsibility to fulfill your desires, not your partner’s.
Ennea-Point Three: The Myth of the Perfect Couple
Give up the idea that a relationship has anything to do with appearances. Successful partners focus on the priorities of the life they build together, and don’t worry about their image as a couple.
Ennea-Point Four: The Emotional Support Myth
Give up the idea that a life partner will always be there to help you manage, control, sort or otherwise handle your emotions. Successful relationships offer support, but the only person responsible for your emotional mastery is you.
Ennea-Point Five: The Best Friend Myth
Give up the idea that your mate must double as your best friend forever, sharing every moment of your life. No one person can fill all of your companionship needs. Successful partners have many friendships and support the friendships of their mate. They don’t limit their interests and growth to only what can be shared with their partner.
Ennea-Point Six: The ‘Monogamy is Unnatural’ Myth
Give up the idea that you can achieve intimacy with your mate if you are not willing to commit fully to the relationship. The happiest people are in healthy, successful long-term relationships that are based on trust and a shared commitment. Most humans, along with many other species in this world, fair better with monogamy.
Ennea-Point Seven: The Supportive Partner Myth
Give up the idea that your partner must be 100% supportive of everything you decide to try. Successful relationships thrive on respect and that includes differing perspectives. Support often means pointing out the flaws in your flight plan before you go jumping off a cliff.
Ennea-Point Eight: The Leadership Myth
Give up the idea that one partner is always in charge and the other follows. In successful relationships, both partners take the lead sometimes based on their strengths and skills.
Ennea-Point Nine: The Comfort Myth
Give up the idea that your mate will always make you feel safe and comfortable. No one is able to compensate for all of the unsettling things that happen in your life. In successful relationships, partners offer the help that they have to give without any expectation of being able to “fix everything.”
Romance is one of the great joys we experience in this life, and yet, I believe it is undervalued. We tend to focus on the flaws of our partners and how they don’t match up to the expectations we imagine in our fantasies. We talk about the 43% of first marriages that end in divorce, but what about the 57% who get it right? We cling to our relationship failures as evidence that “the good ones are all taken.” What about people like my father and his new bride who decide to find the good in another person after losing a long-term mate?
The Joy of Romantic Reality
Romance is much better in reality than in the realm of fantasy. It can make all of the difference to your happiness on days when life seems to be picking on you. It gives you someone to share the best moments of your life with someone who will genuinely rejoice with you.
However, no one is going to sweep into your life and take away all of your unhappiness with nothing but the sunshine of their presence. Next time you are watching a romantic movie, notice how the romance doesn’t really get started until both people give up their unreasonable expectations and start to connect to each other as people. Love has room to grow when we release all of our expectations of what should happen, and connect to the real opportunities for love that enter our life.
Next month, how the Enneagram can guide us through the troubled periods in our relationships.