We all want a happy, healthy relationship with our partner. The problem is no one’s perfect – not you, not your partner. And not surprisingly, two imperfect people create an imperfect relationship. Couples therapist Cindy Norton shows us three ways to embrace imperfection in our relationships and how doing so can actually strengthen our relationships.
Imperfect Love: 3 Ways to Embrace It
by Cindy Norton, NCC, LMFTA
What do you imagine a healthy relationship to look like? Take a minute to really think about this question and then come back to reading.
Did you imagine that the relationship was perfect? Did you imagine that the intense passion experienced in the beginning of a relationship continued throughout the years? Did you imagine a relationship with no arguments, with each partner contributing equally?
I hate to burst bubbles, but a relationship like this only exists in the imagination. To no fault of our own, we are conditioned to believe in this fairy-tale logic and that a perfect relationship is possible.
As long as you hold on to the ideal of a perfect relationship you are keeping yourself, and your partner, stuck in an imaginary land that does not exist and is therefore impossible to succeed in.
Here are 3 ways this idea of perfect love is ruining your relationship.
1) You Believe That Happy Couples Don’t Argue
Arguments are inevitable in all relationships. It is a huge misconception that happy couples get along all the time. Can you imagine living with someone every day for years and never running into an argument? No? Me neither. It would be like an episode of the Twilight Zone.
In terms of disagreements, there is a difference between happy couples and unhappy couples. It’s not that the happy couples do not fight, it’s that they know how to fight.
Did you know that 69% of the arguments you have with your partner are unsolvable? That’s more than half of your fights! This figure is based on Dr. John Gottman’s findings during his 40+ years of research on couple relationships.
The key is to understand which problems you and your partner can solve and separate them from the arguments that you continue to remain gridlocked on. In Dr. Gottman’s book The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, he outlines specific strategies for solving your solvable problems, as well as overcoming the gridlock you and your partner face during the majority of your disagreements.
2) You Keep Score
It makes sense to think that couples who are making equal contributions to the relationship, and to each other, are on the right track. Well, this is mostly true – it just depends on the reasoning behind your contribution.
Quid Pro Quo is defined as a favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something. Is this how your relationship works? Are you keeping score with a running tally of all that you have done for your partner, and attempting to match it up to what your partner has done for you, hoping that your totals are equal? This is a lot of work! And, according to the research of Dr. Gottman, it’s also a sign that your relationship may be in trouble.
Do you really want the running narrative in your partner’s head to be “Well, I’m doing you a favor by washing the dishes, now what are you going to do for me”? Wouldn’t it be much nicer if your partner was thinking “I’m going to do the dishes tonight to help out (period – end of story)”.
3) You’ve Confused Infatuation With Love
Remember when you first started dating your partner? Remember that feeling you had in your gut when you were around them? Did you think the giddiness and butterflies were an indicator of love? And were you tricked into believing that the love you once held for your partner had faded when the butterflies disappeared?
Don’t feel bad over your confusion. It was bound to happen. Again, we are fed fairy tales of love and romance and are flooded with quips like “love at first sight” and “you had me at hello”. With these two phrases we are led to believe that the fireworks feeling we experience early on in the relationship is equal to love.
If you take only one thing away from this article, please understand that moving from passionate love to companionate love is a natural progression of any relationship and is necessary for an attachment bond to form between you and your partner.
Now you may be wondering how long you will be in this stage of infatuation. On average, passionate love lasts from around 18 months to 3 years before growing into a more stable, secure, and comforting love. When this switch happens, don’t get freaked out and think you have fallen out of love with your partner. Give it a chance and reap the benefits of having a long-term love to last throughout the years.
Remember: agree to disagree, don’t keep score, and enjoy companionate love. You are now ready to experience your Happily Imperfect relationship.
About the Author: Cindy Norton is the Owner and Writer at AVL Couples Therapy. She holds a Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy. She is a National Certified Counselor, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate, and is receiving training in Gottman Method Couples Therapy. Cindy will begin seeing clients in her AVL Couples Therapy practice located in Asheville, North Carolina in early 2017. In the meantime, check out her relationship blog for meaningful inspiration and look through the recommended resources to aid in improving and enriching your most important partnership. Cindy also gives away hip relationship swag through her newsletter – sign up here. If you would like to see helpful relationship tips in your social media feed, connect with AVL Couples Therapy on facebook, twitter, instagram, and pinterest.
Suggested Reading: The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman, Ph.D.
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image: Pedro Ribeiro Simões