Relationships greet us with many challenges, big and small. Love and marriage don't come with a handbook, and sometimes all we know is what we learned growing up. As a relationship coach, I often hear the same complaints repeatedly: "I don't feel heard by my partner." or "I've fallen out of love." or "My partner feels more like a roommate."
So when I passed a truck on the interstate with the license plate EZ2LOVE, my mind tossed this saying around like a fresh salad with big wooden tongs. As a relationship coach, I think about love quite a bit and ways to streamline communication. However, "easy" and "love" aren't words I often hear my clients say in the same sentence. It made me wonder why the driver had posted "easy to love" for all to see. Although the latest studies show a lowering of the divorce rate, particularly with the Millennials, no matter how you look at it, loving is challenging and takes a ton of effort and commitment. And easy is not a word most couples would subscribe to love, relationship, and marriage.
Why are relationships and marriage difficult? Why do many couples struggle, and even divorce? No matter how much you love your partner, conflict will happen.
How Our Past Affects Our Relationships
Most of us start our romantic lives believing love is enough. We fall in love and we live happily ever after. It's that easy, right? That's what fairy tales teach us. That's what movies often portray. It's one of our most pervasive cultural myths.
However, many of us stop believing that "it's happily ever after" pretty early in a relationship—unless we keep looking for a perfect partner in multiple relationships, insisting that our Prince or Princess Charming is still waiting for us. But there's a second kind of myth that trips most people up again and again and again: personal myths.
Related reading: "How to Prune Your Relationship for Greater Love"
We each come into a relationship with our personal story. Each of us grows up weaving many beliefs about ourselves, life, and relationships. We have misconceptions about love, unconscious expectations of our partner, and we also have unfinished business from our past. Let's take a few examples to illustrate.
Suppose that dad spoiled his little princess by giving her everything she wanted, whenever she wanted it. When that little girl grows up, she may believe that a husband who loves his wife buys her lots of gifts and provides an extravagant lifestyle. But what happens if she marries a frugal man? He may love her deeply but express his love through washing her car, listening patiently when she is upset, and taking her on inexpensive outings like a picnic lunch in a delightful spot. Even though these are thoughtful, even romantic gestures, a woman looking for extravagance as proof of love may not feel loved.
Our Unintegrated Trauma Can Draw Us Together for Healing
Or suppose that a boy grew up with a mother whose life revolved entirely around him and his needs: she was a full-time homemaker and mom, always working to create a cozy home or cooking delicious meals and desserts. If he marries a woman who works full-time and is tremendously fulfilled by her career, he may feel ignored and come to resent her.
Or what if one partner grew up with tons of praise and is used to verbal validation. If he or she marries an introverted person who grew up with no parental feedback or with constant criticism, the introvert is unlikely to provide the positive feedback the partner has come to expect.
Related reading: "If You Want a Successful Marriage, Increase Self-Mastery."
Your Perfect Match Is Also Your Invitation to Grow
If you're in a relationship, you get the picture of how challenging it can be. Far from EZ, and far from the perfect match we were looking for. But is the trio of relationship, attraction, and love just the roll of the dice?
In listening to hundreds of couples over the years, I think not. A strong magnet in our unconscious brings us together. Our perfect match draws us—someone who can help us grow by challenging us to be our best and heal those parts of ourselves that require wholeness. But we first need to stop pointing the finger at our partner. They're imperfect, yes. We all have shortcomings and rough edges.
What if how your partner annoys you is a key to what you need to develop?
“Your task is not to seek and find love; your task is to seek and find all the barriers within yourself you have built.”
Revisiting the scenarios above, let's look at them with this understanding and a whole new playbook. The princess who's been spoiled by daddy needs to look for and find evidence of all the ways her husband shows his love in his own unique way. And she will need to learn to value his frugality as a counterbalance to her father's extravagance and possible overindulgence. She'll need to learn to be grateful for simple pleasures and quality time together.
Related reading: "Love Is a Choice—Best Marriage Advice!"
As for the boy who was the center of his mother's universe, he will need to begin to grow the muscles of self-reliance and see this stretch as an opportunity for self-development, not as a deprivation of his partner's affection. He needs to release the illusion that he is a favored child and entitled to 24/7 attention from his partner. And he could also see her devotion to her work as a way she contributes to the larger world and to the financial stability of their family, not as something he must compete with for mommy's attention.
And last, a person who grew up with a lot of positive validation but marries a person deprived of it as a child has landed a perfect opportunity to free himself or herself from depending on external praise and to build internal encouragement. The relationship is a perfect reminder that all true self-esteem comes from within. And an added bonus would be learning to be more aware and compassionate of the need of others for validation, instead of looking for validation themselves.
Love Advice: Each Person Needs to Give 100%Taking responsibility for our own happiness and our impact in our relationship will make all the difference. Love isn't always easy, but it does flow easily if it's unobstructed by our personal myths. The fascinating thing is that once we stop pretending that marriage is a happily-ever-after story and roll up our sleeves and get to work, we can and often do make our relationship one of the fairy tales. Love blossoms.
for specific keys and the best-kept secrets to building a thriving marriage with practical actions that ensure yours is one of the successful relationships! Contact us at Heartmanity for relationship skills at email@example.com.