Psychologist Jason Seidel, Psy.D, has heard partners lament all-too often: “This isn’t the person I married” or “I’m worried this person isn’t perfect for me.” And you know what? They’re probably right.
But there’s more to relationships than a partner who remains the perfect fit your entire life. Seidel explains more about the myth of the perfect partner and other relationship fantasies.
1. Myth: Your partner will always be the one.
Fact: There is no “once-and-for-all best match,” said Seidel, founder and director of The Colorado Center for Clinical Excellence in Denver. People and relationships rarely remain static. So that once great fit may “become broken, stale or wrong for [you].” In fact, according to Seidel, as you continue to grow in your life, you might even change who you’d pick as your partner.
A better way of looking at your relationship is to consider whether both of you are willing “to flex, experience, communicate and adjust.” More specifically, is your partner someone you “could struggle to reclaim or build a new way of connecting as [both of you] change,” and “would [you] want to?” Or “is this just great as long as things remain as they are (which they won’t)?”
Other important considerations are what both of you want out of the relationship and whether you’re on the same page when it comes to values and other key issues to you (an example would be having kids). Also, have you seen how your partner acts in a crisis? Do you trust each other? Do you know each other underneath your masks? Do you each honor who the other is?
2. Myth: It’s bad to have doubts before making a commitment or getting married.
Fact: “A lot of people have secret doubts that eat at them before and after the wedding or commitment about whether they are settling and should have held out for something better,” according to Seidel. But that’s not the point of commitment. Statistically speaking, “there is always someone better than your mate in some or even all dimensions of what attracts you or feels like the best fit.”
Also, having doubts is healthy, he said. That’s because “The older you get, the more you’re aware of the potential difficulties in relationships” and that relationships take hard work. The key is to consider if you can overcome these obstacles as a couple, respect each other’s differences and arrive at a compromise.
Couples run into trouble when they struggle with conflict, bury it or use other ways to distract themselves. In a healthy relationship “conflict is productive and mutually collaborative in terms of finding some way through it together,” Seidel said.
3. Myth: A successful relationship means completing each other.
Fact: Movies like Jerry Maguire perpetuate this myth. (Remember when Tom Cruise professed to Renée Zellweger that she completed him?) And it makes sense why this myth is so alluring. As Seidel said, “There is this strong romantic desire to find another person who completes us, who either makes up for our deficits or feels like the missing piece.” But “People aren’t functions for us, and everyone has their own needs and agendas.”
Instead, it’s important for partners to “come into the relationship whole already,” Seidel said. This way, “each person in the partnership has gone enough down their own road of learning who they are and what they need that when they show up in a partnership, they don’t need another person to complete them.” Partners want to connect, collaborate, explore and bond together — and not because they feel alone, needy or desperate, he said.