I don’t ask you to love me always like this, but I ask you to remember. Somewhere inside of me there will always be the person I am tonight. F. Scott Fitzgerald – Tender is the Night
Love is a topic that we Americans know little about. And how could we? Nobody ever teaches us anything about it. Think about the verbiage we use to describe such matters. We refer to things romantic as “affairs of the heart.” Nobody ever describes the most important decision any of us will make, the choice of a life partner, as “a matter of the brain.”
No, we consign this vital choice of a mate to visceral response, chance and, often, total absence of logical thought. As we are aware, the divorce rate hovers around 50%. While no one plans on divorce on their way into the church, chapel or synagogue, half of us end up lining the pocket of a member of the Bar Association as we leave spouse and kids behind in an aimless pursuit. Of what? Of whom? Do we even really understand what we are doing?
Why is this so? Why is it that so many otherwise bright, educated, and successful individuals fail at this most crucial situation? I believe that one reason is to be found in the wisdom of our venerable “snowman.”’ As my readers recall (and the introductory panel on snowmantherapy.com explains) the metaphor of the snowman tells us that our operative thoughts and beliefs (T) dictate all our behaviors (B). In turn, our behaviors generate resulting feelings (F). Simply stated, as we change our thoughts, we change our lives.
But back to love and mate selection. What are a few of our operative beliefs about successful partner choice?
Success in marriage is a result of choosing the right mate.
There is one ideal partner for each of us.
Destiny leads us to “the right one”
Happiness flows from finding “our perfect puzzle piece.”
At this point, my readers may wish to argue, “I don’t believe those statements. I know there is no such thing as perfection.” All right, but how do we operate? In a conflict or argument, which train of thought, as shown below, is more common?
Why did he/she do that? What’s wrong with him/her?
What did I do to generate his/her behavior?
How could I have made the situation better?
For most of us, I believe that our thinking is more often similar to the first statements than the second set of thoughts
When I am counseling a couple, I explain that there two kinds of partner choices. The first I describe as “bad choices.” Bad choices involve psychopaths (those totally lacking in a conscience), and addicts who resist needed change, and unrepentant narcissists). Such partners’ attempts to make the relationship work inevitably fail. The dissolution of the relationship may be, regrettably, the only and best option.
“Okay”, my readers may be assuming, “I suppose the opposite of bad choices must be good choices.” The idea of “good choices” may lead us back to the distorted thinking that successful relationships flow from finding that “perfect puzzle piece.” I prefer to think that the opposite of a bad choice is an “opportunity.” This term suggests that a successful relationship is a work in progress. I firmly believe that the vast majority of men and women who seek to enter into an enduring relationship are not bad choices. They are capable of building a rewarding life with another person.
To amplify the point that most individuals seeking to enter into a committed relationship are potentially viable partners, allow me to submit what may be the most UNROMANTIC statement you’ve ever heard:
Most of us marry the first acceptable person who comes along when we decide it is time to enter into a lasting relationship.
As I said, that’s a pretty unemotional contention. But think about it. Why would you commit to the second acceptable partner/mate? What happened to the first one? We might have been in love at 15, but clearly knew that we were too young to marry. We may have considered our 20’s or 30’s as an acceptable time for committing to a partner but hadn’t found one yet. You get the point. When we are ready (age and life situation-wise) and meet what we consider to be an acceptable partner, we pull the trigger.
But perhaps your “ideal partner”, your “soul mate” was your girlfriend/boyfriend at age 15. Or even worse, you believe that the person you meet on the job or in your neighborhood, fifteen years after marriage, is your most compatible person ever? What’s to be done? Destroy a marriage? Break up an otherwise functional family? Basically good, conscience-bearing partners make that decision all the time. And what happens? They discover that the new partner isn’t a “perfect puzzle piece” either. Success in the new relationship is also going to depend upon effort. Perhaps the same degree of effort and insight with the first partner could have yielded success in that partnership too. And no legal fees or disrupted and hurt children.
In our wonderful, free country, each of us chose our mates. Very few arranged marriages here. Since we found our mate attractive and desirable at one point, why not work on improving that relationship, rather than chasing the false belief that “the perfect puzzle piece” is out there?
Homework: Is your current partner a truly “bad choice” or a viable “opportunity”? Take a deep and honest look at what your operative beliefs are about love relationships. Are your beliefs based upon fantasy (Jack and Rose from Titanic? Star-crossed lovers like Romeo and Juliet?)? Or upon a reality-based understanding that relationships require patience, compromise, and commitment. Once again, if we change our thoughts, we change our life. And our marriage.