Relationships: Mythology versus Reality: most of us are doing it wrong

Gerry Maguire Thompson

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Okay, here’s the stuff we’re encouraged to believe about romantic relationships and partnerships and how they work.

Society offers us a ready-made fully-fledged fairy-tale mythology, and most of us buy into it. It’s surprising how deeply rooted this mythology can be in many of us — even though we might be aware of it. Here are the basic points of this belief system as it affects what kind of relationship you can have, and how it works:

1: The chances of a romantic relationship working out are predestined, and completely out of your control. They’re in the stars or something (substitute your own wold-view/background spiritual belief system here).

2: There is a Ms Right or Mr Right out there, just for you. All you have to do is find them (and persuade them that you’re their Mr or Ms Right). Pairs of Ms Rights or Mr Rights are now permissible in this mythology. They didn’t used to be).

3: When you find the right person, they will make you completely happy. Your happiness completely depends on them. It’s nothing to do with you.

4: If a relationship doesn’t work out, that’s because it ‘wasn’t meant to be’; it was nothing to do with you. Or them.

5: When a relationship ends like this, it’s important that you retrospectively forget all the bits that were actually quite good, remember all the bad bits and make up more even worse bits that didn’t actually happen, and tell yourself that it was obviously never going to work out because it wasn’t meant to be; so then it’s obviously not your fault. It can be their fault, though — that’s permitted in this creation of a retrospective view, which can differ as much as you like from what actually happened. And you’ll believe it.

Here, by contrast, is the truth about relationships:

1: Your happiness is not determined by your romantic partner (it’s determined by you. Wow, that’s a biggie!)

2: Relationships are mostly what you make of them; they do not arrive fully-formed. There isn’t a single Ms or Mr Right for you; you’re capable of building a good relationship with a large number of different people (but not all at the same time). You need to be realistic, though: some pairings will just be too challenging to get them to work.

3: ‘Good’ relationships are manufactured — built from the ground up, cultivated, grown over time

4: Such a relationship can be a medium in which two people can develop together, as a result of what the relationship brings up — developing and evolving together, overcoming problems and challenges, and growing as a result. Problems do not mean that the relationship ‘wasn’t meant to be’ and therefore ‘must end’.

5: The relationships which continue are those relationships which people continue with

6: Some people talk about having a ‘Trial Separation’ when things get unbearable. A trial separation is a disinvestment which can in no way help a relationship to work better. A trial separation turns into a permanent separation

7: None of this real-world stuff makes the relationship any less romantic — on the contrary, romance grows with continuing commitment and effort

So relationships are active rather than passive processes. The process will be helped by things like:

□ sticking at it

□ investing in the relationship rather than outside it

□ talking about stuff that’s coming up for you both

□ trusting

□ being trustworthy

□ doing stuff together

□ also doing some stuff apart

“All this,” I hear you say, “is easy to say but harder to do”. To which I say: that’s right; it’s simple, but not easy. Anyway, what do I know? I’ve only been in one relationship for the last 28 years.

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Gerry is a best-selling author, book coach, humorist and blogger

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