For Couples Who Love Each Other But Wonder If They’re Compatible
Perfect match… or deep connection?
I. How your Happy Ending got derailed by a moment of connection
You are a Luminous Being. You come to Earth and have a body of whatever size, shape and color. You live in a dwelling with furniture and faucets and family. You acquire political and religious beliefs, cuisine preferences, rules of etiquette.
You go to school/work, have friends/colleagues, and acquire more opinions — clothes you like and bands you hate and places you hang out. You go online or watch TV, and your preferences really kick into high gear.
From all this you start to form a vision of the life you want. The one where you’re living “happily ever after.” You compare your Happy Ending to the life you have, and set out to close the gap. You may spend the rest of your life at this.
Your identity is formed from the stuff of your environment, but no one else has had precisely your family, your friends, your browsing history, your baby temperament, your fractured finger at 7, your broken heart at 17, your role in the school play, your promotion at work. You are complex, quirky, unique, and evolving.
Likely your Happy Ending doesn’t just involve you alone. You see couples in love and want that, or you see players playing and want that. And before long you’ve fleshed out in great detail the person or people in your Happy Ending —your attractive, successful, charming spouse, or the endless train of hotties in your bed, or whatever your vision is.
Now you compare everyone you encounter to your Happy Ending. Of all the components of your vision, the hardest fill is the other human in the picture. No one fits perfectly. Nor do you fit their vision. Everyone is complex, quirky, unique, and evolving. Like elaborate jigsaw puzzle pieces that never quite match up, no matter how you turn them.
Then something unexpected happens:
Your Luminous Being has a moment of connection with someone else’s Luminous Being.
And all of the accumulated layers that you call you fall away, and the two of you, who have known each other forever, have a crazy, funny-meeting-you-here moment of familiarity and communion. And you know each other the way twins sometimes do. And you have a good chuckle together about everything that’s not working in the world and how tortured you are about it. And for the first time since you landed here you feel like you’re home. For the first time ever, you are not alone. You, the luminous being, have another luminous being there with you.
Then you pop back into your body and your list of preferences and your life, and you look over at the complex, quirky, unique person over there and think, that person does NOT match my Happy Ending. Everything about them is wrong. I have a trajectory, dammit, and it certainly isn’t embodied by that over there.
And then you think, what the hell am I supposed to do now, just abandon my Happy Ending altogether in order to build something with this person?
Or do I say, thank you very much, that was one hell of an experience we shared together, now I’m returning to my regularly scheduled programming, my pursuit of my Happy Ending?
If you are facing this dilemma in your relationship — Do I continue down a completely wrong path with this person, or do I get on with the enactment of my Happy Ending? — I have something for you to consider.
II. The importance of connection
The experience of human connection is distinct from every other experience that’s available to us. Even the very best four-star dining experience, deliciously and beautifully prepared… Even the very best downhill ski run, with pristine powder and azure blue sky… Even your greatest achievements in business, your most gratifying book read, your richest travel experience… While wonderful, and peak experiences of their own, they aren’t substitutes for human connection.
We are built for connection. It’s what we come to relationship for. It’s the reason we have others in our life. Everything else there is, we can experience alone. You can now have a beautiful dream wedding without a groom or bride if you want. That is an actual thing. You can have a once in a lifetime honeymoon vacation, without a partner. Our hunger for connection drives us to want to share life’s moments with another person. Our bucket list is populated with our best excuses to experience connection.
In fact, much of our Happy Ending is made up of ingredients that we decided at some point would be ideal for fostering connection.
III. Let’s have a conversation
Here’s a conversation I have had more than a few times with people looking for clarity on their rocky relationship.
Let’s say it’s a guy for pronoun purposes, but it doesn’t matter, the conversation is the same. I invite him to begin by telling me whatever he thinks would be useful for me to know about his situation. He starts to list problems they’re having. I listen to everything, and take notes. He wonders if he’s talking too much; I encourage him to keep going. Eventually after a detailed recounting of all of their challenges and struggles, he says, “I think that’s about it.”
He figures he’s probably buried any glimmer of hope I may have had for the success of their relationship, and is surprised to see I’m not not worried. Honestly, nothing he’s said is a deal breaker. But we haven’t gotten to the most important topic yet.
“So you’re still hanging in there. How come?”
“What do you like about her, what’s good about the relationship? That kind of thing.”
After a brief pause, he starts to say something positive but it quickly devolves into more complaint. Something like, “Well… she treats me well when she’s not [blah blah blah] — ”
“Hold on!” I interrupt, clapping my hands for emphasis. “Tell me why I should care about your relationship.”
“I know there’s something special between you. You just gave me a pretty good laundry list of reasons to break up… but here you are. Talking to a relationship coach. Hoping beyond hope for it to work out. Obviously there’s a reason for that. But I’m about to become emotionally invested in you two thriving and having a fantastic relationship together. So you need to put into words, as best you can, what about her makes it all worth it. Because that’s what this relationship is going to be built on — why you two are actually together in the first place. So. Make a case for why you’re with her. What has it be worth continuing. Tell me why I should care. Because obviously you do.”
At this point, one of two things happens.
Either he starts to give me The Checklist — all the ways she’s so perfect for him, and everything he was searching for, and he’s everything she was searching for too, and how ideal it all seemed in the beginning, and how he doesn’t understand why he isn’t happier, why they aren’t happier, and it just doesn’t make any sense….
If that’s his response, we’re in trouble. This is the first point in the conversation
Because if they’re each other’s ideal Checklist partners but they don’t have connection, it’s going to be tough. They’ve created a perfect recipe for an affair later on down the road, or working out an “arrangement,” or settling into a passionless marriage of companionship and convenience and appearance for the career and the PTA, or getting divorced. If I work with them it’s likely to look a lot like the work I do with someone who’s not in a relationship at all, looking at the blocks to intimacy and getting each of them, as individuals, to open up and be connectable. Then there comes to be the possibility of actual relationship coaching.
IV. The Commitment Threshold
But the second possibility is that, after my question, there’s a long pause….
…And then finally he says, “I honestly don’t know. I don’t know how to answer you. I just know I love her and I want to spend the rest of my life with her.”
To which I reply, “Good enough for me.”
That I can work with. Because connection, the very thing he’s struggling to put words to, is what relationships are made of.
And if I work with this couple, first thing we do is to delve deeply into why they’re together, what the nature of their complex, quirky, unique connection is. Why — out of all the billions of people on the planet — why him, why her? What arises between the two of them that exists nowhere else.
And all of the things they love most about each other are precisely what they hate most about each other. And all of the differences between them that complement each other so beautifully are also what they clash over the hardest. And all the ways they’re like two peas in a pod are also the ways they vie for the same role and refuse to meet each other.
And beneath all of it is the reason they’re really together. We keep going until we have it in our bones what the connection is between them that underlies the relationship.
I’ll be honest: occasionally, a couple will decide to break up at this point. If that happens, unlike the typical break-up, they usually split amicably and with mutual clarity, a ton of gratitude, and renewed optimism about what the future holds. The love between them is restored, not lost, as they breathe a sigh of relief and set out on their separate paths.
If they stay together — and that’s more typical — they feel a renewed sense of clarity and commitment. They have crossed a threshold. Three things are true now that weren’t true before.
First, they have no fear. They’re still facing the same problems, but their doubt, hesitancy, and ambivalence about the relationship itself is absent.
Instead of thinking, We have major challenges and I’m not sure if it’s ever going to work, and I’m trying to decide whether to keep trying or just give up… now they’re thinking, We have major challenges and we are going to work it out. You’re the one I’ve chosen to share this life with. It’s no longer a question.
Second, they have a rudder. They have a way through disputes, concerns, or doubts, using this litmus test: What will honor our connection, the reason we’re together? What will cultivate that?
And third, they have a fresh start. They’re well set up to reconstruct their relationship from the ground up, based on who they are and the nature of their connection. A relationship unique to them — one that’s not going to look like any other relationship on the planet — and more importantly, a relationship true to them. Complex, quirky, unique, and evolving.
V. Magnetic Puzzle Pieces
And so we might be complicated puzzle pieces but we have magnetic cores. And our connection doesn’t care whether our edges fit. I’d sooner put my money on the incompatible couple whose cores are bound to each other, than on the perfectly matched couple who have no magnetism between them.
So take a moment to think about your partner and ask yourself: of all the billions of people in the world, why them? What exists between the two of you that wouldn’t exist between you and anyone else on the planet? Because that is going to be your guide to how to have your relationship thrive.
This is a start. If you’d like to continue the conversation, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2016 by Ken Blackman. All rights reserved.
About the author:
Ken Blackman has worked with hundreds of couples from San Francisco to Paris to Sydney, and trained thousands of students in his workshops on intimacy and connection. His work has received attention everywhere from Cosmopolitan to Business Insider to Playboy. With nearly two decades of experience, Ken’s powerful, unapologetic break from conventional relationship advice is shifting the world conversation around love and committed coupledom.