“What would your relationship be like if it was perfect?”
I have been working with couples for over four decades through many phases of their relationships. Some are newly in love, some are repairing damage, some are still committed to each other but need a booster, and some feel they are in danger of losing the relationship.
One of the questions I ask when I first meet them, is: “What would your relationship be like if it was perfect?”
Their replies vary somewhat but are strikingly similar in many ways. They are influenced by childhood expectations, what is currently being touted on social media and film, what they read from “experts,” or what they experience in their social groups. Added up, they are consistently comparing themselves to how their own relationships are similar or lacking.
In actuality, the partners in great relationships don’t expect “perfect,” and never have. They know that great relationships are created, and then recreated, every day, and are intent on making their partnership continue to improve. They will always be practicing, and do not expect perfection.
There are multiple descriptions of what this fantasy-based "perfect" relationship should be. If couples feel their relationship should be like them, they are bound to feel forever disappointed and create self-fulling processes of failure.
To get you started on comparing your own relationship to what you might have expected, I’ve chosen six common myths that come up regularly with my couples. Hopefully, you’ll be able to find yourselves in some of them but can then explore those that are more personal to your relationships.
Myth #1: Perfect relationship partners are totally compatible.
If that were true, there would never be a successful relationship. It’s always a good thing for both partners to be able to bend, compromise, and generously make room for the desires of the other, but total harmony is totally undoable.
Most relationship partners meet one another after each has had prior relationship experiences that have helped form their opinions and preferences. When they come together, they have to understand where they more automatically trend toward the same dreams and desires, where they might have completely different ways of approaching life and its options, and where they can agree to disagree and successfully negotiate those differences.
Myth #2: Perfect relationship partners have “equal appetites.”
That would mean, of course, that both partners would have the same priorities as to what was the most important, want the same things at the same time, never want something the other doesn’t, and erase or minimize any differences.
I have never come across a couple who naturally gets hungry at the same time, wants sex in the same way and frequency, wants to socialize exactly with the same people at the same time, or sleeps during the same hours. Yes, it’s great when those appetites overlap in a natural way—but most of the successful couples I’ve known expect that they will always need to successfully negotiate the likely difference in appetites they each bring to the relationship.
Myth #3: Great partners always put their relationship first.
One of the great truths of successful relationships is that both partners are flexible in knowing that they have to balance their personal needs, their career needs, their family needs, their spiritual needs, and their relationship needs. These needs often don’t line up in priority for either partner. There is, of course, no room for the betrayal of the basic ethics of a relationship, but there is a deep knowledge that any relationship can never fulfill all of the needs of any person.
To keep each other interesting and interested, successful partners explore and infuse themselves with challenges that come from outside the relationship, bringing those to each other to present as challenges that help the relationship continue to intrigue. Freedom to grow within the commitment is the most successful path.
Myth #4: Great partners are never attracted to anyone else.
Human beings were never constructed to be with one partner who can satisfy all of their needs for a lifetime. As they mature, explore, and expand their awareness, experiences, and options, they are bound to have occasional times where they feel constrained by their partners, no matter how much they value them.
Yet great partners are still fully committed to staying in their relationship. The adage, “I don’t care where you get your appetite, as long as you come home for dinner,” applies well here. Partners who can share their (hopefully temporary) desires for adventures or fantasy relationships with another, without fear of being judged or creating problems, have simply accepted that fact and are not threatened by it.
If an outside pull continues to be strong, they look to each other to make the changes in their relationship that can better fulfill those wandering desires. Their basic agreement is: “I’d rather you’d be somewhere else wishing you were with me than with me, wishing you were somewhere else.” The solutions are not always perfect but the ease and acceptance of these common thoughts and feelings are.
Myth #5: Perfect relationships do not have serious conflicts.
Successful relationship partners always have conflicts because they are constantly growing and changing and want to be challenged by new ways of thinking. They accept that conflicts naturally arise when stimulation and exploration are part of the relationship.
They do, however, have good conflict resolution skills. They know how to listen, respect the other’s views, and look for ways to incorporate those new challenges.
Myth #6: Perfect relationship partners are always “on the same team.”
Compatibility is important, but competition is crucial and what adds spice to any relationship. Successful relationship partners love to challenge each other and they even like to win, if the rules are fair and mutual. They are also good losers.
They spar and spark and play. They are on the same team about morals, values, ethics, fairness, distribution of resources, and the need for spiritual guidance. But they may also love to fight out important issues and to, hopefully, expand each other’s awareness and limitations.
What is the crucial difference is that they agree on who “flies left seat” when they decide who is in charge at any one time. What is best for their relationship determines who is the designated team leader when the situation requires it.