We have so few opportunities to learn about relationships from people who actually know what they’re talking about. Unless we go to therapy or counseling, we are more likely to pick up on relationship lessons from TV, music, movies, and our families.
Unfortunately, that means we are exposed to some pretty terrible lessons about love and relationships. I grew up with parents who had five divorces between them and with the idea that Ross and Rachel were the most romantic couple in the world. Toxicity was passion. Those relationships were things we should aspire to.
Clearly, I had a lot to learn as an adult. Maybe most of us do. These are the terrible patterns I had to fix.
Lesson 1: I Had to Fix Everything
In my earliest relationships, I thought the responsibility to fix my partner’s emotional distress fell on my shoudlers. I let their resentment and emotional neediness eat at me to the point that I would feel guilty if I wasn’t able to fix the problem. I would especially feel guilty if the problem was poorly communicated (or perhaps never communicated at all).
We should all take responsibility for our own feelings. Nobody else is responsible for my happiness, and I am not responsible for theirs. When we learn to clearly communicate our needs, we can make better partners.
Lesson 2: Keeping Score Is Healthy
Tit-for-tat is a terrible basis for a relationship. Not everything is going to be fair all the time — that’s simply a fact. If you want a healthy relationship, you can’t keep track of exactly how many times you’ve comforted your partner after a hard day at work and then throw it in their face later when you want something.
A relationship can still be healthy if it is not perfectly fair. We don’t need to keep score, trading task for task as evidence of love. Give out of love and receive out of love.
Lesson 3: Hints Work
In movies and TV shows, you can hint that you want a special gift. You can hint that you want to get married in the next year. In real life, that doesn’t work.
Hints aren’t the way to get what you want. Hints are a great way to get disappointed.
Lesson 4: Romance Is All-Consuming
When I was a teenager, I had this idea that one day I would magically meet this person who was the other half of me. My soul would slowly move in the direction of this person until we finally met, and the moment would be magical.
Nobody completes me. Nobody is my second half. My life is fulfilled by me, and my boyfriend is the dessert, the extra stuff I want in my life.
Unlearning these lessons is probably harder than learning them was in the first place. I spend a lot of time wondering how we are so bad at relationships. The only reason we still exist is via reproduction, and yet maintaining the relationships that foster procreation is so difficult. Will we ever get better at this? I don’t know. But I’m doing my best.