Everybody has some lofty vision of an ideal relationship. Those of us who find ourselves unable to fulfill that vision may consider ourselves scorned.
Some of us envision specific characteristics that we hope our significant other will fulfill.
We may hope that they are similar to us in some ways, and dissimilar in others. We may hope that our partners may relieve us of certain life challenges, while we pick up the slack in other areas. Others may hope for perfect equality and unity instead.
There is some value to these criteria. The nature and potential for harmony in relationships are determined by our choice of partner, since the character traits of individuals are largely fixed.
When two individuals invest in each other and strive to establish a dynamic of trust, the unique interplay of their respective characteristics will lead them to a predetermined homeostasis.
The keyword here is predetermined. The inherent dynamic of the relationship cannot be changed any further than the individuals that comprise it. This is why the aforementioned criteria are generally faulty within the context of an established relationship.
For this reason, there is a tradeoff to be considered. We must ask ourselves what is more costly: to double-down on a current or prospective relationship, or to scrap the current prospect in search of a new relationship that has a paradigm which better suits us?
This is more difficult for some; there are those rare individuals who are stubbornly idealistic. These individuals may envision a high degree of compatibility between two separate identities, for they know that these identities cannot be changed.
This compatibility, if discovered, leads to a low requirement for adaptation in the relationship, increasing the potential for a high degree of intimacy.
Nevertheless, what they seek is so specific they may spend much of their lives searching, and there is no guarantee that they will ever find what they are looking for.
There is value to this: these individuals value the integrity of their identity above all else, and they seek such harmony in relationships that they can express their identity to its fullest degree. For them, suppression of their identity is often worse than the lack of fulfillment they face as an alternative.
In general (but especially for these idealistic people), any decision we make against our ideals is bound to be unsustainable. We will not be able to reconcile our identity with such a relationship, and so we will be unable to emotionally commit to that relationship. Trust issues, neglect, and decay are bound to arise; intimacy will never emerge.
Hypothetically, it may be possible to adapt to such a relationship, but adaptation is time consuming and emotionally costly. If the required adaptations are too taxing (and the incentives to adapt are weak), the relationship will decay before adaptation can occur.
Even if we do find such a match for ourselves, any potential may be hamstrung if one or both individuals is emotionally limited. That is, intimacy can only be achieved insofar as our self-esteem allows.
If we are resentful, distrusting, or defensive, we will be unable to achieve any meaningful level of intimacy, regardless of how naturally suited we are to each other.
Under these circumstances, it is easy to become distracted by the apparent potential of the match. However, this potential is muted by the emotional profile of one or both parties.
These people cannot realistically be “fixed”; the long-term efforts of the “fixer” will easily be disrupted by the short-term actions of the “fixee”. Again, intimacy will be unable to emerge.
So there are two factors that stand to confound our efforts within a relationship: our own ideals, and our own level of emotional development.
Because of these factors, it is important for us to be prescient before we begin a relationship, choosing our partners carefully; our commitments must be supported by both our emotions and our level-headed considerations.
Our first priority, therefore, should be to choose a subject for our relationships to whom we are willing and prepared to emotionally commit; a proper subject should be likewise willing and prepared to reciprocate.
HARMONY IN RELATIONSHIPS
Relationships, once we emotionally commit ourselves to them, are a matter of flexibility.
If a relationship has a fixed character, as defined by its participants, then certain expectations and criteria will be strictly incompatible with it.
These expectations must mould to the relationship; if they are also fixed, the relationship will fail, much like an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.
The expectations that need to change may include expectations of who the other person is, what they can offer us, and what they expect from us.
CONTRAST VS COMMONALITY
One such expectation is that our partners will be different from us in some capacities, and similar to us in others.
Many people hope to be in a relationship with somebody who is dissimilar; they imagine that opposites will attract, and that the extremes of their own character may be balanced by someone who holds contrasting extremes.
Alternatively, they may simply hope for variety, and the opportunity at growth or exploration.
On the other hand, some may prefer a partner who is similar to them. They may wish to more easily understand and be understood by their partner. They may hope that their favourite things will be augmented when they are shared with someone who likewise favours them.
Rather than focusing on things that are not as we hoped, we should seek new possibilities in the differences and similarities that are actually there, and make much of them; we may find comfort in our similarities and potential in our differences.
UNITY VS INDIVIDUALISM
Likewise, the two individuals in a relationship may have a different preference for the level of closeness between them.
One partner may prefer that they and their other become deeply unified in a sort of oneness. They may envision a relationship with no secrets, and no decisions without the consult of the other.
Another may imagine a relationship in which each partner retains their individuality and independence. The two partners look to each other for support, but they continue to pursue their own interests, make their own decisions, and socialise with their own peers, regardless of the other. There may be an aspect of privacy that is not necessarily incompatible with trust.
Either possibility has potential. As in the previous point, we should be willing to explore that which is new to us. However, neither of us should need to venture too far from what we understand; both individuals should be prepared to meet in the middle.
ROLES & RECIPROCITY
We may also have an expectation that our partners will fulfill certain roles that we are less equipped for, and vice versa.
For instance, one of us may be more emotionally-minded, while the other is more practically-minded. In this case, it makes sense for the former individual to provide emotional support for the latter, and the latter to provide practical support for the other.
Another example is if one individual feels more comfortable attending to the needs of others, where the other individual feels more comfortable having their own needs attended to; in this way, reciprocity can be had, without need for a precise quid pro quo exchange.
But this kind of two-sidedness may not be present in every relationship. Not everybody definitively leans one way or the other; it is possible for both individuals to be relatively balanced.
It is also possible for both parties to lean the same way (for instance, if both individuals are more emotional and less practical), leaving them both with the same deficiencies.
Where this is the case, they can join each other in a shared experience towards rounding out their character, and developing that which is underdeveloped.
RIGHT PERSON, RIGHT EFFORT
Much of society places an emphasis on finding the right person, with the assumption that everything should all be easy once we do.
This is not all wrong; if an individual is unwilling or unable to commit to and invest in the relationship, its potential will be limited.
Even among those individuals who are prepared, none will ever be a perfect match. We have to decide whether we have enough flexibility to adjust our expectations according to what is really possible within any particular relationship.
But there is one attribute which improves our ability to adapt, thereby broadening our scope of prospective partners and improving the potential of any given relationship.
It is our concept of what love is. If we know what love is, we will be better prepared to invest and adapt. Though the inherent nature and potential of a relationship may be relatively fixed, we still can idealize that nature and maximize that potential.
We will share what we have in common, and explore new things where we differ. We will meet in the middle of what degree of unity we expect from our relationship. We will supplement each other’s weaknesses, and share the struggle where we cannot.
We will stop thinking of what we think should be, and shift our focus to what is. Only when this is accomplished can we learn to love and accept each other for who we are.