Are We Doomed to Fail Being Raised with Outdated Relationship Models?
If you grew up anything like me, you were taught that relationships consist of one man for one woman, until death do you part. Your parents and/or church provided a living model of how relationships worked (or completely failed), and with your young eyes you took the good, bad, and ugly to heart. Using that frame-work you set out to find that mate who shared similar values and interests so you too could have the long-lasting companionship that your role models did. And if you’re reading this perhaps you also found out that this happy ever after was not all it was cracked up to be, and that mismatched relationships are everywhere, and more to the point inside your own home.
My grandparents in particular, tried to instill in all their offspring that the key to a successful marriage is compromise, hard work, and learning to accept the faults of each other no matter what (alcoholism, infidelity, sexual incompatibility etc.). While the lifelong marriage commitment may seem appealing, it does not come with a manual. And that cliché can just add to the hopelessness many of us have felt when we realize our needs are no longer being met. But what happens if the person you were when you went into the relationship, is not who you are right now, or who you think you should be? And what if that evolution of self no longer aligns with that of your partner? Navigating these murky waters by ourselves often feels isolating, and that teeter totter of ignore it or be true to yourself can wreak havoc on our selves and our relationships.
The bottom line is, if you are anything like me, you’ve learned the hard way that that relationship model is clearly outdated, even impossible. And now you are struggling with what to do next, living with your mismatched relationship.
First Things First: You Are Not Alone
If you are feeling the weight of a mismatched relationship, take a deep breath, and know that you are not alone. The situation is rarely as hopeless as it may seem, and there are thousands of couples right now feeling the exact same guilt, remorse, or even just that out of sync feeling you are. There is no shame in changing or growing as a human. And to that end it is time to start talking about relationships that are growing apart or changing. The stigma that you have done something wrong, or not worked hard enough, or any variety of negative sentiment helps no one.
We are living in the age of information. With endless knowledge in the palm of our hands it is difficult to not get bombarded with differing opinions and ideas. And of course, there is a cause and effect when it comes to our most intimate relationships. In fact, it would be naïve to think that there wouldn’t be an effect on our personal lives and a relationships staying power.
60 years ago, it was common to marry someone who lived a few blocks away, or from the same small town, thereby ensuring that your foundation was based on similar upbringing and experiences. Everything that you were exposed to beyond that was within this same bubble. Nothing could be further from our current reality. People from all over the world are coming together, and although this should be a wondrous thing, what we often see is conflict and the mismatching of ideals and values. And this is one of the fundamental reasons why the concept of two people united against the world is just not working as well. That base of experience and what we expect of a relationship is no longer universally known. Instead it is something we now need to talk about, negotiate, and navigate throughout a partnership.
While we could lament this fact, I challenge that instead, we find the power of choice, and explore the diversity that is out there.
Relationship Diversity Is Everywhere
The biggest tool we have right now, the internet is under utilized for the power of information it holds. The searches we enter for why we are unhappy in our relationships tend to follow the biases of how we were raised or how we wish things actually were. So, let us for a moment take a brief exploration of the diversity of relationships that actually exist out there, and all the different genders that can criss-cross within them (in a handy chart that in no way is complete, but rather created to get you thinking).
With all these choices and variations of relationships it is easy to get confused, overwhelmed, or as is sometimes the case, incredibly excited to just throw caution to the wind and jump into something new with both feet. Your feelings, whatever they are, are valid. But so are the feeling and emotions of your partner. That lost feeling, or inability to move forward with the new information at hand is something I struggle with in my relationships too. A quote comes to mind:
“But how can you know what you want till you get what you want and you see if you like it?” Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim
Because we aren’t raised with relationships and models outside of the norm, exploration of anything seems taboo. And of course talking about it, even more so, whether it be with friends or your partner.
The Taboo of it All
If so many of us are experiencing this, why is no one talking about it? Quite simply, changing, growing, or evolving apart in a relationship is not polite dinner conversation. And it is even worse to discuss with your partner. The fear of one or both parties feeling like a failure is real. Causing another person pain for no fault of their own is looked upon as cruel. Better to just pretend everything is fine, go back to the status quo, and bury that feeling your having that your relationship has changed. Right?
Wrong. We need to take the first step and acknowledge that mismatched relationships are growing in numbers. That you are not alone, and more, that there are things we can all do, to have healthy, loving, and fulfilling relationships!
So, I leave you with one question: Are you ready to talk about your relationship?
This will be an ongoing conversation and I welcome your thoughts, feedback, and questions!