Romantics, myself included, melted when Tom Cruise uttered “You complete me” in the 1996 hit movie Jerry Maguire. Soon the sentiment became a litmus test of commitment and dedication in many relationships.
When I finished swooning, I realized how dangerous the belief behind the sentiment could be. Many people assume “completion” is my goal when I counsel couples in my practice, yet that couldn’t be further from the truth. The goals of effective relationship therapy are centered on teaching two whole, healthy individuals how to be great partners to each other. In my experience, someone who is unhappy and unfulfilled alone is likely to continue in this state when in a relationship. Additionally, someone who is happy and secure in who they are is likely to feel this way in a relationship (and if they don’t, they are likely to leave it). A stable love relationship can motivate someone to be a better person, but it will not make them a better person.
Millions of dollars and countless hours are spent each year trying to find out the best way to “be” in a relationship. The hope is we find that “perfect” way to think and act that will make our relationship smoother and make us feel good. In the process of trying to find the best way to present ourselves in a relationship, though, we often lose the unique way we see and relate to the world. Individual quirks, experiences, and views of the world are exactly what a healthy relationship needs.
If we found the perfect way to “be” and were able to mimic that in our relationships, how would we know the love our partner feels for us is genuine? Do they love us? Or do they love some template designed to be exactly what our partners want?
A mature and healthy love relationship says I choose to enjoy my life and want to do so with you. Stability in a relationship means happiness is an import instead of an export. The partners bring their happiness into the relationship to share, not expecting to extract happiness to fill their own deficits. Love and commitment come from finding someone you want to share your life with, not someone who you expect to give you a happy life.
I think of a stable relationship as a great surf-and-turf dinner. As a devout omnivore, I cannot imagine a better combination than a quality steak and a couple of grilled lobster tails. I love steak and lobster tail on their own, too, but there is something special about the two entrees nestled together on my plate. Likewise, in a stable relationship, both partners are great individually—but together they are amazing! Differences make for a more well-rounded experience.
Security in a healthy, mature relationship also includes choosing to be in the relationship with one another. This means choosing to share life together. It means choosing to put the well-being of the relationship over your own desires, your partner over your preferences.
Security in a healthy, mature relationship also includes choosing to be in the relationship with one another. This means choosing to share life together. It means choosing to put the well-being of the relationship over your own desires, your partner over your preferences. Choosing also means identifying when the relationship is unhealthy and taking steps to help it, even when that may seem difficult. It means loving yourself enough to acknowledge abuse and knowing that being alone is better than being in danger. We can choose to depend on our partners not because we have to in order to survive, but because we want to in order to thrive.
The notion that a loving relationship is the key to happiness is a myth. If a person looks to another flawed human being for everything they need, they will eventually experience disappointment. We are all trying to figure out life, and sometimes we make mistakes because, well, figuring it out is hard. Life gets harder when we become responsible for a partner’s happiness while trying to find our own.
Stable relationships can provide love, belonging, empathy, and companionship. They cannot provide all the things you may find lacking outside of a relationship. Completing another person is a fantasy. The reality is love is meant to complement your great life, not create it.
© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Deidre Prewitt, MSMFC, LPC, therapist in Columbus, Ohio
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