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Published on September 29, 2017

Believing in the Perfect Love Is the Greatest Relationship Killer

Believing in the Perfect Love Is the Greatest Relationship Killer

The perfect couples know everything about each other completely. They can read each other’s minds. They always agree with each other. They want exactly the same things in life. They want to do the same thing, all the time. And they never fight. This is the perfect couple who is always happy.

But that’s just a fantasy.

Expecting this to be your relationship is unrealistic. Even if you have held this idea in your mind for years, maybe you’ve already suspected that something is wrong with this image. Life is full of changes and challenges. Somehow, many couples – young and old – fall into the trap that there’s a “perfect relationship” out there.

The Downside of a Relationship Is Always Hidden

Why does everyone believe this? People tend to set unrealistic expectations for what their partners should be like. These magical ideas start when they are little kids.

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In fairy tales and animated Disney films, the prince saves the princess. They are soulmates, who know each other immediately and thoroughly. Their love stories are perfectly idealized. No fights and no challenges arise along the way. Romantic comedies are the same way. The couple always gets together at the peak of happiness, and then they live together happily ever after. Roll credits. You don’t get to see the aftermath: when the couple still loves each other, but they have to deal with disagreements and live through big challenges.

Parents also set perceptions of what makes a good partner. We have strongly ingrained cultural expectations of what a “boyfriend,” “girlfriend,” “husband,” or “wife” should be like. That’s hard to shake! For example, your mother may have told you that “boys will be boys” – husbands tend to be cold and distant and therefore you should expect and accept that in your relationships. While that might save you trouble at the beginning, down the road, this complacent attitude can only build resentment and unhappiness.

People also compare their relationships to those of others all the time. That’s easier than ever to do with Facebook and Instagram. Your friends probably talk a lot about the “perfect” things that their partners do for them. People want to share the good in their lives, not the bad. But relationships on social media are filtered. All you see are the special date nights, the engagements, and the vacation photos. Nobody posts photos of their fights and loneliness. It’s important to remember that everyone has different relationship experiences. Comparison on this front is simply meaningless.

People Make Unrealistic Expectations to Create the Perfect Love

As a result of all these learned expectations, people want to mold their partners into their ideal version. But based on unrealistic expectations, they will make demands that just don’t work. And then, when the partner can’t meet their expectations, they demand more and more, thinking that it’s supposed to be “love” that makes their dreams come true.

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One common mistake that women and men make is that their partners can “read their minds” and meet their needs without saying anything. But this is not just uncommon, it’s impossible. Without realizing that this is an unrealistic expectation, they will constantly feel disappointed by their partners and conclude that they should keep seeking for the one that can best fit in a relationship.

It’s easy to think that “love” will solve all the problems. People attribute disappointment to “lack of love” or “we’re not really meant to be together.” These couples who think this way will then break up and move on to another relationship. And they’ll take the same behaviors with them.

They hope to find someone who can fit their mold. But what they don’t realize is that their expectations are just unrealistic. They will end up getting stuck in the same loop of relationships.

Make Your Relationship Down to Earth

A down-to-earth relationship doesn’t mean it’s not special. Everyone’s love story is unique because of both the upside and downside the couple experiences together. A realistic relationship can be healthy even though it’s not perfect. Try the following steps to make your love life happier.

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1. List out all of your expectations.

Write down each of your expectations, starting each sentence with “I expect him/her to…” You don’t need to justify any of your expectations. The point here is to be honest with yourself.

Examples: “I expect him to know that I’m sad even when I don’t tell him how I feel.” Or “I expect her to adjust to my schedule changes without ever getting upset.” Anything that’s honest and true should go on this list.

2. Review your list.

Now is the time to bring judgment back into the equation. Read through your list and cross out anything that you haven’t fulfilled yourself. For example, ask yourself: Is it actually realistic to ask your partner to hang out with you for hours every day, when he/she has a demanding job? Do you always hang out with him/her when you’re busy with work or school?

3. Switch the position with your partner and look at the list again.

Go through the list another time. Now, instead of asking if you can fulfill the expectations, think more carefully about whether he/she can. Just because you can live up to some expectations doesn’t mean your partner can, too. Maybe you’re an obsessive cleaner, but your partner only cleans once a week or so. Is it realistic to ask him/her to clean every day, or as often as you do?

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This will pare down your list even more, leaving only the truly reasonable expectations behind.

4. Spell out your expectations to your partner.

The best you can do is to explicitly state your expectations to your partner. Talk about challenges in meeting each other’s expectations. Then compromise and refine those expectations so that both of you can be happy.

Remember that fantasy of the perfect couple? It was never real and never will be. A realistic relationship is full of challenges and it takes compromises. Stop chasing for the perfect relationship. Unrealistic expectations on your partner sabotage not only your partner, but yourself and your relationship.

Featured photo credit: Photo by Eric Alves on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Anna Chui

Communication Expert

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Published on July 13, 2018

Striving Towards Secure Attachment: How to Restructure Your Thoughts

Striving Towards Secure Attachment: How to Restructure Your Thoughts

What if you could discover some tools and methods that could improve your relationships? What if by gaining a little knowledge you could understand your relationship dynamics better and give them a boost up?

By learning what secure attachment is and how to restructure your thoughts, you can become more self-aware of your relationship dynamics. After becoming more aware, you can then take a few steps to make them better than ever. That’s something that many of us could benefit from.

When we hear the term secure attachment, our mind typically goes to a relationship. And that’s exactly what it’s about.

In this article I’ll discuss the concept of secure attachments in more detail and how restructuring your thoughts can help you strive towards achieving better relationships.

Relationships are a hugely important part of our lives and whatever we can do to improve them is a good thing for everyone involved.

What is attachment theory?

Let’s do a quick overview of what attachment theory is. This will provide a good foundation for the rest of this article.

The esteemed psychologist John Bowlby first coined the term attachment theory in the late 60’s. Bowlby studied early childhood conditioning extensively and what he found was very interesting.

His research showed that when a very young child has a strong attachment to a caregiver, it provides the child with a sense of security and foundation. On the other hand when there isn’t a secure attachment, the child will expend a lot more developmental energy looking for security and stability.

The child without the secure attachment tends to become more fearful, timid and slow to explore new situations or their environment.

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When a strong attachment is developed in a child, he or she will be inclined to be more adventurous and seek out new experiences because they feel more secure. They know that whoever is watching out for them will be there if needed.

Bowlby’s colleague, Mary Ainsworth, took the theory further. She did extensive studies around infant-parent separations and provided a more formal framework for the differing attachment styles.

How attachment develops

Simply put, attachment is an emotional bond with another person. Attachment doesn’t have to go both ways, it can be one person feeling attached to another without it being reciprocated. Most of the time, it works between two people to one degree or another.

Attachment begins at a very young age. Over the history of time, when children were able to maintain a closer proximity to a caregiver that provided for them, a strong attachment was formed.

The initial thought was that the ability to provide food or nourishment to a child was the primary driver of a strong attachment.

It was then discovered that the primary drivers of attachment proved to be the parent/caregivers responsiveness to the child as well as the ability to nurture that child in a variety of ways. Things such as support, care, sustenance, and protection are all components of nurturing a child.

In essence a child forms a strong attachment when they feel that their caregiver is accessible and attentive and there if they need them; that the parent/caregiver will be there for them. If the child does not feel that the caregiver is there to help them when needed, they experience anxiety.

Different types of attachments

In children, 4 types of attachment styles have been identified. They are as follows:

  • Secure attachment – This is primarily marked by discomfort or distress when separated from caregivers and joy and security when the caregiver is back around the child. Even though the child initially feels agitated when the caregiver is no longer around, they feel confident they will return. The return of the parent or caregiver is met with positive emotions, the child prefers parents to strangers.
  • Ambivalent attachment – These children become very distressed when the parent or caregiver leaves. They feel they can’t rely on their caregiver for support when the need arises. Even though a child with ambivalent attachment may be agitated or confused when reunited with a parent or caregiver, they will cling to them.
  • Avoidant attachment – These kids typically avoid parents or caregivers. When they have a choice of being with the parent or not, they don’t seem to care one way or the other. Research has shown that this may be the result of neglectful caregivers.
  • Disorganized attachment – These children display a mix of disoriented behavior towards their caregiver. They may want them sometimes and other times they don’t. This is sometimes thought to be linked to inconsistent behavior from the parent or caregiver.

What attachments mean to adults

So the big question is how does this affect us in adulthood? Intuitively it makes sense that as a child, if we have someone who will be there when we need them, we feel secure. And on the other end of the spectrum, if we aren’t sure someone’s going to provide what we need when we need it, we may become more anxious and fearful.

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As an adult, we tend to wind up in one of three primary attachment types based on our childhood experiences. These are secure, avoidant, and anxious. Technically, there is a fourth one, anxious-avoidant, but it is quite a bit less common. They are described as follows:

  • Secure – When you have a secure attachment, you are comfortable displaying interest and affection towards another person but you’re also fine being alone and independent. Secure types are less apt to obsess over a relationship gone sour and handle being rejected easier. Secure types also tend to be better than other types with not starting relationships with people that might not be the best partners. They cut off the relationship quicker when they see things in a potential partner they don’t like. Secure attachment people make up the majority of the attachment types.
  • Anxious – Folks who have an anxious attachment style typically need a lot of reassurance from their partners. They have a much harder time being on their own and single than the other styles and fall into bad relationships more often. The anxious style represent about 20% of the population. It’s been shown that if anxious attachment styles learn how to communicate their needs better and learn to date secure partners, they can move towards the secure attachment style.
  • Avoidant – Avoidant attachment style represents approximately 25% of the population as adults. Avoidants many times have the hardest time in a relationship because they have a difficult time finding satisfaction. In general, they are uncomfortable with close relationships and intimacy and are quite independent. They are the lone wolf type person.
  • Anxious-avoidant – The anxious-avoidant style is relatively rare. It is composed of conflicting styles – they want to be close but at the same time push people away. They do things that push the people they are closest to away. Many times there can be a higher risk of depression or other mental health issues.

Here’s where it gets really interesting:

Move towards secure attachment

The good news is that it is possible to move from one style to another. Specifically, it is possible to move towards a more secure attachment style.

Now as you might imagine, this is not an easy or a quick process. Like any type of big change where you are attempting to alter such a deeply ingrained mindset, it takes a strong will to accomplish.

The first step is developing an awareness of your attachment style. The next step is to have the desire and drive to move your attachment style towards the more secure style.

If someone with an anxious or avoidant style has a long term relationship with a secure type, the anxious or avoidant person can slowly get brought up more towards a secure style.

The opposite is also true, they could bring the secure person more towards their attachment style. Therefore, you have to be conscious of your type and if you want to move more towards secure, it takes persistence.

Therapy is an option as well. Anxious types many times need to work on their self-esteem, avoidants on their connection specifically and compassion.

How to restructure your thoughts

Ready for the way to do it? Here we go:

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For the Avoidant Style

As with any type of change on such a deep level, the first step is awareness. Realize you have an avoidant style and be aware of it as you have interactions with your partner(s).

Try to work towards a place of mutual support and giving/taking. Try to lessen your need for complete self-reliance. Allow your partner to do some things that make you a little uncomfortable that you would normally do yourself.

Don’t always focus on the imperfections of your partner. We all have them, remind yourself of that.

Make yourself a list of the qualities that your partner has that you are thankful for.

Look for a secure style partner if at all possible, they would be good for you to be with.

If you have a tendency to end relationships before they go too far, be aware of that and let it develop further.

Get into the habit of accepting and even instigating physical touch. Tell yourself that it’s good for you to have some intimacy. Intimacy can help you feel safe and secure.

And over time you can realize that it’s okay to rely on other people.

For the Anxious Style

For the anxious style, the #1 thing to work on is learning to communicate needs better. This is a huge issue for the anxious style.

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First and foremost if you communicate your needs more clearly, you will have less anxiety, that’s already a big win. This will also allow you to better assess if a potential partner is good for you.

Try to bring your feelings more to the surface and most importantly, share them with your partner. Remember that secure attachments typically communicate pretty well, this is what you are working towards.

For the Anxious-Avoidant Style

The anxious-avoidant is a very small percentage of the attachment styles. Since this type tends to be anxious in the relationship AND more or less a loner, the key here is working hard to be very self-aware of your actions.

Use the parts of striving towards secure attachment from the anxious tips and the avoidant restructuring of your thoughts to consciously work towards being more secure.

When you find yourself pushing someone away, ask why. If you feel worried that your partner is going to leave you, again, ask yourself where this is coming from. Have they shown you any reason to believe this? Many times there is no real evidence. In that case, allow yourself to calm down and try not to obsess over it.

For the Secure Style

Since the goal is to move towards a more secure attachment style, there isn’t much needed here as you might imagine.

Something to be aware of is being in a relationship just because it’s “okay”. Don’t stay if it’s not a good place for you and your partner. If your partner is of an anxious or avoidant attachment style, stay mindful to not start developing characteristics of those styles.

Strive towards Secure Attachment

As we wrap things up, you’ve probably developed a good idea of the benefits of secure attachment. If you don’t currently have a secure attachment style, here are some benefits of restructuring your thoughts more towards this style:

  • Positive self esteem and self image
  • Close and well adjusted relationships
  • Sense of security in self and the world
  • Ability to be independent as well as in relationships
  • Optimistic outlook on life and yourself
  • Strong coping skills and strategies for relationships and life
  • Trust in self and others
  • Close, intimate relationships
  • Strong determination and problem solving skills

If you are an anxious or avoidant style or the combination of anxious-avoidant, it is possible to move towards a secure attachment style.

It takes self-awareness, patience and a strong desire to get close to being secure but it can be done. You will find that putting the effort into it will provide you with more open, honest and satisfying relationships.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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