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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

More by this author

Anna Chui

Anna is a communication expert and a life enthusiast. She's the editor of Lifehack and loves to write about love, life, and passion.

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Last Updated on October 30, 2019

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

Change is tough, there’s no doubt about it. Old habits are hard to shift, and adopting a new lifestyle can feel like an uphill battle!

In this article, you will learn about a simple yet powerful model:

Stages of change model, that explains the science behind personal transformation.

You’ll discover how and why some changes stick whereas others don’t last, and how long it takes to build new habits.

What is the Stages of Change Model?

Developed by researchers J.O. Prochaska and Carlo C. DiClemente over 30 years ago[1] and outlined in their book Changing For Good, the Stages of Change Model, also known as the Transtheoretical Model, was formed as a result of the authors’ research with smokers.

Prochaska and DiClemente were originally interested in the question of why some smokers were able to quit on their own, whereas others required professional help. Their key conclusion was that smokers (or anyone else with a bad habit) quits only when they are ready to do so.

Here’s an illustration done by cartoonist and illustrator Simon Kneebone about the different stages a smoker experiences when they try to quit smoking:

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    The Stages of Change Model looks at how these conscious decisions are made. It emphasizes that change isn’t easy. People can spend a long time stuck in a stage, and some may never reach their goals.[2]

    The model has been applied in the treatment of smoking, alcoholism, and drugs. It is also a useful way of thinking about any bad habit. Social workers, therapists, and psychologists draw on the model to understand their patients’ behaviors, and to explain the change process to the patients themselves.

    The key advantages to the model is that it is simple to understand, is backed by extensive research, and can be applied in many situations.

    The Stages of Change Model is a well-established psychological model that outlines six stages of personal change:

    1. Precontemplation
    2. Contemplation
    3. Determination
    4. Action
    5. Maintenance
    6. Termination

    How are these stages relevant to changing habits?

    To help you visualize the stages of change and how each progresses to the next one, please take a look at this wheel:[3]

      Let’s look at the six stages of change,[4] together with an example that will show you how the model works in practice:

      Stage 1: Precontemplation

      At this stage, an individual does not plan to make any positive changes in the next six months. This may because they are in denial about their problem, feel too overwhelmed to deal with it, or are too discouraged after multiple failed attempts to change.

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      For example, someone may be aware that they need to start exercising, but cannot find the motivation to do so. They might keep thinking about the last time they tried (and failed) to work out regularly. Only when they start to realize the advantages of making a change will they progress to the next stage.

      Stage 2: Contemplation

      At this stage, the individual starts to consider the advantages of changing. They start to acknowledge that altering their habits would probably benefit them, but they spend a lot of time thinking about the downside of doing so. This stage can last for a long time – possibly a year or more.

      You can think of this as the procrastinating stage. For example, an individual begins to seriously consider the benefits of regular exercise, but feels resistant when they think about the time and effort involved. When the person starts putting together a concrete plan for change, they move to the next stage.

      The key to moving from this stage to the next is the transformation of an abstract idea to a belief (e.g. from “Exercise is a good, sensible thing to do” to “I personally value exercise and need to do it.)[5]

      Stage 3: Preparation

      At this point, the person starts to put a plan in place. This stage is brief, lasting a few weeks. For example, they may book a session with a personal trainer and enrol on a nutrition course.

      Someone who drinks to excess may make an appointment with a drug and alcohol counsellor; someone with a tendency to overwork themselves might start planning ways to devise a more realistic schedule.

      Stage 4: Action

      When they have decided on a plan, the individual must then put it into action. This stage typically lasts for several months. In our example, the person would begin attending the gym regularly and overhauling their diet.

      Stage 4 is the stage at which the person’s desire for change becomes noticeable to family and friends. However, in truth, the change process began a long time ago. If someone you know seems to have suddenly changed their habits, it’s probably not so sudden after all! They will have progressed through Stages 1-3 first – you probably just didn’t know about it.

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      Stage 5: Maintenance

      After a few months in the Action stage, the individual will start to think about how they can maintain their changes, and make lifestyle adjustments accordingly. For instance, someone who has adopted the habit of regular workouts and a better diet will be vigilant against old triggers (such as eating junk food during a stressful time at work) and make a conscious decision to protect their new habits.

      Unless someone actively engages with Stage 5, their new habits are liable to come unstuck. Someone who has stuck to their new habits for many months – perhaps a year or longer – may enter Stage 6.

      Maintenance can be challenging because it entails coming up with a new set of habits to lock change in place. For instance, someone who is maintaining their new gym-going habit may have to start improving their budgeting skills in order to continue to afford their gym membership.

      Stage 6: Termination

      Not many people reach this stage, which is characterized by a complete commitment to the new habit and a certainty that they will never go back to their old ways. For example, someone may find it hard to imagine giving up their gym routine, and feel ill at the thought of eating junk food on a regular basis.

      However, for the majority of people, it’s normal to stay in the Maintenance period indefinitely. This is because it takes a long time for a new habit to become so automatic and natural that it sticks forever, with little effort. To use another example, an ex-smoker will often find it hard to resist the temptation to have “just one” cigarette even a year or so after quitting. It can take years for them to truly reach the Termination stage, at which point they are no more likely to smoke than a lifelong non-smoker.

      How long does each stage take?

      You should be aware that some people remain in the same stage for months or even years at a time. Understanding this model will help you be more patient with yourself when making a change. If you try to force yourself to jump from Contemplation to Maintenance, you’ll just end up frustrated. On the other hand, if you take a moment to assess where you are in the change process, you can adapt your approach.

      So if you need to make changes quickly and you are finding it hard to progress to the next stage, it’s probably time to get some professional help or adopt a new approach to forming habits.

      The limitations of this model

      The model is best applied when you decide in advance precisely what you want to achieve, and know exactly how you will measure it (e.g. number of times per week you go to the gym, or number of cigarettes smoked per day). Although the model has proven useful for many people, it does have limitations.

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      Require the ability to set a realistic goal

      For a start, there are no surefire ways of assessing whereabouts in the process you are – you just have to be honest with yourself and use your own judgement. Second, it assumes that you are physically capable of making a change, whereas in fact you might either need to adjust your goals or seek professional help.

      If your goal isn’t realistic, it doesn’t matter whether you follow the stages – you still won’t get results. You need to decide for yourself whether your aims are reasonable.[6]

      Difficult to judge your progress

      The model also assumes that you are able to objectively measure your own successes and failures, which may not always be the case.[7] For instance, let’s suppose that you are trying to get into the habit of counting calories as part of your weight-loss efforts. However, even though you may think that you are recording your intake properly, you might be over or under-estimating.

      Research shows that most people think they are getting enough exercise and eating well, but in actual fact aren’t as healthy as they believe. The model doesn’t take this possibility into account, meaning that you could believe yourself to be in the Action stage yet aren’t seeing results. Therefore, if you are serious about making changes, it may be best to get some expert advice so that you can be sure the changes you are making really will make a positive difference.

      Conclusion

      The Stages Of Change Model can be a wonderful way to understand change in both yourself and others.

      While there’re some limitations in it, the Stages of Change Model helps to visualize how you go through changes so you know what to expect when you’re trying to change a habit or make some great changes in life.

      Start by identifying one of your bad habits. Where are you in the process? What could you do next to move forwards?

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Psych Central: Stages Of Change
      [2] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [3] Empowering Change: Stages of Change
      [4] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [5] Psychology Today: 5 Steps To Changing Any Behavior
      [6] The Transtheoretical Model: Limitations Of The Transtheoretical Model
      [7] Health Education Research: Transtheoretical Model & Stages Of Change: A Critique

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