Myth 1: You Complete Me
No one completes us. No one is our missing piece, our other half. We complete ourselves—or fail to. No one else could be successful in that role because each of us is utterly unique. There isn’t another you anywhere on this planet. If you somehow feel incomplete, the answers aren’t out there somewhere. The answers are in the room. You have them.
We become inauthentic when we trade our real selves for the selves we imagine others desire of us. Attempts to charm others usually require concessions and a certain self-deception. Don’t try to charm someone. Focus on being yourself, because there is no other person like you in the world, and eventually the real you will show up. Do you want your partner to be shocked, to feel tricked?
Coming out from behind yourself is part of the search, whether born of panic or courage, for that highly personalized rapture that comes when you feel completely yourself, happy in your own skin. It is a reach for authenticity—a process of individuation—when you cease to compare yourself with others and choose, instead, to live your life.
Please say the following out loud: No one and nothing will ever be enough until I am enough.
Myth 2: True Love Is Unconditional
Have you ever known someone who was a “giving tree,” inexhaustibly obliging? Perhaps you took advantage of that and increased your demands, or perhaps you wanted to get away from them, even judging them to be somewhat pathetic because they either had no goals of their own or made others’ goals more important. That person is not a complete person. Not whole. Not strong enough to claim the life he or she wants. And that leaves that person vulnerable to influence from others.
What if you recognize that you are a giving tree, that you have essentially martyred yourself to this idea of unconditional love? While it’s easy to understand that we get what we tolerate, the challenge comes in figuring out the best way to bring something hurtful to our partner’s attention. Most of us make it too complicated.
We all have plenty of reasons for behaving badly, but we can either have what we say we want, or we can have all our reasons why we don’t have what we want. For example, we say we want a loving relationship and yet we say hurtful things, which we justify with our reasons. It doesn’t work like that. Reasons or results. We can’t have both. We have to choose, and conditions need to be clarified.
Myth 3: You Must Fulfill My List
You could spend a lifetime running from one relationship to another, looking for someone who fulfills your list. Like a carton of milk, when the person you’re dating goes sour, you throw them out and get a fresh one. Even if you try something a bit different, like oat milk or almond milk, it sours like the one before. Another ending, a divorce, an “It’s not you, it’s me.” Or “It’s not me, it’s you.” Whatever. It ages you. These failures, these dreams, become nightmares. And yet you continue. Chasing your fantasy. Hoping your fatigue doesn’t show, dodging questions about why your relationship failed, why your marriage ended. Because you realize you have told that story more than once.
Still we persist. Everything will be perfect with the right man or woman, except you keep discovering that the grass that looks so green on the other side of the fence is Astroturf. No relationship is perfect. When you commit to someone, you commit to an imperfect person with a list of issues you’ll be grappling with for a long time. Some are problems you can live with.
Myth 4: If You Loved Me, You’d Know
We begin to teach people what matters to us, what we require from the moment we meet them. I’m not suggesting we teach people how to be. That would be about control and manipulation. This is about teaching people, especially our partners, how to be with me.
The point is—if you want something from me, tell me! If you’re upset with me, tell me! If there’s something you want me to do or stop doing, tell me! If I said something that didn’t go down well with you, stop the conversation right then and there and tell me! And if you’re happy with me, tell me!
The problem when we wait until later in the relationship to have these conversations is that we have to deal with all the buildup of resentment and anger inside and the massive amount of retraining that needs to take place. The sooner we take a stand the easier it will be—and the kinder we will be when we deliver the message.
Myth 5: Love Is All You Need
The notion “All you need is love” is a myth because you can love someone—really, really love them—and not make a go of the relationship because you discover that your partner holds values in direct opposition to yours or behaves in ways that hurt you and others.
Perhaps you are philanthropic and want to give back to your community, while your spouse takes unfair and illegal advantage of your community and expects you to look the other way. Perhaps you married and planned to take turns supporting each other to get the degrees or skills needed for your desired professions. But you supported your spouse for ten years, your turn hasn’t come, and your spouse refuses to honor his or her end of the bargain. You dreamed of becoming a biologist, a lawyer, a horticulturist, a nurse, but that’s no longer in the cards. Your dream isn’t deferred. It’s denied. You played your part for all these years, but the agreement was unilaterally revoked. What you need is unavailable, out of reach. Is that okay?
Remember, if you are missing things you hunger for, part of you is starving, so think about how you can get at least a bit of them into your life as soon as possible. For example, if you crave time alone, plan a retreat for yourself. If you have always wanted to paint, sing, or bird-watch, sign up for lessons or join a group. If you have always wanted to give back to the community, look for places that could use your help.
Conversation 1: Do I Want This Relationship?
Today, as you look at the person you are with, even if you’re committed to staying in your relationship no matter what, you may quietly be asking yourself, Is this the person I want to go through challenging times with for the rest of my life? Because one thing’s for sure. You’ll go through challenging times.
Conversation 2: Clarifying Conditions—Yours, Mine, Ours
Your significant other is sacred, an equal, and worthy of love, but if he or she wants to be with you, there are conditions.
Characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors that may have been overlooked in the first flush of love might become irritating over the years. Think of The War of the Roses, a movie about a married couple trying everything to get each other to leave the house in a vicious divorce battle. At one point Barbara1
tells her husband, Oliver, that she can’t stand the sound he makes when he chews. It’s a dark comedy but things like that can get to us over time. For example, would you want to share a lifetime of meals with someone who chews with their mouth open, makes loud smacking noises, or talks with a mouth full of food?
Conversation 3: How Are We Really?
Every couple has incompatibilities. Usually spouses can ignore differences or set them aside to some degree to achieve a harmonious living situation, but it is important that couples don’t let those incompatibilities become deal breakers. An article from Psychology Today says that “continual compromise” is often used to maintain a relationship’s harmony. Couples may break up due to one or both of the partners losing their ability to tolerate their incompatibilities. One or both partners no longer want to compromise.
Conversation 4: Getting Past “Honey, I’m Home”
If you are going to be an important person in my life, I would want to get past “How are you?” “I’m fine.” Way past. I would want to know what makes you happy, what makes you sad, angry. I would want to know what you long for, what you most hope to accomplish during your lifetime, who and what you love, how you would describe your ideal day, what you would wish for if a genie popped out of a bottle.
I would want to know if you’ve paid the price for transparency, if you’re willing to live, day by day, with the consequences of authenticity. Or if you withhold your thoughts and feelings for fear of being abandoned. And from a poem by Ron Koertge with the marvelous title “Admission Requirements of U.S. and Canadian Dental Schools”: “If you were a bird,1 what would be your wingspan?” And “If you could snow, would you?”
Conversation 5: Let Me Count the Ways
Maybe your list will say, “I love the way you help fix dinner, talk with my mother, think of fun things to do on weekends, read interesting articles to me, ask for my thoughts about your work situation, really listen to me, come up behind me when I’m at the sink and wrap your arms around me, [fill in the blank].” That’s fierce. That’s real and there aren’t nearly enough of those conversations.
Because “Thanks, babe,” doesn’t cut it. Nor does “Good job.” Or even “I appreciate you.” Those are vague. What’s more meaningful is an affirmation that is specific. Even “I love you” isn’t guaranteed to truly mean something to your partner, especially if you say it all the time as a matter of course, such as a shouted, “Love you!” as you head out the door. Not that that’s bad. It just isn’t enough.