Finding the Love of Your Life
It’s every single person’s wish, and every divorced person’s regret that they didn’t hold out for Mr./Mrs. Right. When it comes to relationships, the American Dream offers the promise that it’s possible to find the love of your life.
And yet, we all know that 50% of marriages end in divorce. However, what you may not know is that two-thirds of the people who do get divorced later admit that they had doubts about their partner as they walked down the isle. In his book Serious Doubts Carl Weisman lists various reasons people tie the knot for all the wrong reasons. Here are some of them.
“I didn’t want to be single anymore.” I thought my partner was the best I could do.” I thought I could change some aspect of my partner.” “I was getting pressure from my family/my partner.” “I got pregnant.” “I figure I could make it work.” “I got married to escape my family.” “I wanted to have children.” “It seemed like the logical next step.”
I often wonder why people are so cavalier about a decision that is so serious. Maybe it’s because many people secretly believe that they don’t really deserve love or happiness, or they believe that there is no one out there that isn’t completely screwed up, so what difference does it make if you settle for someone who isn’t the love of your life. Maybe it’s also because some people hold onto the magical hope that finding the right person will fix all of their problems.
So, what exactly does finding the love of your life mean? If you define it as looking for perfection, you’re going to be disappointed. If your hope is that your partner will be able to make up for the pain or hurt you endured in childhood, you’re going to be disappointed. If you overlook serious red flags, telling yourself the person can change or worse yet you believe that you can change the person, you’re going to be disappointed.
When clients come to see me over struggles with unsatisfying relationships, the therapeutic journey often begins with uncovering hidden beliefs and expectations that are interfering with making a commitment or choosing the right person. Often these interferences stem from early childhood trauma or neglect.
Many people were told either directly or indirectly that they weren’t worthy of love. Most were told that they needed to behave in a certain way in order to be loved. If parents were unavailable or too needy themselves, children grow up expecting that no one would really be able to see them and love them for who they are. Healing these early wounds and believing that you are worthy of being loved is the first step in finding the love of your life.
The second step is really more of a discernment process, one that involves determining whether your life goals and values match your partners. A misalignment in values is the number one reason marriages end in divorce.
Misaligned values can manifest in all sorts of ways. For example, I often ask my clients, “Does your partner take as much responsibility for his/her own growth as you do?” If we ignore the importance of this value principle, we’re in for continuous disappointment and struggle. A strong relationship requires that both people pull their own weight and take responsibility for their actions.
Another way that misaligned values show up is by observing how your partner handles mistakes and disappointments. Can your partner apologize when he/she makes a mistake? Do they blame others or get angry and defensive when you speak about a disappointment, a problem, or a need you have? Are they able to be self-reflective about their own behaviors, especially repeated patterns that seem to get in the way of their goals or dreams? Do they honor their promises and commitments or are they ambivalent and/or avoidant?
We can’t change a person’s value system. We also can’t change the degree of their reactivity or defensiveness. Generally, people with high reactivity and defensiveness aren’t much interested in changing themselves. The good news is there are people out there that can take responsibility for their lives, apologize with ease and grace, and are interested in making and keeping their commitments. Once you believe that’s true, you won’t be willing to settle for less.