Just how prepared are we for the considerable work needed in order to maintain a relationship? Many of us say that we know fully what lies ahead when we commit ourselves but I wonder just how true this really is. Even people who have had a number of experiences, good and bad, can fall into the trap of believing that love conquers all. In reality, this fantasy thinking is more likely to result in the demise of the relationship when reality bites. The key is to know how relationships usually develop and be ready for those changes.
The idea sold to most of us by society is one of romantic overload. While this maybe more akin to the honeymoon, hormone-driven process that takes place in the early stages of a relationship. Our minds trick us into believing that this is how it will always be or should be. We often make decisions in this time that we might come to regret later when again, reality sets in and the real person emerges.
For the codependent, this is a time when they are truly trying to connect. Codependents suffer from a lack of self love and look for it externally in a process that leaves them vulnerable to manipulation. The fantasy they build means that they often overlook the obvious red flags and warning signs that could save them from heartache later. You really don’t need to be codependent for this to be the case. Many people are looking for connection and, like a drug, we become addicted to the high that is produced at this time. We cannot get enough of it and it consumes our lives to the extent that we can truly lose who we really are (if we were fortunate enough to know in the first place!)
Often there are extra outside pressures on a relationship that mean, in the early phase, that we are not always looking at it rationally. Pressure from family to “tie down the one” (in their opinion) or friends who want to see their friend “be happy” might not always reflect the reality for the couple. Society will also tell us that we should have done a certain thing by a certain time and age (especially for women) and often that can make someone feel “wrong” or “not normal” if it hasn’t happened to them. Add this to the normal pressure of wanting a relationship that works and it is not surprising that the divorce rate is over 60 percent globally.
The heady feeling we have in that early stage of a relationship, while essential for connection, does not prepare us for what is to follow. That is the hard work that needs to be navigated to maintain a relationship over a period of time. It can be a shock to be suddenly plunged into the situation when we are confronted with the real version of the fantasy we had built up. It does not mean that it cannot work and many do, but it needs a new approach and adaptation of what the relationship is. Many of us are afraid of making the decision to end the relationship when things come out of the honeymoon phase and a realisation is had that the real person is not for us.
If a relationship gets over this stage, the real work begins, in my opinion. It is work akin to running a company or working on a complicated project and needs attention every day. When we think about this, we are really talking about building a foundation of trust, honesty, respect, mutual meeting of needs, communication and conflict management. These issues are for me, vital components of a relationship that could sustain itself over a long period.
I feel we should never lose sight of why we are in a relationship and why we committed ourselves to being so. In addition to the factors mentioned above, making sure there are more positive than less positive interactions on a daily basis can help. We always need to be aware that we need quality “us” time as well as “me” time. Many of the couples I talk too are far too busy to focus on these two important elements of a relationship.
Photo Credit: Gaby Urcutt on Unsplash.
“Welcome to my blog dedicated to mental health issues. I have been regularly writing about these issues for over a decade and the Online Therapist blog and app are a collection of my articles and podcasts on matters that affect people day-to-day such as relationships, codependency, narcissist abuse, parenting and depression. Browse through the top menu to explore more. It is my aim to continue to write blogposts and create podcasts and make this content freely available as a resource.
I hope you enjoy this blog.”
Dr Nicholas Jenner