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In Your Broken Relationships, Are You Looking for Something that Does Not Exist?

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by Dr. Boyce Watkins

I’ve noticed a lot of relationships that die due to unrealistic expectations. Some people choose to spend their lives searching for something that doesn’t exist. So, rather than building and working with something real, they feed off of hope….hope that the next person might be the one who is as perfect as you’d hoped that the last 10 people were going to be.

But the fact is that the new person you are excited about is probably just as flawed as the last person you dumped.  Yet, they appear to have a clean slate because you know nothing about their past. And slowly, but surely, you start to realize that they are not as perfect as you initially thought, so you then start all over again.

It’s really interesting to watch and a never-ending cycle. In fact, it’s become a new normal, like chewing a piece of gum until the sugar runs out and then replacing it with another piece.

I don’t proclaim to be an expert on relationships, but I’ve lived enough years to have learned a few things.  Some of the things I’ve learned have come from my own mistakes, I’ll admit that too.  But one thing I find so interesting is how many of us keep a clear disconnect between what we say we want out of life and how we go about obtaining it.   Quite a few people say that they want marriage and long-term relationships, but go into situations expecting everything to be happy all the time.  They might endure one storm or two, but as soon as the storms have become persistent, it’s on to the next person on their list.  They seem to think that long-term relationships are a never-ending joyride, and not what they really are:  an exercise in extreme patience, consistency and very hard work.
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My father, who has been married for 40 years, says that his secret to staying married to my mother was simple:  He made sure he came home every day and never divorced her.  He didn’t make it complicated or put overwhelming demands on his partner’s ability to meet his ever-changing emotional needs.  My mother says she stayed married to my father because it is her life’s mission to be by his side.  I can’t think of anything he could do short of trying to kill her that would make my mother want to be elsewhere.  My parents weren’t constantly seeking some holy grail of happiness or checking the satisfaction meter to determine if the relationship was worth keeping:  They just accepted the fact that they were family

Long-term relationships are not always pretty.  In fact, if you think that a long-term relationship is as beautiful as it appears to be on the outside, then you’re better off living in a fantasy world.  Fantasies don’t betray you, disappoint you, or stress you out; they are always perfect from start to finish.

But if choose to live in the real world, with real human beings, then I’d think about the start of a long-term relationship like going on a 100-mile hike through a beautiful forest with unpredictable weather and dangerous wildlife.   In fact, you might spend much of that time realizing that you don’t have to put up with this and could be doing something else.

The journey can be fun at times, but it is ultimately a bit draining for those who make the entire hike; it is also not for the faint of heart, because you probably WILL get tested.  If you enter into a long-term relationship by comparing it to the bliss you experience in short ones, you’re almost always going to be disappointed.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University and author of the book, “Financial Lovemaking 101:  Merging Assets with Your Partner in Ways that Feel Good.”  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.