If you’ve never been in an unhealthy relationship please raise your hand and accept your applause. We know the divorce rates aren’t pretty. We know most relationships that would have ended in divorce these days never get married. We have probably seen more relationships that end poorly than end well.
Why choose relationships that cause us so much pain?
That’s a simple answer: we try to make it work with people who aren’t the best fit for us, and get frustrated with them because they’re not. The more we try to force it, the more that frustration turns into resentment: ‘this relationship would be perfect if you were more _____.”
In our society, we typically use two criteria for deciding who we’d like to attempt to form a romantic partnership with (and I’m not even counting all the superficial criteria some people have): attraction and personality alignment. We need to be attracted to the other person, and we want someone who we have fun with, who we simply enjoy spending time with. These are qualities you should share with a partner. When they’re the only criteria you’re using however, it typically ends in pain.
While we should absolutely hold attraction and personality compatibility as priorities, I’ve found that a lot of damage can be avoided if we don’t “pull the trigger” and decide we’re going to try to settle down with someone until two other specific criteria are met as well:
If you’re not already familiar with the different attachment styles, Wikipedia has a nice summary.
While individuals with “secure” attachment styles are always mentioned as the ideal partner, the truth is that no human being is completely secure. We all can all drift into our more insecure attachment style in times of struggle, and that’s why everyone should still consider this when choosing a long-term partner.
In order to have a successful relationship, we must get ourselves as close to secure as possible. Still, even once we do that work on ourselves, our insecure tendencies will still come out even more if we chose a partner, even a secure one, with opposing insecure tendencies.
Say two relatively secure people get together, but one leans anxious while the other leans avoidant (a common and dangerous combination.) Most of the time y’all will be great. When times of stress come up in life, (hello children!) we revert back to our insecure style and that anxious/avoidant combination becomes toxic quickly.
If you’re both relatively secure, you can absolutely make it work. Still, the least amount of pain is endured by both parties if you’re not only both mostly secure, but also aligned in your insecure attachment tendencies. When two mostly secure people with avoidant tendencies face struggle, they’ll both take the space they need before recognizing their pattern and coming back together. If one of those individuals lean anxious, they’ll immediately feel abandoned and seek out the avoidant in times of struggle, complicating the issue.
Dominant or Submissive? aka, Leader or Follower?
Before the torches and pitchforks come out, let me say that I know just as many men who prefer the sub role in a relationship and women who prefer the dom role than the more “traditional” gender roles. This isn’t about oppression, it’s about preference.
I’m not exclusively talking about fetishes like the one portrayed in the 2002 film Secretary, either (although that’s totally cool if you’re both into that.) Some individuals simply prefer to allow someone who they trust to take decision-making off their hands — what we’ll do tonight, where we’ll eat, what we’ll do in the bedroom.
Two doms, or two subs trying to make it work often discover sexual incompatibility after the butterflies wear off, and lack of sexual intimacy is one of the biggest predictors of divorce.
Want to know how difficult your relationship will be in the long-term? Just use this handy table:
|Attraction? (Y or N)|
|Enjoy Company? (")|
Again, if you’re attracted to each other and get along you can absolutely make make it work. My only question is, why?
There are literally millions of people on the planet who are an ideal match for us, and yet most of us still try to force it with individuals who aren’t. We hurt ourselves and the people we love most, resulting in ugly breakups and divorce. We destroy the relationships that matter most to us… and why?
Love chemicals and insecurity.
We find someone who meets the first two criteria, get hit with a ton of bonding hormones and adrenaline, and decide we’ll try to make it work. When issues first start popping up, we ignore them: “it’s not a big deal, we’re fine.” Over time, differences in attachment style and leadership preference start piling up as resentment, and arguments grow.
Despite our feelings trying to tell us that something isn’t right, deep down we worry that we won’t be able to do better than this situation. We cling to these relationships even tighter, and double-down our efforts to make it work.
Again, we don’t have to do this. We can date people in the same way, however when the issues start popping up we can look at them objectively, see if they’re rooted in fundamental incompatibilities, and remember there’s a better match for us if they are.
I believe that individuals who we both feel attraction toward and get along with, but who we aren’t aligned with in the other ways, are meant to be one thing: the kind of lifelong friendships that are the most valuable for our health and happiness on this planet — when we’re not busy destroying them with resentment.
If you find someone you match with on three out of the four criteria, that person should be considered one of your closest friends, even family. Two out of four? Still probably a life-long friend, not quite “family”. One? You can enjoy their company in some way, as long as neither of you starts wanting more.
Whatever we seek, we find. If you keep trying to force connections with people you’re fundamentally incompatible with, then all you’ll find is an endless chain of those relationships. The second you start looking for a partner with more than simply that without settling for less, the more you find those individuals.
It’s our decision, however it’s a decision that affects the people we love most as well as ourselves. But if you know exactly who you are and exactly what you’re looking for, it’s only a matter of time until the universe delivers exactly that: your tribe, and an ideal partner for you.