Many of us enter romantic relationships hoping that they will last forever. Therefore when a decision is made to move on, we feel that we have failed in the relationship. Yet the failure is in living up to our own expectations, rather than anything to do with the relationship itself.
Here’s a way of looking at relationships that will instantly make the world a happier place: A relationship is not some kind of test to pass or fail, nor is its success judged merely by its longevity; it is a gift to be enjoyed while it lasts, and maybe a chance for us to grow.
Identify your expectations
Here are some questions to ask yourself, to find out what you really expect from relationships. You can then decide if (a) these are reasonable expectations, (b) your partner has the same beliefs and expectations, and (c) do you want to drop any of these expectations.
I’ve framed it as a fun, totally unscientific but rather revealing quiz that you can answer easily. Just add up the value of your answers. For example, if you picked option (2) as your answer, that’s two points.
1. How long should a relationship last before you consider it ‘successful’? (expectations of longevity)
(0) One day
(1) One year
(2) Ten years
(3) Till death
2. Which endings would classify a relationship as ‘failed’? (expectations of letting go)
(0) If it was my unilateral decision to end it
(1) If it was mutually agreed
(2) If it was the other person’s decision, against my will
(3) Any kind of ending
3. How many romantic relationships can you have before you consider yourself a ‘failure’ at love? (expectations of exclusivity)
(0) An infinite number
(1) Too many for me to remember
(2) More than I care to admit
(3) Just a handful (that’s 5 for us normal-handed people)
4. When you look at friends who seem happily attached, what are your thoughts? (expectations of happiness)
(0) All relationships have ups and downs, and it’s great when it’s up
(1) I wish I had what they have
(2) Maybe one day, that will be me
(3) Maybe I’m just not cut out for a happy relationship
5. In you most private moments, what are you secret thoughts about yourself as a lover or partner? (expectations of self)
(0) If they don’t like me, it’s their loss
(1) Not everyone will like me, but some will
(2) If I tried harder, I could make things work out
(3) Things haven’t worked out so many times, the problem must be me
Bear in mind that this is a fun, unscientific quiz, just to get us thinking about our attitudes towards relationships. There is no right and wrong, just awareness. The higher your total score, the more expectations you have and so the higher the chances of you feeling like you’ve failed in your relationships.
For example, when I was younger my answers would have been mainly (3)s, putting me in the high expectations category. Today I’m close to (0) for most questions, accepting relationships gratefully when they come, and letting go quite easily when their time is through.
You have few expectations of relationships and are happy to take each as it comes and live it while it lasts. You tend to be grateful for every person that has come into your life, even if they are not part of your life anymore.
You have an average number of expectations and sometimes experience disappointment because some of these are not met. While you are relatively balanced in your approach, you sometimes blame yourself when things go wrong.
You have high expectations of relationships and as a result often feel like you have failed in relationships. You are inclined to despair of ever having the dream relationship you desire, and sometimes withdraw altogether rather than get hurt again.
What makes a relationship ‘good’
Of course it is beautiful to see two people who have been married for decades and grew old together happily. There is no doubt that most of us would consider that a wonderful relationship. Yet if this is your only measure of a good relationship, you may miss out on so much else that life has to offer.
If longevity and happiness are not necessarily the best or only measures of a relationship’s success, then how do we recognise a good relationship? In the next post I will suggest some alternative perspectives.