So many promising relationships don’t last. Despite the partners trying everything, they can’t seem to make it to the next step. Then how can you be sure that your relationship has what it takes?
When I talk to either partner when a relationship is in trouble, they tell me that it started out as what seemed like the perfect relationship. They felt certain that the other person was their soulmate—emotionally, sexually, mentally, and spiritually—and that nothing could diminish what they felt about each other.
When such couples come into therapy, they are understandably confused and demoralized. They have been unable to make sense of why their perfect union derailed, and desperately want to know what could have happened and if they still have a chance.
Too often people enter intimate relationships with an internal fantasy of what it will look and feel like.
These fantasies exist within each person before he or she begins the relationship. When a partner doesn’t live up to the fantasy, they either ignore the evidence or see them as incompatibilities to work on later on.
When two people falling in love do not share those fantasies upfront with each other, they are bound to be disappointed when the other doesn’t fall in line. They don’t realize that authentic love is never pre-written before a new relationship begins. They fully understand and believe that lasting love is born of actual experiences two people have only with each other from the moment they meet, and continues to deepen as time passes.
The dilemma is that fantasy love and authentic love feel very similar at the beginning of a new relationship. Both are filled with passion, devotion, and unconditional support. Yet they are distinguishable early on if partners know what to look for.
New lovers can use these six criteria to help them differentiate fantasy love from authentic love at the onset of a relationship.
1. Families of Origin
Whether we recognize it or not, we unconsciously model our expectations of relationships from those we observe growing up. Unless we were exposed to multiple variations of how people give and receive love, we are highly likely to believe that what we have seen in our own corner of life is the way everybody is supposed to be.
Many people repeatedly fall in love with those who are combinations of relationships they have seen and internalized from the past. Feelings of familiarity can often trap us into relationships that are simply re-creations of what we’ve been shown. It’s as if we’ve been part of a script we didn’t write, but have learned by heart and are able to automatically recall any role by rote memory.
Until we can rewrite our own relationship script, we are pretty much doomed to repeat those patterns. In addition, we are likely to project those roles onto others, expecting them to have memorized the lines they were “supposed to know.”
The blush of new love can make both partners strive to do just that, taking their cues from the responses of the other. All seems familiar and secure until underlying realities emerge.
Authentic lovers are different from fantasy lovers in the way they help each other rapidly recognize these internalized, childhood patterns and then explore them together.
If many other parts of the relationship are good, they can have the confidence to successfully integrate what works and leave the rest behind.
2. Rigidity of Beliefs
Most people, consciously or unconsciously, become very attached to what they believe is the only right way for themselves and others to think and behave. In the throes of the passion and devotion of early love, they may temporarily let go of those rigid beliefs but are eventually bound to resubmit to them.