Ever find yourself more in love with the idea of a relationship than the actual person you’re with – or used to be with? You’re so romantic that real life leaves you continually disappointed?
My advice? Ditch the romance.
Therapist, speaker, relationship and infidelity specialist Esther Perel agrees. She believes divorcees or serial monogamists trip themselves up, because they persist in believing in the romantic model per se, and just think they chose the wrong person to do it with.
But in fact, it may be that romance is actually ruining your relationships, not the other way around.
And if you’re thinking, whatever, you clearly haven’t met my awful ex - then, yes, I agree. Sometimes it is that simple; the person was wrong for you.
But more often, an idealistic romantic model is the problem, not the relationship itself.
Try these four ways to rethink your Disneyfied version of romance (and actually focus on your relationship instead).
1) Mr Not-So-Right
Reliance on romance leads us to think that when our relationship experiences disappointment or disagreement - as all long-term partnerships must - our partner must not be right for us.
So dismayed are we by the grubby reality of a flawed human intruding on our romantic dreams, that we put up barriers, or dream of new love elsewhere, instantly concluding that it’s the person who is wrong, not our romantic vision.
This stops us from truly learning about our partner, or trusting and loving them for who they are, because we’re too busy lamenting the romantic ideal we held them up to be.
Embracing the fact that we can all be as careless or thoughtless as each other, means that we’ll be far more willing to work through the issue than simply throwing the relationship baby out with the proverbial bathwater.
It can also give us a platform to move on to other useful strategies - such as doing the 5 Love Languages test by Gary Chapman - and learning how to relate to your partner, and yourself, in a way that makes real sense.
2. My love, my heart, my everything
Idealistic views of romantic love suggest that 'the couple who shares together, stays together’. We may expect our partner to be our ‘everything’, and inevitably hear alarm bells when they’re not.
Of course, I believe that we should all feel listened to, comforted, trusted and respected by our partner. But if, having shared an issue, we feel there is something missing in their response, it’s not necessarily a disaster.
Perhaps what you really need is not a new lover, but simply a night out with an old friend to get a different perspective (and to laugh yourselves under the table).
Maybe your mum is the best person to talk to about it; or your sibling, who just ‘gets’ it because of your shared past.
Maybe this issue could use a coach or a therapist or counsellor, who will listen without expectation or emotionally-charged reply.
It’s very tempting to think that our relationship is doomed if we need to talk about issues with other people, and that we can’t handle it all from the ‘inside’. But we can’t expect one person to be our best friend, lover, confidante, coach, therapist, confidence-booster, playmate, joker, carer, guide, or teacher all the time.
In fact, getting new perspectives - and taking breaks from each other - is more likely to improve and deepen your relationship, not weaken it.
3. We’ll Never Have Paris
Similarly, big relationship decisions are almost never the romantic movie scene of which we dream.
Yes, some people get proposed to on the Eiffel Tower surrounded by a flashmob of gospel singers, but many more people agree to get married or move in together after a long-running and decidedly unromantic series of prosaic conversations about commitment anxiety and how a piece of paper will change how often they have sex.
Take writer Mandy Len Catron, who, after becoming famous in The New York Times for falling in love due to the 36 Questions That Lead to Love experiment, has now gone one step further, and actually drawn up a joint, written contract for her on-going, long-term relationship.
There are clauses on everything from who will walk the dog, to who pays for what meals out, to how often gym clothes must be washed. Talk about romantic.
But while an actual contract may be a step too far, it’s worth remembering that a relationship won’t always be a long walk on the beach.
More often, it’s deciding to show up, day after day; choosing not be rude to each other even when we’re really, really tired; doing small favours when they’ve had a rubbish day; and accepting the fact that your lover is just physiologically incapable of picking up their own underwear from the bathroom floor. And that’s OK.
After all, isn’t that the real romance: choosing to stay because you want to, than because your romantic vision says that’s what couples ‘just do’?
4. Dreamland vs Dealbreaker
This is not to say that all relationships will be successful if we work hard enough, and I would never say that the secret to a partner who makes you miserable is to lower your standards and fundamentally revise your dreams.
Yet, taking a clear-eyed view of what are true deal breakers for you - what I call ‘non-negotiables’ - and what are simply fluffy ideals, helps you work with what you have, and make strides in communication.
By all means have dreams, ideals, deep self-respect, and high standards for yourself and your partner.
But if you want a relationship for the real world, leave the Disney-princess-movie love stories at the door.
Your love life - or your future love life - will thank you for it.
See more at www.yoursunshinelife.com