• Finding a relationship that lasts beyond the honeymoon phase can seem difficult, perhaps especially in the modern day

  • Psychotherapist Andre de Trichateau wonders whether we might benefit from changing up our expectations

  • If relationships are a struggle, we have therapists and counsellors who can help here

Relationships seem to be on most people’s mind, whether they are in one and feel insecure or they are not in one and feel left out. There seems to be a great deal of fantasy of what a relationship is; security, being loved, companionship. We speak to our friends about them, we wonder where they are at in their relationships, lots of well-meant pressure is exerted, such as “have they met their friends yet?” or “will they meet your parents?” 

Dating becomes more than the two people involved, it becomes a composite on past and future wishes, our friends and families, the desire to make the graceful move from ‘I’ to ‘we’ and a feeling that you have crossed a certain societal line but, as Erich Fromm said: “there is hardly any other enterprise which is started with such great hope and expectation and yet fails so regularly as that of love”. Why is this? Are our expectations about love and relationships realistic? 

Is it really about Love Island?

We are inundated with so many ideas of what a relationship would and should look like that we have quite a distorted and complicated view on something that should not be such hard work. The fact that finding love and being in a relationship now takes place in front of the nation, with shows like Love Island and First Dates, shows we are as infatuated with these programmes as we are with a first love.  

The almost voyeuristic thrill of watching two people at the very start of a potential relationship has been internalised as how a relationship should begin. It becomes national headlines, people are cast into villainous roles or rescued victims, we start to think along these same lines, which eventually become fault lines as the relationship fails to deliver a TV scripted journey.

Do these programmes help or hinder our ideas of a relationship? Like anything, there are good and bad points. On one hand, It is entertaining, we can relate to and perhaps empathise with the struggle of two people floundering a little, being on best behaviour and running the gauntlet towards love. On the other hand, we know that it is a scripted portrayal, carefully edited and creatively curated for the sole purpose of entertainment and, because most of us have been in that struggle, it resonates. Love becomes a very well-orchestrated drama playing out in front of our eyes and we fall for it is dramatic allure. Either because we have been there and survived, or we are looking and it fills us with promise.

Then why is it so hard to find?

Most people approach love and relationships with a certain optimism that soon wanes when we realise it is not quite like the TV or films. We have forgotten we are letting someone in and they, in turn, are inviting us in and this takes time and trust.  

Love certainly brings about a certain psychotic state. We find ourselves fixated on the telephone, wondering when they will message, play games as to when we will respond, we can’t concentrate, fantasising what lies next in this unfolding romantic drama, our very own version of Love Island playing out in our minds.  

When do we ever really feel like this? When do we use phrases like “they’re the one” or, my personal favourite; “we are soulmates”. I am sure this is true during this initial state but once everything settles, the reality dawns that this soulmate leaves the loo seat up and their pants on the floor!

I wonder, as I often do with my clients who find themselves in this predicament, what it would feel like to treat the potential relationship like a potential friendship. We don’t have any expectations only that we get on and respect one another. We don’t rush into intimacy, we allow it to grow organically, meeting somewhere, maybe a coffee later, perhaps dinner then a weekend/holiday. Friendships work because we don’t rely on them in the way we rely on a relationship.

The stages of a relationship

There are several stages to relationships. When we meet someone lots of hormones and chemicals begin shooting off: oxytocin, adrenaline, dopamine and numerous others in various degrees of intensity. This is the cause of the psychotic state, we are being driven by chemical overload not by common sense.  

Incidentally, I very much doubt we have the same level of intense reactions when we meet a potential friends, another reason they work so effortlessly, we have a level of awareness. However, at the start of a relationship we operate below the level of awareness and become somewhat addicted to that feeling of falling in love. The bad news? It usually ends after 8-10 months. This is the start of the real relationship. Everything we found so alluring before, those little mannerisms and quirks may now irritate us. 

All the hormones have settled and we either start a very real relationship or it ends. This is why some people often leave around the nine month mark, they mistake a lack of hormones for a lack of love, so they spend their life chasing this nine month timeframe and ultimately believe they are unlovable.

Can therapy help?

People come to therapy with a fantasised relationship in mind – the longed for parent, the person with the answers, someone who will rescue them. There is the hope that, maybe, the imagined other will do all the work.   

Depending on their histories, this will determine the therapeutic relationship and this takes time to sensitively work through to give the client autonomy and self-knowledge and, with this, they can enter into new relationships knowing their deficits and without the expectation that the new partner will fill these.  

As with all relationships, including the therapeutic one, conflict must be addressed as and when it appears, otherwise it will be a ticking timebomb and detonate when least expected. Typically this will result in the end of the therapeutic relationship without warning or, outside of this, the breakdown or ‘ghosting’ of romantic partners.

What next?

In my opinion, which I cannot exactly say is an accurate science, I would always suggest a ‘wait and see’ approach. Sometimes if we can bear the anxiety of waiting we might be surprised. Life is not a scripted television show and whilst it is good entertainment – to a certain extent – it is not real life. 

If you can accept your partner as your partner and come to terms with the fact that neither party will ‘save’ one another, you will have a greater chance of having a meaningful and authentic relationship and not a Love Island drama.

Andre de Trichateau is a verified Welldoing therapist in London

Further reading

What's at the root of love addiction?

What is intimacy anyway?

Can you change your attachment style?

Your partner is struggling with their mental health: don't forget about yourself

5 myths and misconceptions about couples therapy