Adapted from Are You With the Right Mate? by Rebecca Webber (Psychology Today, 1.1.2012)
Are you with the right mate? Is there some MORE right person waiting for you somewhere? And if you could find that one special person, would you then, finally, find fulfillment and happiness?
Family experts and researchers are suggesting that much of our marital discontent stems from idealizing how our relationship should look, and from our anger that it can never be that. A recent article in Psychology Today presents evidence that women, more than men, bring some element of fantasy into their intimate relationships. Women tend to compare their mates much more than men do, and as a result become more disillusioned; it is women who generally initiate more breakups and two-thirds of divorces.
Men, on the other hand, tend to monitor the gap between what they have and what they think they deserve only in the sexual arena. They don’t monitor the quality of their marriage on an everyday basis.
William Doherty, professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota and author of Take Back Your Marriage, insists that no one is going to get all their needs met in a relationship. There are certainly cases in which we really do choose the wrong person — someone who doesn’t share our basic values or who is ultimately not interested in or capable of meeting our needs. In most cases, however, Doherty urges fundamental acceptance of the person we choose and the one who chooses us.
We’re all flawed, he writes. As parents of children, we accept that this comes with the territory; with spouses, we find this terrible, intolerable and unacceptable. (Says UCLA psychologist Thomas Bradbury, “You don’t have a line-item veto when it comes to your partner. It’s a package deal; the bad comes with the good.”)
Culture pushes us further in the direction of discontent. “Some disillusionment and feelings of discouragement are normal in the love-based matches in our culture,” explains Doherty. “But consumer culture tells us we should not settle for anything that is not ideal for us.” We then engage in destructive behaviors, like blaming our partner for our unhappiness or searching for someone outside the relationship.
Christine Meinecke, a clinical psychologist in Des Moines, Iowa, espouses a new marital paradigm that she refers to as “the self-responsible spouse.” Rather than focusing on what isn’t so great, we should shift the focus away from our partner and towards ourselves: ‘Why am I suddenly so unhappy and what do I need to do about that?'”
In mature love, we do not blame our partner for our unhappiness, but rather “take responsibility for the expectations that we carry, for our own negative emotional reactions, for our own insecurities, and for our own dark moods.”
Marriage, then, is not only, or necessarily, about finding the right person. It’s about becoming the right person.