Relationships: Asking for What You Want

Ahh, the movies.  Relationships in the movies are so exciting, aren't they?  Drama, emotional connection, lust, everything a person could want.  Yet, the movies leave something out, the boring stuff that happens in between the exciting stuff - no need to guess as to why.  Yet, often it's the boring and hard stuff that sets the groundwork for the fun stuff, especially after the "happily ever after" of the movies.   Sometimes it feels like we have confused real relationships with the fictional ones - I know I'm guilty of it.  In both my professional and personal life I have come upon this issue over and over.  The most distressing statement I often hear (or think) goes something like, "He/She should just know, why don't they get it?"

Sound familiar?

It is a beautiful and romantic idea that our partner "just gets it", that they see into our soul and understand us completely, that they are our "other half".  Unfortunately, that is not always how it works - especially in newer relationships. In the beginning of relationships (i.e the first few years) we are still only scratching the surface of who this partner really is.

For whatever reason, be it socialization, the movies or the media, we have come to believe that a real partner is able to anticipate and meet all our needs.  So when we bump into the real-life relationship that doesn't meet up to those standards, we get disappointed, frustrated, and often want out.  However, a lack of understanding doesn't mean our partner doesn't love us, it's likely that they are just as frustrated as you.  The study of systems theory (the basis of marriage and family therapy) helps to shine a light on why this may be.

During childhood, we are learning "the rules" of society.  Remember that saying, "Everything I ever needed to know, I learned in Kindergarden"? It's not a bad saying really - at age 5 we are learning how the world works, and we carry that information with us into adulthood. We learn how to treat others, we learn what men and women do, we learn how different relationships work - and we learn these lessons by observing our world around us.  As a child, the world around us is usually made up of our families - our parents, siblings, and any close friends or relatives.  For a child, family = world.

The behaviors and relationships we observe in our families as children become the beliefs we have about behavior and relationships in the world.  This literal interpretation, 'if it happened in my family it must happen in all families', is normal thinking for a child.  But then that interpretation stays with us and becomes a belief in adulthood.  "My parents divorced suddenly and it surprised me, therefore I don't know when a relationship will last."  "My parents are married and fight all the time, fighting must be what married people do."

Yet, beliefs and rules are created about every aspect of the world, not just the big pieces, meaning beliefs can get pretty specific - as specific as what kind of milk to keep in the fridge.  With all the different details that make up a family, is it any wonder that by the time we reach adulthood we all have our own set of rules for how the world works?

So what does this mean for your relationship?  At the very basic level, it means that for every belief you have about how a relationship works, your partner may have another.  Unfortunately, this gets in the way of the "he just gets me" romance.  On the other hand, it also means that maybe your partner isn't a selfish bozo, but just clueless as to what your "rules" are.

The solution?  TALK.  Talk to your partner about your needs, tell them what you believe, what you hope for, what you want.  Be specific!  No, it's not romantic to sit your partner down and say, "I love flowers.  When you bring home flowers it makes me feel appreciated, loved and special. Please, sometimes, will you bring me flowers?"  But, will you get flowers every now and then?  Probably so, and that moment will be romantic.

For the bigger issues, it may take months or years of conversations before you begin to understand each others beliefs and rules - but if you are going to spend months, years, or decades with this person, those conversations are worth having.  Real love isn't like the movies, in reality there are slow, boring, difficult parts - but real love is also better than the movies, because with effort, it can last a lifetime.