A week before my own wedding–which was last week!–I listened to my friend’s bride give one of the greatest speeches I’ve ever heard at their rehearsal dinner.
She said: “When I was a little girl, I wanted an epic love story, and I wouldn’t settle for less. This made me an extremely lonely young woman. But then I met my husband and he gave me a more epic love story than I could have ever imagined, except he also taught me that love stories can and should be practical, as well…”
I’ve recognized the quality she talked about in all truly good, solid relationships I’ve come into contact with, either as a coach or a friend. It’s a coexistence of opposites: honoring the mystery of human love and connection–which has a magical, ineffable, and flowing quality to it–combined with a fierce pragmatism. These couples allow love to be in its true, natural state, and don’t need to dress it up with bells and whistles to prove that it’s romantic. They, like Ben Affleck famously said at the 2013 Oscars, know that a relationship is the hardest work, but the best work.
Romantic relationships have the honor of giving us some of the greatest happiness and greatest pain we experience in our lives. Unfortunately, it seems we currently have an imbalance toward pain. Of course, challenge and struggle are paramount aspects of evolution and growth, so the goal is not to have complete harmony and ease without challenge. Nevertheless, we seem to love unnecessary pain and hardship when our romantic relationships could be far more rewarding by working on them with more practical perspectives on what they should be like.
As I see it, this extra challenge that makes relationships miserable and confusing–you know, the one where you think there’s something wrong with you or you’re always doing something wrong?–is due to an overemphasis on romanticism and magical thinking and a lack of understanding of how much work and seemingly unending communication a great relationship actually requires. Most of us know that just because we meet a potentially fantastic life partner the details of how we relate to one another don’t magically fall into place all at once, but because of the way our culture has grown to view romance we still become disappointed when this doesn’t happen and assume we must again have chosen incorrectly. We fail to honor just how complex combining two people’s lives–wants, needs, hopes, dreams, fears, anger, etc.–into a romantic relationship is.
This is why working on ourselves in the context of masculine and feminine dynamics and romantic partnership is so important. First, we discover what we actually want, and moreover can get out of our own way when we find a well-matched partner. Second, we learn our own emotional triggers that make our requests skewed and our reactions unlike how we ideally desire them to be. When we learn to know ourselves through psycho-spiritual work, we can thrive in romance and close the gap between what we want and what actually occurs when we interact with our partners. We can have that Oh my God I love you so much! connection but a completely functional and supportive relationship, as well. We can feel free through being totally bonded and committed.