Romance is that elusive feeling we pursue in a relationship. It’s hard to accurately describe in a few words, yet once we experience it, it’s something we continue chasing until we find it again. It’s what causes butterflies in our stomach and gives us that dopamine-high we associate with excitement, anticipation and joy in a relationship.
Most of us get our first stereotypical idea of romance through books, television or movies. It starts early – even Disney sells us a vision of what “true romance” should be. In romance novels or rom-com movies, no one ever has bad breath or any horribly bad habit that isn’t glossed over with charming good looks or an hourglass figure. It’s easy to see why our expectations for romance in our real lives sometime leave us disappointed.
Real people are not book or movie characters, and true romance is very different than what it’s portrayed for us in those books and shows. We are complex and full of contradictions. Some of our traits are pretty set, even permanent. Others, are habits or tendencies we can mold or change over time.
The beginning of a relationship
The beginning of a relationship is when romance tends to be at its highest. Each partner is trying to impress the other and you are exploring all the ways you and your partner are alike. Interests and passions you share. Goals and aspirations that are in sync. You’ve probably heard the phrase “love is blind”, and in some ways that can be true early in a relationship. We idealize our partners and we overlook or choose to ignore the sides of them that aren’t as attractive to us.
Once the new wears off
But by the second year, the movie-version romance fades and you begin to see all the sides of your partner, even the less desirable ones. Something called ‘differentiation’ begins to happen and each of you starts to notice all the ways in which you not the same. And sometimes those differences are habits and details that really annoy us!
When these differences start to pop up, we have the tendency to work really hard trying to change or control our partner’s behavior. Or, we stay silent, slowly simmering and building resentment. As you might guess, neither is effective and both spell slow-death in the romance department.
By year 6 or 7, a couple can become really entrenched in this pattern of behavior, ineffective communication, and escalating fights. This is also when a lot of couples decide to give up and throw in the towel on their relationship, convinced their relationship is doomed and the romance dead.
When reality doesn’t meet expectations
By this time, the couples that haven’t given up, come to places like The Marriage Place seeking help. I find time and again that expectations, or should I say unmet expectations, are what trip up most couples. When your reality doesn’t meet your expectations, dissatisfaction sets in and your relationship is the casualty.
Now keep in mind not all expectations are bad. In fact, we all should have expectations for ourselves, for our spouse and for the relationship. The keyword is realistic. Are your expectations realistic? That’s where we can help.
We can help you level set, keeping the healthy expectations and reframing ones that aren’t realistic. You’ll decide if all the good parts you fell in love with are enough to offset his/her less desirable attributes. We all have those parts, you know.
If you can negotiate through your differences, you’ll find a new level of appreciation for your spouse. I also think you’ll find you’re now as committed to the relationship as much or more than you are to each other, putting you both in a better position to handle whatever it is that life throws at you. When each partner feels free to be themselves, without feeling the need to hide parts of themselves, it’s a game changer for your marriage and specifically for the romance in your relationship.
At The Marriage Place, we talk a lot about differentiation, as we explore the Developmental Model (originated by Dr. Ellen Bader and Dr. Pete Pearson of The Couples Institute) with many of our clients. If the romance in your relationship has waned, and you feel stuck in the same old pattern of conflict, let us help you reconnect.