Do you have a fantasy of what a perfect partner for you might be?
Do you sometimes (or often) judge the person you’re dating or married to as lacking against this fantasy and wonder whether there’s someone else better out there?
Do you have a list of what this perfect partner should look and be like?
Or do you sometimes look over at your honey while folding laundry in your frayed and bleach-stained pajamas and wonder if the lack of spark between you two means your relationship is doomed?
Do you believe that the lack of sex and romance, bickering, conflict and power struggles you’ve been wading through signals a death toll for your relationship?
Do either or both of these beliefs feel familiar? Would you say that maybe – just maybe – they sometimes keep you feeling confused, stuck, or unsatisfied in your romantic relationship?
If so, today’s blog post is for you.
So keep reading and let’s turn these beliefs inside out in the week leading up to Valentine’s Day…
The Myth of The Perfect Partner.
Let me begin by saying what I’m sure you already know: There is no such thing as a Perfect Partner. In my personal and professional opinion, the concept of a Perfect Partner is a myth, a fantasy sold to us and fervently fed through most songs, paperback romance novels, compulsive Tinder swiping, and certainly most all Disney movies ever.
The Myth of The Perfect Partner often causes us to have unrealistic expectations of others (and often of ourselves, too) which can lead to a great deal of emotional pain in and out of relationships.
“So what’s the alternative?”, you might be asking, “Give up the idea of a Perfect Partner and settle?!”
No, not exactly.
I’m not advocating that anyone fundamentally settle, but I am advocating for an expectation reframe around the idea of The Good Enough Partner versus The Perfect Partner.
What’s a Good Enough Partner?
The Good Enough Partner is an idea I’ve toying with derived from the concept of the “Good Enough Parent,” an idea coined and made famous by pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, MD.
In other words, a Good Enough Parent helped their kids to learn how to cope with and face an imperfect world including themselves as imperfect parents – a key developmental task that children must face in their development and emotional growth towards adulthood.
(Caveat: Screwing up and “failing” as parents does not include egregious harm like physical, verbal, or emotional abuses. It means, perhaps, having to miss your kid’s soccer game because of an unavoidable board meeting. Big difference.)
A Good Enough Partner, if we were to extrapolate on this idea from Winnicott, might then be a partner who had sound relational instincts, devotion to the relationship, and who screwed up or “failed” in ways that actually helped foster our own growth and development as adults.
In real life, this might look like someone who meets most of our deep needs but not all of our surface wants.
It might mean a partner who, because of their imperfections, actually allows us to grow stronger in our personal empowerment and in our ability to navigate through the world.
And, of course, reframing our expectations from expecting and seeking out a Perfect Partner to a Good Enough Partner might allow us to more easefully connect and form relationships with others we may have previously disregarded because they didn’t measure up to our fantasy of “Perfect.”
So What Qualities Does A Good Enough Partner Have?
My belief is that many characteristics of the Good Enough Partner – someone with sound relational instincts, devotion to the relationship, etc – may then be qualities that can’t be seen by eye but instead felt through the heart and soul. In other words, it’s the exact opposite of a Dream Partner List that requires someone be 6 foot or over, highly educated, with a big salary, great wardrobe, and thick wavy hair.
So what qualities or characteristics might compose this Good Enough Partner? While I think that’s a highly personal list you need to clarify and generate on your own, others have some pretty great ideas about this that you might use as a starting point.
For example, renowned psychotherapist and 35-year ALS survivor Mariah Fenton Gladis, MSS in her wonderful book “Tales of Wounded Healer” talks about choosing a man – her loving husband Ron – with “nerves of steel and heart of gold” and, because of her early losses, that she had a “deep need for a partner who she could trust impeccably and whom [she] could trust impeccably and who would protect, cherish, and stand by [her].”
One of my other favorite psychotherapists Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD gives a wonderful and robust list of attributes of what you might seek in a partner in her audiobook “How to Really Love a Woman” which includes qualities like “Choose someone as though you were blind” and “Choose someone who’s willing to be like you – both strong and sensitive.”
Bottom line: The Myth of The Perfect Partner creates, for many, hugely unreasonable expectations that might get in the way of connecting and experiencing the love we’re longing for. What I would invite you to do instead is a search for and embrace a Good Enough Partner – someone who has the qualities and characteristics that you personally believe can provide a sound relational home for you to grow and to love in. But even when you find or embrace relationship with this person, I can guarantee you it won’t always be easy.
The Myth that Love Should Be Easy.
I think that another big introject that causes pain for many people in relationships is the myth that love is easy. In my personal and professional opinion, this couldn’t be more untrue.
Love, specifically romantic love, I truly believe, is challenging. It’s hard. And it’s hard for a reason:
But that’s not what the collective social message would have us believe so, inevitably, when things get tough and rough and challenging, many of us get scared and assume that the relationship we’re in is with the wrong person.
With the right person love would be easier, right? Wrong.
Caveat: In no way am I implying that emotional, verbal, or physical abuse is okay in relationship. It’s not. If you feel you may be dealing with an abusive partner or an abusive relationship, please reach out and get support as soon as you can.
Romantic Love vs. Individuation vs. Mature Love.
Movies, stories, songs and love-centered holidays like Valentine’s Day by and large celebrate romantic love, specifically the heady, romance-filled early stages of love that sells onscreen and off. One of the ideas I’ve really taken away from the extensive work of famed psychotherapists and love researchers John Gottman, PhD and Julie Gottman, PhD, is there are actually three stages of love, romantic love being only one of them.
Romantic love is the stage of relationship that implies effortlessness – that love will be easy once the Prince and Princess get together and the curtains close and the lights dim. But romantic love is actually only the first stage of relationship and in reality, actually, the love story is just getting started.
This stage can last months, years, or decades depending on the context of the individuals in the relationship, and it’s often a time many people might call it quits in the relationship. But if two people can weather the challenges of the Individuation Stage, they may enter the third, less media-glorified stage of Mature Love.
Now, it’s not to say that conflict or challenge won’t exist once you arrive at the Mature Love stage nor will ease be absent from the Individuation stage. Ease and conflict exist across all these stages and it’s a critical reminder that love is not always easy. Love can be hard.
Love is not always easy and it’s something we work for and through in relationship. The Myth of Love Being Easy is just that – a myth. So I wonder, given this can we all have just a bit more compassion for ourselves and our relationships when we find ourselves struggling?
Wrapping Up & Moving Forward.
Valentine’s Day (or any holiday or time of our lives celebrating romantic love) can be a wonderful but challenging and triggering time for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is the absurd double dose of Myths lots of us ascribe to: The Myth of the Perfect Partner and The Myth that Love is Easy.
So if you’re feeling challenged as Valentine’s Day approaches and it’s because of the myths we explored today, I hope that unpacking and challenging these two pervasive myths felt helpful and easeful to you in some way.
But maybe Valentine’s Day feels hard this year because you’re in a relationship where you’re having other kinds of challenges. If so, check out my other blog posts for support and inspiration: “A Care Package for Your Relationship” and “Is your style of communication getting in the way of your relationships?”.
Or maybe Valentine’s Day feels hard this year because you’re single and longing to be in a relationship. If so, I want to invite you to explore my post “What if I never meet the One?” and “What are the tools in your emotional first aid kit?” for some support and guidance.
And finally, maybe you’re not in a relationship, happy as a clam, and couldn’t be less triggered by Valentine’s. If that’s you, great! I hope you have a lovely holiday.
But no matter what, please remember, relationships are hard, complicated, triggering, and yet so utterly worthwhile if we do the work. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t have a profession and almost all works of music, art and literature wouldn’t exist. So if you’re feeling challenged in relationship this Valentine’s day, you’re not alone and I invite to continue to take really good and gentle care of yourself. And, as always, reach out if you need support.
Until next time, take very good care of yourself.