Long-Term Relationships Aren't What You Think

by Lara Rutherford-Morrison

Romantic comedies teach us that the most difficult part of a romantic relationship is the getting together bit. Many of us carry around the belief that if two people can only admit their love for each other, then the hard part is over and everything will be flawlessly wonderful from then on. Hooray! Right? Well, not exactly. The problem with this ideal is that it implicitly argues that if this isn’t the case—if your relationship isn’t always easy or simple or happy—then there is something fundamentally wrong, or that your love is broken. This concept of love-as-always-perfect is problematic and even destructive because it encourages people to expect the impossible: a life free from pain. The truth (which apparently we all need to hear over and over) is that there is no life—and no relationship—that is ever as perfect and pain-free as movies promised us.

Going into a relationship with unrealistic expectations can do harm to both you and your partner because you are, essentially, setting yourselves up to fail. I’m not suggesting that people should stay in bad relationships or that they should settle for partners who make them unhappy. I would never advise that and you should ignore anyone who does. But I am saying that we all need to be able to settle for partners who are human, and we need to allow ourselves to have the flaws and weirdnesses that make us human. In my not-very-humble opinion, we would all be happier if these four myths about long-term relationships would go the way of the dinosaur.

1. Monogamy is easy if it’s True Love™

Society teaches us that if what you and your partner have is love—True Love™—then you will never feel the impulse to think about other people. If your love is real, then you’ll never have a crush on someone else, you’ll never fantasize about others, you’ll never look at porn. If your partner is The One, then these feelings—which came perfectly naturally to you before your relationship began—will simply disappear in the wake of your all-consuming bond.

Nope. This is completely, harmfully, maddeningly untrue. When you commit to someone for the long haul, you and your partner do not suddenly fuse into a single being. You are still an individual, with the right to an inner life that exists separately from your partner. You will continue to have your own fantasies and desires, as will your S.O. When you commit to being in a monogamous relationship, you are promising to stay faithful to one person in spite of the parts of your brain that naturally think about other people and situations—you are not promising that those parts of your brain will no longer exist. Monogamy is something that you do, not something that just happens to you when you fall in love with someone. Being able to acknowledge this basic truth with your partner, and to be able to really talk about it, eliminates a lot of the stress and shame that comes when, inevitably, you find yourself checking out other people.

2. If you’re with the right person, the relationship should be easy

It’s hard enough to find someone you want to be with for the long term. Once you find someone, it should be flowers and corgis all the time, right? Not so much. Being in a committed relationship doesn’t mean you never fight, or misunderstand each other, or get sick of each other. In fact, conflicts can be more intense and more fraught precisely because you’ve committed to stay together. When things get tough, you don’t have the option of abandoning ship; instead you have to do the difficult and often painful work of working through it.

3. If it’s real love, my partner should know what I’m thinking

People idealize the kind of partner “who just gets me,” believing that to be loved is to be implicitly understood. The problem with this idealization is this: When your partner fails to automatically understand what you desire or need, it’s too easy to feel like that failure points to something intrinsically wrong with the relationship as a whole. Being in love does not absolve you of the responsibility of speaking up about what you want. When you’re in a long-term relationship, the necessity of communicating effectively only grows, because both you and your partner will change dramatically as the years pass—how can you keep up with each other if you don’t talk?

4. If I’m in a good LTR, then the rest of my life will seem great all the time

When you’re single and wanting to be in a relationship, it is easy to feel like everything else in life would finally fall into place if only you could find the right person. It’s normal to feel this way; after all, almost every element of our culture—from movies to advertisements to music—appoints romantic relationships as the most important relationships we can have. So of course everything else should fall away when you finally find the right one. But when you’re with someone in a long-term way, you realize that your partner cannot “complete you,” or fulfill all of your needs all the time. You can have a great relationship, but there will always be things that you struggle with: work problems, family troubles, health issues, and endless other events that go into building a life. Ideally, your partner can be a much-needed support system, but he or she cannot fix you, regardless of what Coldplay says.

What it all boils down to is this:

Love has been set up in our society as a mystical, all-powerful panacea. We figure love as active, something that happens to us—if we can just find it, then the love will do everything else. But love is passive—it is something that we make, that we build in the relationality between people. It is up to us to be the active ones: love has to be worked at, built, maintained. Finding love doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility for making your own happiness.

Images: Vincent Anderlucci/Flickr; Giphy (4)