- Each one of us has a number of (unconscious) love stories that represent the essence of our experiences.
- Our love stories determine what we want from a relationship, how we behave in one, and what our dream partner is like.
- In happy relationships, partners have compatible stories.
My friend Katie met her husband-to-be, Tom, during orientation week in college. They were the couple everyone envied. They spent all their time together and they never seemed to argue. They had the same major and shared many of their hobbies. They liked each other’s families and friends. So it wasn’t a big surprise when Katie and Tom got married soon after graduation. They have two sweet kids, a boy and a girl. Katie stays home taking care of the kids and Tom has a well-paid job as an architect in a local company.
And last year…they got divorced.
Katie and Tom’s story is not unique. Almost every second marriage in the U.S. gets divorced at some point.
And yet, if Katie and Tom had been looking for a partner through a matching company, they would have been pretty much a perfect match for each other. But something didn’t go right.
What is it that Katie and Tom, and so many others, are missing? Why do our “perfect matches” often turn out to be less than perfect or downright disappointing?
The Unconscious Foundation of Your Relationships
In our research, we’ve found that there’s much more to true compatibility than variables like age, religion, culture, hobbies, attitudes, and beliefs. Part of the issue is that there’s a lot we do not know about ourselves, and not knowing ourselves sometimes gets in the way of successful relationships.
Everybody has a set of love stories, that is, a set of ideas, beliefs, and preconceptions about what a relationship should be like, how to behave in a relationship, and what the ideal partner should be like. But—we’re not consciously aware of our love stories.
So if you want to find someone who’s a truly good match for you, here are five keys that you need to keep in mind:
1. Your love stories influence every aspect of your relationship. You have love stories in your mind that determine which potential partners you’re interested in and that shape your expectation of what a relationship should be like, how you should behave in a relationship, how you should interpret your partner’s actions, how you should interact with your partner, and so on.
Your love stories represent the essence of your life—the relationships of family members, neighbors, and friends you have observed since you were a child, your own experiences with other people, the stories you have read in books and watched in movies.
There is no objective reality; rather, it’s your stories that give your relationship meaning. (For more on the stories that shape relationships, click here.)
2. Happy relationships involve matching love stories. Obviously, you’re not the only one with love stories; everybody else has them as well. But there are stories that tend to work better and others that are maladaptive. Additionally, some stories work better together than others. For example, if you have a fantasy story and are looking for a super romantic relationship with your own personal princess, but your partner is not so much interested in romance but rather in creating a relationship that runs smoothly like a business, ensuring you are making good money and have clearly spelled out duties that need to be fulfilled responsibly, both of you are likely to end up disappointed.
You and your partner do not need to have the same story, but for a happy long-term relationship, you will need stories that are compatible with each other.
3. Understand what you really want from your relationship. The love stories you have given rise to what we call the “core components of love.” Depending on your love story, you may have a different need for:
- Intimacy (that is, how close, bonded, and connected you feel)
- Passion (that is, how much emotional and physical attraction as well as romance you have in your relationship), and
- Commitment in your relationship
The issue is—we often are not consciously aware of what we truly want, and where our relationship lags. Dig deep and figure out what you want from your relationship in terms of intimacy, passion, and commitment. Does your partner want the same as you do? If not, try to close those gaps to make your relationship work and fulfill your own needs as well as the needs of your partner.
4. Your partner’s feelings for you matter less than you think. In our studies, we have found that people often haven’t the foggiest idea of how their partner feels about them—and the people who participated in our studies were in stable relationships!
The point is, we can’t ever really know what someone else thinks or feels.
What matters to our happiness is how we want our partner to feel for us, and whether we believe they’re actually feeling that way. For example, your partner may feel that they’re very committed to your relationship. If you don’t feel that they are committed and consequently feel anxious or jealous most of the time, your partner’s factual commitment really doesn’t matter that much to your happiness.
Think about whether you have enough (or too much) of intimacy, passion, and commitment in a relationship, and if there’s a gap, act.
5. Your relationship needs to match your (and your partner’s) needs—not the expectations of those around you. Your love stories determine the kind of relationship and partner you’re looking for and what you expect your relationship to be like. You’ll be happiest when you and your partner have compatible love stories and you meet each other’s needs. The expectations of those around you—parents, family, and friends—as well as those of society matter much less.
You have to realize that there is no wrong or right love story, and it’s all right for you to seek your happiness no matter what others think of your conception of a loving relationship.
The key to your happiness is finding someone whose love story is compatible with yours.
Facebook image: tsyhun/Shutterstock
Sternberg, R. J. (2006). A duplex theory of love. The New Psychology of Love, 184–199.
Sternberg, R. J., & Sternberg, K. (2018). The new psychology of love. Cambridge University Press.