What Do You Do When Your Partner Is Not Perfect?

These days, there are fewer perfect princes.

Posted Jul 24, 2011

"I tell myself to wait because Cinderella didn't find her prince until the end." Unknown

 The notions of "the ideal person" and "the perfect match" are central to our perception of romantic love. What do you do when your partner is not perfect? I will examine this issue by referring to three major types of romantic compromises and will illustrate their presence in the actual, true story of Anna.

Anna is an attractive and talented woman at her late forties. She has been married twice and in between had another significant romantic relationship. She has three children-two from her first husband and one from the last. In each relationship she was required to make a different type of romantic compromise and finally chose not to compromise anymore.

As mentioned in my previous post (see here), the major types of romantic compromises are: (a) compromising on the overall value of the partner; (b) compromising on the nature of love between them; and (c) compromising on the actual activities within the given framework of being together. I would like here to continue the line of thinking of the last post and to enhance it by referring to another real case.

The type of romantic compromises that concerns the overall value of our partner involves considering the partner to be inferior compared to other people, and this is very painful and insulting for both people. The second type of compromise relates to the nature of love in the relationship. Two major issues in this regard involve the presence of reciprocity in the romantic relationship and the intensity of the various components in love.

The third type of compromise refers to activities within the practical framework of their togetherness. Here, the external circumstances in which the couple's relationship exists -circumstances that are external to their love but essential to their life-are of great importance. Such circumstances can include, for example, differences in socioeconomic level, education, age, religion, and marital status, as well as work, children, and in-laws. Belonging to a certain framework involves the benefits of this framework but also its limitations. There are a variety of ways in which to carry out loving activities within a relationship and therefore there is room for compromising on the specific ways of doing so.

Anna was at her late twenties when she married Brad. She considered him to be on her own level, as he was a talented and good man. She loved him and respected him. On the surface everything seemed fine, but as time went by she realize how dull, almost dead, her love was. The sex was fine; not great, but fine. However, their togetherness was boring; they could not find common issues to discuss or common activities to enjoy together. This realization did not change  Anna's judgment of his overall value and there were no particular external circumstances disturbing their togetherness. There was just no love between them and their togetherness was mechanical and superficial as if they lived alongside each other, rather than together. She realized that she was making a profound compromise of the second type, and after six years of marriage, she initiated the divorce and raised their two kids by herself.

Then Anna met Robert who was a single man, older than her by about 20 years. Robert lived abroad and they saw each other every few months, mainly on long weekends; sometimes they came to each other's home and spent a longer time together. In between, they communicated every day for a few hours through phone calls and emails. Anna certainly did not consider Robert to be below her and might perhaps even have regarded him as a bit above her. The excitement was great and love had never been so profound for her. There was no compromise of the first and second types.

After a few years, Robert wanted to come and settle down in Anna's country and marry her. Anna refused. She thought at that time that her refusal stemmed from her wish not to hurt him, should their marriage fail. But in fact there was no profound romantic reason to believe that this would be the case. Her refusal actually stemmed from the third type of compromise-circumstances relating to their external framework. The age difference between them was too much for her. He was in his mid-fifties and she thought that as time passed their age difference will become more evident. Marrying him would be a significant compromise of the third type-that which relates to the general framework of their marriage. She felt that the depth of the compromise would constantly increase in the years to come.

When Anna met her second husband, Ron, the passion was immediately intense. After being together a few years and having a baby girl, Anna began to detect some of Ron's weaknesses, to which she did not pay attention or did not give significant weight. Those newly revealed weaknesses even include small physical flaws, such as slight noises he made while walking and a slight limp. In addition to these specific flaws, Anna began to feel that Ron was lower to her in some overall sense. The passion in their relationship remained at an average level but this was not enough for Anna, who obtained a divorce a few years later when the kids were a bit older.

Anna's three major loves are associated with the three major romantic compromises: the overall value of the partner, the nature of love, and the framework of the relationship. Although the overall compromise is usually the most painful and the compromise concerning the framework the least, all three of them led Anna to terminate all three relationships.

Each type of compromise can be of varying degrees. A high degree of each can lead to separation, as in Anna's case. However, Anna's behavior is not typical-many women (and men) stick to one of the above compromises. Anna just could not do so, as she believed that she deserved more. She implemented this belief by having occasional loving affairs while being in the relationship, but she mainly preferred to forgo such relationships rather than wake up every morning realizing that she did not love the man who was sleeping next to her and in whose arms she was the previous night.

The optimal choice when not having the perfect lover can of course be different than the one for which Anna opted. A common way is to compromise and stop hoping for the perfect prince to appear and in a sense to be happy with one's lot. But it seems that these days, more and more people opt for the choice Anna took. Apparently, these days there are fewer perfect princes (and those who exist are already taken).

The above considerations can be encapsulated in the following statement that a lover might express: "Darling, although you are below me, our passion is not so intense, and we frequently fight about your mother and my work, we can continue being together, since your inferiority is slight, the reduction in our mutual passion is not so significant, and after our fights we have great sex."