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How Hope Can Sabotage a Relationship

Why it is important to keep hope in check.

Flickr/cc license
Source: Flickr/cc license

You’ve met someone. They seem perfect. You appreciate your time with them. You seem to have a lot in common. They’re charming, complimentary, and smart. As far as you can tell, they love their family and are kind to animals.

They might be someone you haven’t known long—maybe there’s just been one date so far, or maybe you haven’t even met them in person yet, but you can just tell it’s meant to be. Or maybe you’ve been partners for a substantial period, enough to say with at least some certainty that you really “know” them. Whatever the specifics, you can’t help but be hopeful about your future with this person.

When you’ve experienced great chemistry with someone, hopeful feelings arise about what can come next. From your perspective, there is never-ending potential for this person to provide everything you could want in a relationship, and you for them. Without even realizing it, who you hope this person will be, the roles you could have in each other’s lives, and the myriad ways those roles can be filled can overtake the reality of who they are.

You may not have identified it yet, but you may be hoping that your story will play out just like your favorite rom-com. They will rescue you from your mundane life, and you’re the ideal fit for them. But when your hope about who and what they are supposed to be goes unchecked, you can end up feeling short-changed, frustrated, even dissatisfied to the point at which you preempt, even sabotage, any real possibility. When you hope you’ve found the perfect person with whom to live happily ever after, reality cannot compete. You will either diminish what is possible or be unable to recognize the positive but imperfect traits this person brings to the table.

It can be utterly intoxicating to allow yourself to indulge in the fantasy of what you hope they are, like you’re walking on air. Without even realizing it, you allow yourself to hope that this person can save you from a life of disappointment, which sets you up to expect the impossible when they don’t respond in the ways you think they should.

This situation often stems from hopes that have been created over time in reaction to previous disappointments. Without meaning to, you hope this person will be so wonderful that they will make up for everything that came before. You hope this person can heal your broken heart, make better the things you are sad about, when they had nothing to do with how you got that way.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t feel hopeful. Go right ahead and feel hopeful! Hope is a powerful tool for getting through each day. Hope is an extremely important force of motivation and inspiration. It’s okay to be hopeful about anything that you want or desire to be different in your life.

In fact, it’s even okay to have unrealistic hope (like the hope that this person will be perfect and have no flaws), as long as you recognize that your hope that they make up for the wrongs of your past is not based in reality. As long as you’re aware that you’re being unrealistically hopeful about who they can be, that’s okay. It’s when you allow your hopeful feelings about this person to become real—when you think your hope is based in reality—that hope can actually overpower reality.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to ensure that hope about what will be doesn’t run away with you:

  1. Does your hope have an agenda? When it comes to another person, your hopeful feelings won’t change how they feel.
  2. Are you hopeful that things will proceed magically with this person, without having to do the hard work it takes to build a real and meaningful connection?
  3. Is your hope about who they are supposed to be drowning out who they actually are?
  4. Do you actually know that the feelings are mutual, or are you so overwhelmed with hope that they are perfect and will be your happily-ever-after, that anything else will be dissatisfying?
  5. Are you being realistically hopeful that you can make a relationship work with a real person in the real world, or are you hoping this person you just met that seems “perfect” will be perfect in every way you could want or need?

In each case, if it’s the latter, you’re in for some pretty significant hope-bubble popping. By being aware of the ways your hopeful feelings are experienced, you are less likely to sabotage a potential relationship.