Monday, February 8, 2016

A Real Love Story: Debunking Relationship Myths [Part 1]

If you missed the introduction to the #RealLoveStory series, you can find it here. In short, I'm vowing to share the truth about love and marriage around Valentine's Day. To start, I'm tackling some of the myths we believe or that culture sells us about love, relationships, and marriage.

I think our view of love and relationships often gets distorted by the myths we buy into. We learn about love from those around us, and usually the loudest voices are the ones getting it wrong. Whether it's TV and movies or our childhood friends, growing up our sources on love aren't always the best.

Take it from me, I grew up on Disney and even that's not safe. I had two awesome parents with a strong marriage, but I wasn't there for the beginning. So I looked to the examples I found in the films watched endlessly. They were full of stories of beautiful people suddenly stumbling upon the person of their dreams, with whom they sailed off into the sunset. Ahh, romance!

It took me a while to adjust my thinking. I wasn't actively aware of my belief in the "Disney relationship," but over time I came to realize just how much it had affected my ideas of love. I was always looking for the beautiful, perfect person to complete my world and validate me as a woman. Thankfully time and some unignorable wake-up calls drew me away from that mindset and toward the truth.

I know I'm not the only person who has been fed a myth about love and marriage. No doubt our preconceptions play a larger role than we realize in how we view relationships. So today I want to take some time to debunk a few myths that I have believed or observed.

A relationship will complete me. (Or make me a better person, make me happy, etc.)

I think one of the most important things you can do before getting into a relationship or getting married is to know yourself, well. Because here's the thing, who you are before  dating/marriage is who you'll be when  you're dating/married. So if you're not happy with who you are, if you aren't complete as a person, or if you think you need to improve yourself, a relationship won't do that for you. It will simply magnify those issues over time. And they will come out.

My advice is to take time to really get to know yourself and appreciate the things that make you who you are. Honestly, that was one of the best parts about getting married later than most of my peers (even though that wasn't really by choice). I had time to experience life, to grow up, to learn some important lessons, and to become content in who I am, just me, by myself. It was a gift that I didn't ask for and definitely didn't appreciate until after I got married.

And after marriage, you don't go away. You're still you and you need to make time for yourself. Full disclosure: I had a mini identity crisis after getting married, moving, leaving one job and losing another all within a few months. The best thing I did was take some time to focus on and do the things that I loved. It helped me realize I'm still the same person, I still have the same passions, interests, and talents and I need to take time to do things I enjoy.

I have to find the perfect person and when I do, our life will be perfect.

I definitely bought into this lie (thanks again, Disney). But in reality, we can't expect anyone to be perfect because no one  is perfect. And two imperfect people together can't expect to have a perfect life. I think sometimes we get this idea that "happily ever after" is real and once we're married life becomes this amazing, wonderful thing. Don't get me wrong, there are some really amazing, wonderful aspects of being married, but life is never perfect.

Rather than looking for someone perfect, I think it's more important to work on yourself. Become the type of person you'd want to marry. At the end of the day, we can only change ourselves. And like the first myth, no one can make us happy by being the perfect spouse. So work on the qualities you want to possess and wait for someone who also embodies those qualities.

And since life is never perfect, I recommend choosing someone who will be able to take on the challenges and struggles of life with you. If life is challenging before you're married, it will be challenging after. Bad things don't stop happening, in fact sometimes they get worse. So rather than hoping for a fantasy land of perfection, look for someone who will support you, fight for you, and tackle life's difficulties with you.

I can change the person I love. (Or he/she will be different after we're married.)

This ties right in with the previous myth; unfortunately, you can't change anyone but yourself. So expecting that marrying someone will make them better, or that you'll be able to change them over time, is a myth. In fact, it's more realistic to assume that whatever you don't like about someone will actually get worse with time. I know it sounds harsh, but I think it's better to have a realistic picture of what marriage will look like than to enter it with unrealistic expectations.

The truth is, when you're married, you can't hide your faults any more. When you're dating it's easy to project your best self and try to mask your flaws. After marriage, you're spending virtually all your spare time with this person, you're living together, you're using the same bathroom and sleeping in the same bed. Besides not having the time and space to try to disguise faults, they're typically magnified by increased interactions, conflict, and problems that will arise.

So while no one is perfect, if there is a major issue you notice in someone, don't ignore it and don't fool yourself into thinking you can fix it. To be totally honest, it may be time to move on, because you should never convince yourself of the next myth...

No one else will love me. (Or I'll never be able to find anyone better.)

Two words: never settle. Ever. It doesn't matter if you think there's no one else out there or even if you've been told that, it's not true. If you know this person isn't the best person for you, if you're even a little unsure of whether you should get married, don't do it. At least give it time and don't make a rushed decision.

Culture and even the church has done a bad job of putting marriage on a pedestal. Granted, it is a really great and amazing thing, but so is singleness. There are challenges to both just as there are positives to both. If you're willing to settle just so you won't be single, I think we need to have a chat. (Also, please revisit the first myth.) Settling for someone who isn't right for you is a huge mistake. It will affect you in ways you can't begin to imagine and will lead to a lot of heartache.

If this is you--or you think it could be you in the future--I recommend surrounding yourself with friends who will speak truth into your life. There is no better way to tackle the lie of "no one else will love me" than by filling your life with those who know you and love you. They will lift you up and give you honest feedback on your dating choices. Plus their outside, unbiased opinion can help give you balance.

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