It’s true of course that hindsight is 20-20. But what causes us to miss things that became a nightmare in retrospect? You didn’t give it enough time. Or if you did, you made up your own story — your own fairly tale of how things would turn out.
You told yourself it was okay that she was in superdrive at work and bent on becoming the first female vice president. You loved her drive and were thrilled for her to achieve. She said her other two husbands felt intimidated by her — and that’s why things didn’t work out. Your kids loved her kids. It was going to be great.
Or… it wasn’t a big deal that he and his ex were still emotionally battling with one another and could barely be civil to one another. You decided she was completely at fault and backed his point of view totally. You didn’t like the fighting, but he said that she was just a bitch…
Or… he loved spending time with his high school friends and invited them over all the time. He was the ring leader and put himself in charge of getting everyone together. There was always a good time to be had. You noticed that it was pretty constant, but you’ were sure he’d settle down when you’re a family.
You start creating a fairy tale….
You take information in — but through the eyes of “lust/love,” you only see what you want to see.
And then, you begin to weave a story — a fairy tale basically — of how things will be — what will happen next — and how it will be wonderful. The things you’re a little uncomfortable with? They will change for the better. “I just know it.” Instead of taking time, instead of waiting to see what knowing someone for a year or two will be like, instead of moving slowly toward an increased commitment, instead of listening to see if your soon-to-be partner takes responsibility for their own actions, you joyfully dive in.
It’s great… at first. “Everything’s going to work out,” the little voice inside your head starts chanting. Maybe you get married and start to weave your lives together. Or you make decisions that change your own life, because it seems important for the relationship. You move to be with him, or you don’t see your girlfriends much anymore. Your life revolves around making the relationship work.
But, over time, the patterns that were cloudy to you before become much more clear.
When a fairy tale becomes a nightmare…
There really are no fairy tales. There’s excitement. And joy. And laughter. And contentment. And the relief of trust.
But those things can get lost if disappointment and despair, anger and bitterness, blame and contempt invade.
The things that you said didn’t matter? The issues that you saw but you talked yourself into believing they weren’t a big deal, or would work out with time? Those changes aren’t happening. And those things matter now — now that you’re very personally and intimately intertwined in each other’s lives.
You still appreciate her drive, but even on the weekends when the two of you have all the kids, she’s working. You begin to feel like the unpaid babysitter, not her husband.
Not only does he still fight with his ex, he won’t compromise with you. What seemed like decisiveness at first seems like bossy-ness and refusing to be cooperative now.
You’re moving toward wanting a child, and creating more of an adult life. He, on the other hand, seems to need the constant stimulation of his friends around him. And his drinking is becoming a huge issue between you.
Things you justified, things you avoided thinking about — become painful to see now.
The author Daphne Kingma in her book, Coming Apart, points out that there’s at least one thing you can generally pinpoint when you look back at a failed relationship — one thing that you ignored, denied, or avoided that’s at the root of what you now see as an intolerable obstacle to remaining in the relationship.
Five Ways To Avoid Creating a Fairy Tale…
How can you avoid this kind of mistake?
1) Be honest about your own emotional health — is your picker broken?
Look at your own patterns and admit your part. Are you creating fairy tales? Are you looking for the magic person who’ll save you or sweep you into their arms? Are you attracted to the bad boys — guys who aren’t growing up or are demanding and self-centered. Maybe you’re allowing a sexual connection to make your decisions for you. Maybe you’re way too urgent about finding a relationship and that urgency is clouding your judgment. It could be many things, but looking at yourself in the mirror and being honest can go a long way in helping you.
2) Make sure your partner’s taking responsibility for their own mistakes.
A blamer stays a blamer. if she talks about her ex’s being intimidated by her, and doesn’t say anything about how she screwed up in her previous commitments, that’s not a good sign. It’s rare that all the fault is on one side in a failed relationship. Look for how someone reveals their own vulnerability — their own struggles, and you can be much more reassured that that’s how they’ll act in your own relationship.
3) Wait. Time will tell. Things don’t always surface until a firm commitment.
Plain and simple. Time will tell you a lot about someone. We all have unconscious ideas about marriage and partnership. We absorbed them when we were children, and watched our parents try to have a relationship. Often, they don’t come to the fore until a commitment is real. It takes time to figure out if you’re making assumptions or having expectations about being in a committed relationship that aren’t obvious on the surface.
4) Make sure you can fight fairly before you get married.
If you’re fighting tooth and nail, or not fighting at all, before you’re committed or married, then something’s amiss. Arguments are natural, and resolution is vital to true intimacy. So, make sure you both can do it, not hold a grudge and get on with living.
5) Realize the beginning of a relationship shouldn’t be really hard.
Unless there’s some kind of extenuating circumstance, like one of you becomes ill or has a sudden loss, then the beginning months of a relationship should be fairly smooth. You’re learning about each other, and you’re fascinated often to do so. If you’re arguing a lot, or it simply seems like you’re spending a vast amount of energy on the relationship, then something’s out of balance. Most folks are on their best behavior when falling in love. And, if this is the best, and it’s really hard, then you ought to consider the relationship more carefully.
Fairy tales don’t exist. Good, healthy relationships do.
Dr. Margaret Rutherford, a clinical psychologist, has practiced for twenty-five years in Fayetteville, Arkansas., Her work can be found at https://DrMargaretRutherford.com, as well as HuffPost, Psych Central, Psychology Today, the Gottman Blog and others. She’s the author of “Marriage Is Not For Chickens”, a perfect gift book on marriage, and hosts a weekly podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Her new book, Perfectly Hidden Depression, will be published by New Harbinger in 2019.