why realistic expectations matter to the health of a relationship

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Check out the cliff noted version of Alain De Botton’s points from his talk, “How We Destroyed the Capacity to Love.” Alain is a philosopher, researcher, and creator of the “School of Life”, focusing on educating the world on emotional and relationship wellness. As a marriage and family therapist, I find his style of teaching important because it aligns with the rationale for many strategies we use while working with clients. The lessons he shares are in quotations and any additional thoughts are added after.

  1. “Those who love us, properly criticize us.” Let’s be real, criticism feels and sounds terrible. There’s a difference between criticism and constructive feedback. His recommendation is 100% more effective than the typical criticism we give in relationships. If we let them, our partners can be great teachers. If feedback is given lovingly and kindly, they can be an amazing source of growth. True love is seeking the best for the other person, which usually results in healthy change.
  2. “We take our beliefs and views from love from outside of us.” This leads us to believing myths. Things like: perfect soulmates, undying intense feelings for and from our partner means that you’re in love, sex as the ultimate expression of love (what does this mean when a person commits adultery?)
  3. “The way we love as adults is influenced by past experiences and childhood.”
  4. “Learn to treat your partner like you would treat a child.” This does not mean parent your partner. In fact, we could probably benefit from treating ourselves more this way. Alain states, “we all, for the most part, learn how to love a child. [Example given: If you’re having a hard day but your toddler starts crying because they are teething, how should you respond? You probably should not erupt in blame/shame/anger towards that child. You can probably empathize with the child and understand that the baby’s tooth hurts, the baby is tired, and the baby is stressed because it doesn’t know why it’s in pain.] Extending empathy and looking for more benevolent interpretations of the other persons’ behaviors is a vital component of love. Most adults are difficult for similar reasons. We learn to treat children with love but we don’t extend the same compassion towards adults. He also says, Humans are fundamentally flawed. We all have flaws. We are all imperfect. “Love is the mutual recognition that what you encounter in another person is somebody else who’s flawed, broken, who needs, in the deeper sense, charity.” [Disclaimer: This does not apply to abusive behavior and negative patterns a person exhibits! There is a major difference from extending compassion and tolerating abuse.]
  5. Politeness belongs to love-as much as directness or kindness. You don’t have to share every single thing about yourself to your partner.” This is important to mention because we are often taught that you should know every detail about your partner. It’s just as important for people to be able to have autonomy in their lives and share what they are comfortable sharing. Partners are not entitled to every detail of your life- even though sharing can be wonderful. Examples of this: not wanting to share explicit details of past romantic relationships, not discussing prior/current therapy experiences, etc. [Caveat: This is critical. Ask yourself why you are withholding this information. That usually helps you get a feel for how to proceed. Does withholding this information negatively impacts you and/or your partner?] As with everything, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution or guide to sharing/withholding information. Also, how you share them makes a difference.
  6. “There is no right or wrong answer in relationships. There are just choices to be made and no choice comes without consequence. If you choose a life of monogamy, you may be missing out on sexual escapades with your partner, perhaps in nightclubs and exciting places. Yet, if you choose a non-monogamous life, you may experience the natural consequences of that as well. For example, your kids might hate you, your ex may no longer talk to you, etc. etc. All of it is true.
  7. Compatibility is not love. Compatibility is an achievement of love.” It is the ability to tolerate and navigate differences within the relationship with acceptance and creativity that strengthen’s the love you have for another person. He mentions an example, “you will not swipe and find the perfect person who is exactly like you. You may not both love tennis [the same foods, the same types of shows, etc.] It’s about acceptance, tolerance, and having the skills to navigate the complexities as a couple.
  8. “Communication is one of the most important skills we can have in love. You need to know when and how to use your voice.” Our partners cannot read our minds.

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