navigating unrealistic expectations can be tricky

It’s been a tough year for celebrity relationships.  From Tiger to Jesse to Tiki to Jim Carey and Jenny McCarthy and now Al and Tipper Gore-celebrity love affairs seem to be falling apart everywhere you look.  As I read the gossip columns and listen to the armchair psychologists pick apart these failed relationships, one theme almost always emerges- the pressure these couples are under and its impact on their relationships.  And while my professional opinion  says that outside pressure is rarely, if ever, the only cause for infidelity or divorce, certainly being under such heavy scrutiny and having such unrealistic expectations for their relationships has played some role in these break-ups.

But celebrities aren’t the only ones whose relationships are under pressure.  We live in a society that continually upholds unrealistic and unhelpful expectations of what a “good” relationship should look like.  Before they come tumbling down, many of these Hollywood romances are held up as examples of what the rest of us should be striving for.  Beautiful people, smiling brightly, in exotic locations or on romantic dates are put on display for us as a visual reminder of what the “perfect relationship” looks like.  And for those of us grounded enough to realize that our lives are never going to involve dinner dates in Paris or month-long family vacations with three nannies in tow, there is the more subtle pressure that surrounds us.

We look at our neighbors and co-workers and it seems as if they have the perfect marriage.  They always seem happy or if they do disagree, it’s the mild-tempered scuffle of sitcoms.  Because we rarely share the inner turmoil of our family life with anyone (including extended family) we are all living with an unrealistic image of a good marriage as one in which everything is wonderful.  The truth is that marriage is both dreadful and wonderful.  Many times we cling to the idea that if we just weather these storms, at some point it will become perfect.  Once we reach this perfection then we can stop working at things, stop trying so hard to get it right.  And after years of ups and downs many couples begin to get weary of working toward a goal that never seems to get any closer.

The issue is that they are working toward the wrong goal.  A good relationship is never done; it’s always going to be a work in progress rather than a perfectly finished project.  The goal is to always keep moving in the direction of the ideal while accepting that the joy is in the process.  A “perfect” relationship simply does not exist but it is ok to move in the direction of a “perfect” love.  In his book, Being Peace, Thich Nhat Hanh says “If I lose my direction, I have to look for the North Star, and I go north. But that does not mean that I expect to arrive at the North Star.”

That is how we must learn to see our relationships, not as drudgery that we endure so that one day we will arrive at this relational perfection but as a shared journey toward an ideal love that meets both of our needs- most of the time.  No relationship will ever meet the needs of both partners perfectly but we can choose to consistently move in the direction of this relationship nirvana.  And the closer we follow that path the more clearly we will begin to see that the most wonderful part of marriage is in sharing the journey together, not the final destination.

Be sure to tune in Thursday to our summer series on Blog Talk Radio.  We will be discussing the dangers of emotional disconnection in your relationship and offering tips on how to rekindle the friendship and the passion.  Visit our Blog Talk Radio station for more details and call in with your questions Thursday at 4:30pm