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A friend of mine on a different forum remarked recently that we live in a society that doesn't teach us how to end romantic relationships.

I've been chewing on that for a while, and I think it's true but doesn't go far enough. We live in a society that doesn't teach us how to nurture relationships OR end relationships. In fact, it doesn't even teach us how to START relationships. We seem to hold this notion, as a society, that if you are single and you meet someone you share a connection with, that means you're supposed to start dating, without any regard as to whether or not you might be remotely compatible. In fact, I've even encountered folks who sneer at the notion of "compatibility," saying that if you REALLY love each other, you should be able to work out any difference you have.

This is, I think, a very toxic idea.

That started me down the path of thinking about the sorts of assumptions we make about our partners, which is something I've written about a few times before. I definitely think that many folks carry around with them some pretty poisonous assumptions about their partners, without even thinking about it, so that's started me setting out some of the productive and non-productive premises on which to build a relationship.

Destructive assumptions to make in a relationship

- My partner doesn't REALLY love me--not really.

- Given the choice, if someone 'better' comes along, my partner would prefer that person over me, and would rather be with that person.

- My partner says things like "I like being with you," "I find you sexy," "I am attracted to you," and "I value our relationship" because those are the things you're supposed to say. They don't really mean anything.

- My partner's exes are dangerous to me because I believe that my partner would secretly prefer to be with them than with me. Anyone my partner finds attractive is dangerous to me because my patner would secretly prefer to be with that person rather than me.

- If I want to preserve my relationship with my partner, I need to keep him or her on a short leash. If given free rein to do whatever he or she wants, my partner would leave me.

- I am not pretty enough/not smart enough/not sexy enough/whatever for my partner. If someone prettier/sexier/whatever comes along, I'm screwed.

- I can not talk openly to my partner about things like my own sexual desires, especially if I think they're weird or unusual, because if my partner thinks I'm too weird he or she will dump me.

- If my partner masturbates or watches porn, it means I am not enough. I am a failure; I have not done my job in pleasing my partner.

- If my partner talks to someone of the same sex I am, it means he or she is trying to replace me.

- My partner is with me because I tricked him or her, or because I was convenient at the time, or because I was the only thing available, or whatever.



Constructive assumptions to make in a relationship

- My partner loves and cherishes me, and wants to be with me.

- My partner has chosen to be with me because he or she wants to be with me. I offer value to my partner, and given a choice, my partner would still choose to be with me.

- My partner says things like "I like being with you," "I find you sexy," "I am attracted to you," and "I value our relationship" because those things are true.

- My partner is with me because I add value to his or her life. Given a choice, my partner would still choose to be with me.

- Given free rein to make any choice he or she wanted, my partner would choose to be with me. In reality, my partner HAS free rein; he or she could find a way to leave me, if that's what he or she wanted to do. The fact that my partner is still here should tell me something!

- My partner finds me attractive and worthwhile. I add value to my partner's life which nobody else can replace.

- A healthy sex life depends on open communication. My partner values me and wants to have a healthy relationship with me; I can count on my partner to listen to what I have to say with respect and compassion.

- Not everything my partner does is about me. The things my partner does are not always a reflection on me. If my partner looks at porn or masturbates, that has nothing to do with me at all.

- Not everything is about sex. My partner can talk to someone of the appropriate sex, or even be friends with someone of the appropriate sex, without it being about sex or about replacing me.

- My partner is with me because he or she wants to be with me, because I add value to his or her life.


Now, it is true that the things I've listed as "constructive assumptions" aren't always valid. There are assholes, liars, manipulators, abusers, cheats, and sneaks of all stripes; and many of them will gladly stomp all over any or all of those basic premises.

So underlying all of these premises is a sort of zeroth premise, which is this:

- I am worth, and deserve, to be treated with a certain basic minimum of respect and love. It is better to have no relationship at all than a relationship in which these things are not true. By starting with these positive assumptions, I can build healthy relationships; partners for whom these assumptions are not true are not worthy of being my partner.


Comments? Suggestions? Got any more?


Comments

( 39 comments — Leave a comment )
greenquotebook
Jul. 15th, 2010 01:02 am (UTC)
Under Destructive Assumptions... "I need to be everything to my partner, and he/she needs to be everything to me. We must have the same hobbies, interests, ideas, and friendships or our relationship will never last. Unless we spend all of our free time together, our relationship is doomed."

and its partner under Constructive Assumptions... "I do not need to be everything to my partner, nor does he/she need to be everything to me. Outside friendships are good. Outside interests are good. Differing hobbies, interests, ideas, and friendships make our relationship richer and fuller by giving us time apart and enabling us to learn new things from one another."
red_girl_42
Jul. 15th, 2010 01:28 am (UTC)
- Given the choice, if someone 'better' comes along, my partner would prefer that person over me, and would rather be with that person.

Well, if the relationship is monogamous, I'd say this one is often true. If in fact someone *truly* better comes along.

- I can not talk openly to my partner about things like my own sexual desires, especially if I think they're weird or unusual, because if my partner thinks I'm too weird he or she will dump me.

Sadly, this one happens quite a lot in real life, as well. Now, if your partner *does* dump you because of fantasies you have, then you are probably better off without that person, anyway. But that's beside the point.

Anyway, most of these things are related to jealousy, self-esteem and being afraid to be honest. All of them are good points (and I wish I'd read this when I was MUCH younger). But I can think of some others, which you alluded to at the start but never followed up on.

* * *

--If I feel a strong sexual chemistry with someone, it means that we are "meant" to be together and I should pursue a relationship with them.

(the reverse: If I feel a strong sexual chemistry with someone, it means that we have strong sexual chemistry but doesn't guarantee that we'll be compatible in other ways.)

--If our relationship has serious problems, it probably means we aren't meant to be together.

(the reverse: If our relationship has serious problems, we both need to decide whether we're willing to put in the work to solve them. All relationships face obstacles.)

--I would want my partner to do X for me. Therefore, if I do X for my partner he/she will be happy.

(the reverse: What makes me happy isn't what makes everyone else happy. To be truly giving, I need to give my partner what he/she needs and wants, not what I think he/she should need and want.)

--If my partner behaves jealously (checking up on me, not trusting me to be honest, trying to control my behavior) even though I'm not doing anything wrong, it means he/she really loves me.

(the reverse: If my partner behaves jealously when I'm not doing anything wrong, this indicates their insecurity, NOT their level of love. I can help him or her deal with this insecurity, but I am not responsible for it.)

--If my partner threatens to kill him or herself if I leave, it means he or she REALLY REALLY loves me and can't live without me.

(the reverse: If my partner threatens to kill him or herself if I leave, they are playing on my emotions in order to control me. This is not loving behavior. I should refer him or her to a good counselor, and take some time away from the relationship.)

I'm sure I could go on and on, but that's off the top of my head. You should collect and compile these and put them in a book. I would buy one for every teenager I ever know.

Edited at 2010-07-15 01:29 am (UTC)
the_xtina
Jul. 15th, 2010 02:10 am (UTC)
There should be a Goofus/Gallant for "any fight spells doom for the relationship and means that we weren't Meant To Be", but my brain is in PHP and thus can't develop it well.
saveyoursanity
Jul. 15th, 2010 02:16 am (UTC)
-- Any fight spells DOOM for the relationship and means we weren't Meant To Be.
++ If we fight, it means that there is a problem to be worked out, although said problem may be as simple as "one of us is hot/sticky/hormonally irritable/in a HALT* state."

*Hungry Angry Lonely Tired

Here via the_xtina.
(no subject) - red_girl_42 - Jul. 16th, 2010 12:00 am (UTC) - Expand
dacianfalx
Jul. 15th, 2010 04:59 am (UTC)
As frequently happens with your philosophic and/or relationship posts, you've posted something I find keenly interesting and relevant to my life just as it becomes so (or my thinking on it had reached a fever pitch). Thank you for sharing. :-)
ysabetwordsmith
Jul. 15th, 2010 05:50 am (UTC)
Good point!
These are very well done.

I would add to the destructive assumptions:
* I must be in a relationship.
* If I am not in a relationship, there is something wrong with me.
rowangolightly
Jul. 15th, 2010 06:38 am (UTC)
Re: Good point!
You beat me to both of these...

I'd also add to the Destructive Assumptions, "It's my partner's responsibility to make me happy."
Re: Good point! - nimnod - Jul. 15th, 2010 11:02 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Good point! - rowangolightly - Jul. 15th, 2010 02:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Good point! - nimnod - Jul. 15th, 2010 02:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Good point! - rowangolightly - Jul. 15th, 2010 02:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Good point! - nimnod - Jul. 15th, 2010 03:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Good point! - bookofmirrors - Jul. 17th, 2010 08:38 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Good point! - unmutual - Jul. 15th, 2010 11:26 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Good point! - nimnod - Jul. 15th, 2010 02:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Good point! - unmutual - Jul. 15th, 2010 04:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Good point! - nimnod - Jul. 15th, 2010 06:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Good point! - unmutual - Jul. 15th, 2010 09:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Good point! - sheyeblaze - Jul. 16th, 2010 12:05 am (UTC) - Expand
zzita
Jul. 15th, 2010 04:24 pm (UTC)
i noticed on franklin's original list that almost everything had to do with not trusting one's partner, not taking them at their word.

an assumption i've found frustrating:

'a relationship should just happen naturally. anything that requires effort (for example, negotiation) means that we should break up and each find someone else with whom it happens naturally.'

i haven't run into this with a partner in 20 years or so (i must have learned something :) but i see it daily in dating-site profiles, forum posts, etc.
tacit
Jul. 16th, 2010 02:00 am (UTC)
That's a good one! I like that.
libbydabomb
Jul. 15th, 2010 06:42 pm (UTC)
This was a fantastic list that you made. For years, especially when I was enduring my Adjustment Disorder and I was making poor choices in my quest to find a "daddy" replacement in my life, I made some toxic choices regarding what relationships to choose. Now that I am in a better mental position and I have a sense of judgement I understand that there are cues in a healthy realtionship and cues to let me know that a relationship is not healthy. My last relationship, which last 4 months, was not healthy as there were signs that the only thing keeping it together was the sex and nothing more. After making a pro and cons list, I decided the DTMFA on a lovely April evening via telephone.

I'm single now and I am willing to wait to meet the right person.

Can I copy/paste your list in my LJ? I would love to credit you as the author. This is a fantastic list about the differences between an unhealthy and a healthy relationship. When I dumped the MF, I chose to leave an unhealthy relationship. Sure, I miss the sex, but I don't miss him a single bit. I'd rather chew broken glass than go back to a person like him.

This list was a good read. I'd love to post this on my journal with your permission.

tacit
Jul. 16th, 2010 01:59 am (UTC)
Absolutely! :)
marnen
Jul. 15th, 2010 07:36 pm (UTC)
Great thoughts, as usual. I love your writing on relationships. Except...

You allude to "compatibility" and say that there are many people who sneer at the idea. I would say I'm one. It seems to me that if everyone involved in a relationship genuinely wants to make it work, it will work. That willingness in the context of a particular relationship is the only kind of compatibility I think I believe in. I take it your views are different. What are they, and why?
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - tacit - Jul. 16th, 2010 01:59 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - zzita - Jul. 16th, 2010 02:13 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacit - Jul. 16th, 2010 05:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - roguebaby - Jul. 16th, 2010 02:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
Compatability Changes - ryekiss - Jul. 18th, 2010 11:03 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ihvpave - Aug. 17th, 2010 06:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
empty_fork
Jul. 15th, 2010 09:33 pm (UTC)
You're right, absolutely, that it's not good to mistrust your partner, that it's good to trust your partner, and that it's necessary that your trust in your partner be well-founded.

Reading your specific examples, though, I felt like I was listening to your personal harangue against an ex of yours who didn't find you trustworthy. Up until your zeroth premise, which brought me back into sympathy with you a lot, I could have SWORN you were trying to invalidate some particular person's criticisms against your behavior by labeling their beliefs about you as "destructive assumptions" and belittling their worldview publicly.

Any truth to that reading? Just curious. It's not grounded in anything except my impression of your tone, so I'm hardly going to be offended if you say I'm way off base.
tacit
Jul. 16th, 2010 01:56 am (UTC)
Reading your specific examples, though, I felt like I was listening to your personal harangue against an ex of yours who didn't find you trustworthy. Up until your zeroth premise, which brought me back into sympathy with you a lot, I could have SWORN you were trying to invalidate some particular person's criticisms against your behavior by labeling their beliefs about you as "destructive assumptions" and belittling their worldview publicly.

Nope! I actually make a point to choose partners who hold the views that I've listed as constructive assumptions. I'm pleased to say that my romantic life is happy and drama-free, and I haven't had any bad breakups or relationship problems around these things. :)

I have noticed that in many of the relationships I've observed that have problems, and in many of the situations I've seen where someone has said "I'm having thus-and-such an issue and I don't know what to do," the common underlying thread is very often one of "I don't quite believe my partner." It's been my experience, for instance, that folks who are grappling with low self-esteem often find it very easy to brush off anything their partner tells them that might be positive, like "I find you attractive" and "I want to be with you."

So I will definitely say that I think believing a partner goes a long way toward quieting some of the more common relationship demons that people appear to suffer with. It hasn't been a problem for me, though; I tend to prefer to choose folks who are already pretty well put together to begin with, and even in cases where my relationships have ended for whatever reason, I'm almost always on good terms with and have positive feelings about my former partners.
(no subject) - empty_fork - Jul. 16th, 2010 05:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
ryekiss
Jul. 18th, 2010 10:56 am (UTC)
Choices
I like this article alot.
I have always felt that every day in a long term relationship is a choice. Every day each partner gets up and decides to stay; the nature of that decision is what sets good vs. bad relationships apart. Do you decide consciously, by default, because you are too scared/lazy/needy/needed to go?
ixaphid
Jul. 19th, 2010 12:15 pm (UTC)
Deep down what I really want is to receive kindness, caring, ego-stroking, and loyalty, without having to give those things in return. Kinda like when I was a baby and my mother did everything for me and all I did was lie around luxuriating in her devotion. Yup, that would be the ideal relationship.

Naturally, I would tend to assume my partner also wants this, so only one of us can *win* in this relationship. And we'd both be motivated to pretend to be givers, so we can receive.
(Deleted comment)
( 39 comments — Leave a comment )