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?