I was reminded about a common relationship misconception when I was walking to work and heard a man singing along to Paul Simon: “You don’t feel you could love me. But I feel you could.”
Ah, a frequent through line in relationship problems!
Paul Simon’s got it wrong!
How many relationship issues stem from a person thinking that he or she knows more about an individual than the individual does?
I had to laugh, because a patient had talked about that very idea in session just the day before. A man she had gone out with a few times had told her on their first date that he needs lots of space and is not a good partner in relationships. My patient thought it wasn’t true, that he was just saying it. In other words, she thought she knew more about him in one date than he knew about himself from his life up to that point and his entire relationship history.
Guess which one of them was right?! She was shocked when he disappeared. She wanted to believe what she wanted to believe, rather than what he had very honestly told her.
When someone tells you their flaws, believe them!
A woman told a man she was dating, who was my patient, that she tends to discard men after about six months because she likes variety. My patient thought he would be the exception to her pattern.
Guess which one of them was right?! See how it works?
And for those who believe that they can make someone love them through sheer force of will, or change because the partner just hasn’t previously met someone so special, think again! As a wise man once said, “You may succeed in making someone marry you, but you won’t succeed making them love you.” Bonnie Raitt got this one right.
People are who they are, and if they want to change, they will do the hard work of changing because it is important to them, not because it’s important to you.
Cynical? Or realistic?
Is that a cynical belief for a therapist? No! It’s realistic. I’m not saying that people can’t and don’t change. I’m saying that they don’t do it because someone else tells them to. A person changes if and only if that person has decided the change is important enough to be worth the discomfort of change. Not because someone else has cajoled and pleaded or threatened.
It can be a relief to realize the limits of your individual powers. When you understand that your special sauce isn’t so special, you can relax and be who you are. And the other person is who he or she is. You can then decide whether or not you find it satisfying to be with the person, rather than beating your head against the wall trying to get someone to be the person you’d like him or her to be. This takes the pressure off you—and off your potential partner!
Don’t you have enough to deal with trying to fix your own problems, without trying to fix the people around you—against their will?! Why am I specifying against their will? Because if the person really wanted to change, that’s what he or she would be doing, without your interference.
5 relationship patterns worth exploring
- tend to try to fix people, telling yourself that it’s for their own good
- focus on someone’s “potential,” rather than who the person actually is
- find yourself telling people what they should do instead, how they could have handled a situation better, without being asked
- ignore what someone tells you about him- or herself, thinking that you know better
- are chronically disappointed in your dating or relationship outcomes
Where did you learn these patterns? Why do you continue to find yourself in these situations? These questions are worth your exploration with a professional, so you can have more satisfying relationships, which are based in reality rather than unrealistic wishes. Unpacking the common relationship misconception that you can override someone else’s relationship preferences or limitations is essential to success. A satisfying relationship doesn’t require pressure.
Diane Spear, LCSW-R, is a “Huffington Post”-quoted relationship expert who owns a private practice in the Union Square/East Village area of Manhattan (New York City). She specializes in anxiety, depression, couples, and parenting treatment, and has been helping people find the joy in everyday life since 1995. She is accepting new patients. To learn more about Diane’s approach to couples treatment, click here.