Can we have both or does it have to be one or the other? Relationships counsellor Dr Charmaine Saunders offers her advice.
When I teach my relationship classes and talk about the reality of true love and the necessary relationship skills, I'm often accused of stealing romance! It's said in jest, but the implication is that my attitude to relating is too clinical, too objective. My answer is always that nothing is more unromantic than divorce.
When having an affair or casual fling, delusion and fantasy are fine, but not when considering marriage. It's simply too serious. We wouldn't enter a business partnership without a considerable amount of research yet we blithely embark on marriage armed only with love and rose coloured glasses. Pre-marriage counselling/education of some kind is essential so that both parties enter this very important commitment with eyes wide open.
The media, books, songs and films have to take a share of the blame as they promote the idea of love everlasting and perfect love and co-dependent ideas like "I can't live without you". The harsh reality is that no one dies for the lack of love or a particular person, no matter the depth of feeling.
Let's separate the two elements of romance and reality and look at how we can integrate both of them in a way that is positive and affirming, not self deluding and destructive.
The first point of reality is that relationships do not exist to give us endless joy. They are for growth, learning and healing, which means that they're not going to always be easy and fun, especially the long term ones.
We all know that the people closest to us have the greatest capacity to press our buttons. That's how we identify our issues, insecurities, and hang ups. So, when we're attracted to a potential partner, there's a lot more going on than merely liking the way the person looks or talks or smiles. There's a whole subconscious world going on that drives us towards that particular person. Where it leads from that point is unknown at first, but it will not necessarily be a happy journey. Accepting that is the beginning of emotional maturity.
Falling in love is magical and, for the initial six months or so, we all operate under the spell of romance which often means illusion. We cannot see any fault in the person we're in love with. "In love" is different to love itself. The former doesn't last; the latter does. We make all kinds of promises, believe that we're in for the long haul and don't want to hear any sensible advice. The best rule is never to make a commitment during this honeymoon period.
After the initial six months, many relationships falter and end because when reality sets in, the glaring flaws become all too apparent. Those that survive the wake up call have a true foundation of love and will now engage in the real business of relationships. A power struggle can ensue as the partners negotiate the terms of interacting. Romance is being overtaken by reality.
The Laws of Attraction
Relationship experts say that if you meet someone and feel an immediate "zing", you should run very quickly in the opposite direction! That's because the underlying attraction can hide a whole range of issues, some of which will be negative. When you take your time to get to know a person you're interested in, there's a greater chance that you're seeing below the surface and so are more aware of potential problems.
The two factors that govern attraction are: the influence of one or both parental relationshipsthe need for healing
Opposites do, in fact, attract because we see qualities in the other we sense we lack. The truth is we never do lack anything; we are complete in ourselves. That's part of being real - to know that. If we seek a partner to complete us, we're coming from need and that's part of romantic illusion.
Understanding why we like someone is vital to the whole process of being real in relationships.
Falling in love
There are stages to falling in love:meetingattractiondatingintimate relationship begins"blind" feelings/romantic illusion made up of lust, infatuation and wishful thinkingfirst signs of discontentment; fault-finding
There's research to show that after approximately six months, the rose coloured glasses stage comes to an end and that's when new relationships either end or move onto a deeper phase. Prior to this, each partner really only shows their nicer side. It's "whatever you want, darling." But after the magic wears off, a power struggle begins where each person starts to assert the upper hand, to reclaim their individual identity. Relationships are always a matter of juggling personal desire with compromise and consideration - never easy.
If either partner or both are carrying emotional baggage, this is when it will rear its ugly head. Strong couples will ride out this period; weaker ones will simply fold. It's a good test.
As time goes by
As relationships continue and possibly grow into marriage and family, nothing is more real than parenting, responsibilities, jobs, finances, all kinds of pressures. If the partners entering into this arrangement fail to understand these obligations, the future can hold nothing but disappointment, disillusionment, bitterness and conflict.
Romance has its place within the reality of marriage, but it cannot be the entire expectation. Each partner has the responsibility for self examination and self knowledge, so that the relationship can be based on honesty, trust, true communication, intimacy, respect and friendship.
When I speak of romance, I don't mean the literal kind, involving candlelit dinners, sexy night attire and slow dancing, although it certainly can entail all of the above. Romance is an attitude, a mood, a feeling. It's vital in long term relationships to maintain a spirit of freshness and enthusiasm. It is not about idealistic ideas or having unreasonable expectations, but rather knowing that you deserve a relationship that's alive and constantly evolving, not static and stale. It's no use waiting for your partner to generate energy. Be procactive in your own love life. Here are some ways:spend quality time togetheruse the art of surprise - spring a small gift or trickhave dinner by candlelight for no special reasongive each other massages or foot rubsbath or shower togethertouch a lot, caress and hug in and out of bedbe truly intimate, share, talk, be best friendsdo fun things together, be companions with some interests in commonhold hands, go for walkslaugh a lot, be sillyget over fights quicklymake love, don't just have sex
Creating romance is as easy as unleashing the imagination. With a positive attitude and a willing spirit, even the longest relationships can still be fresh and new.
So, why shouldn't romance be favoured over reality when choosing a mate and starting a deep and meaningful relationship? What's the difference?
When we first meet someone and feel attracted, the romantic approach is just to go with our feelings and hope for the best, spinning our thoughts into a fairy tale that we truly believe will come true. The less romantic way is to take a reality check and see the person as they really are, not as we wish they would be.
Romantic illusion is false and can only lead to pain and disappointment. Reality mixed in with true romance is a formula for joyful permanence.
Charmaine is willing to answer your relationship questions to appear in NOVA Magazine, both in print and online. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org