Longlasting relationships – the art of living with imperfection

We live in a highly romantic era. And that puts enormous pressure on our lovelives. The expectations society puts on a romantic relationship are unrealistic and even harmful. Most of nowadays romantic relationships don’t even last beyond the point they start to flourish. Let alone when things get really tough. What is the key to a longlasting and (relatively) happy relationship? I think it is accepting to live with imperfection…

There is something seriously wrong with the way we are taught to look at ourselves and at our relationships, if you’d ask me. Let’s start with the way we view ourselves. All humans are fallible, and most of us are pretty strange to a certain extent. But when i look at my instagram-timeline i get the impression that everyone else is perfect (or at least near perfect); they have a much more interesting life than i have, at least it seems so. On the other hand, i too are doing my best to project the best image of myself to the world. But apart from that, we usually do actually have a way too optimistic impression of our own capacities in general. We are taught to be selfconfident, trust in our own abilities, and not lean too much on others. A lot of us would even prevent at all costs to put ourselves in a vulnerable positition towards another person. Most of us did in essence develop a relatively safe attachment style, but some 30 to 40% of us did develop an unsafe atachment style (anxious or avoidant), and that even makes things worse. Instead of asking for our partner to be a safe haven for us, to grant us love, acceptance, attention and appreciation, we either get demanding and judgemental or we pull back into isolation. These opposite styles attract each other like magnets, that’s why the majority of couples i work with are on these two poles, and that can be a good recipe for a toxic relational pattern, where eventually both partners end up feeling deeply alone and disappointed.

Apart from this being a good reason to get into therapy, i think that there is more at hand. Wouldn’t we be much more happy in general, if we didn’t have these unearthly high expectations of ourselves, our partners and our relationships? Since we are all human, we are all fallible, imperfect and incomplete. We are relational beings, so we are always in need of someone else to complement us, what is wrong with that? At the same time, being human also means being a bit strange, we can never fully understand another human being, let alone satisfy/complement this other human being to the full extent. So why do we still expect this?

The famous psychologist Melanie Klein explained how we grow up from early childhood with two seperate images of our parents, the good parent (when the parent feeds us, nurtures us, satisfies us) and the bad parent (when the parent is dimissive, irritated, inadequate in caring, fallible). Up till the age of 4 these two images of `the other’ remain seperate within us, and according to that, we are still unable to join the good and the bad in the way we view ourselves and others. When we grow up we learn the art of being ambivalent, which means that we can love and hate the same person at te same time, and by this we also learn to integrate the good and the bad in our own personality, we learn to live with ourselves as persons who are both loveable and fallible. This is what we call emotional maturity.

To become relational-mature we also need to integrate the good and the bad in our relationships. If we learn to be ambivalent towards love, we are able to succeed, and have a healthy longlasting relationship. That does not mean we will always be happy. It does not mean that it will always be exciting. It even does not mean that it will always be fulfilling. It will mean that sometimes you can have feelings like disgust, anger, alienation, within your relationship. It is a misunderstanding to expect our partner to always be understanding, accepting, forgiving and patient with us. If we can realise that we are both imperfect and at the same time trust each other to have good intentions, we are open te learn from each other. When my partner is angry with me, she strikes a nerve with me, can i believe that she means well (although it hurts) and that her being different from me is an opportunity to learn, to grow? What if i would give up on pretending to be perfect and/or expecting her to be perfect? What is we could both accept that love is fallible and that it can still be love? I believe that if we learn to live with imperfection we will be more relational-mature and we will be happy. Not in the shallow way of feeling light, excited and satisfied all the time, but in the sense of being deeply rooted in this imperfect and still increasingly meaningful relationship.


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