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Pessimism: Key To A Happy Relationship?

I made a new friend recently and she and I have been sharing thoughts about relationships with each other. She’s newly in love but doesn’t have the usual starry eyed fantasies most girls do. She’s very down to earth and practical about love and what it takes to make a relationship work. She said to me she wasn’t looking for her soulmate, but for someone who’s demons played well with hers. Pretty impressive for a girl I have to say!

As part of her exposition of what will make love work she shared the video called How To Save Love With Pessimism with me. Give it a view and then let’s talk about it a bit.

The first thing I will say is that I agree with the central point of this video. The biggest problem with the Disney Fantasy of finding Mr Right or Ms Right so you can live happily ever after is that they don’t exist. Real human beings have flaws and things you are just going to have to live with. You will never find anyone who is perfect for you and if you put your relationship under that strain it is bound to falter.

If you keep waiting to find that perfect person you are going to be alone for a long, long time.

While this video appears to be focusing primarily on long term monogamous relationships, a lot of what it has to say applies even if you’re interested in more polyamous relationship options. Romantic Friendships are still between real people and the logistics of interacting with someone still apply. You have to exercise forgiveness when your partner lets you down and you need to ask for forgiveness when you let your partner down.

If you interact with anyone long enough you are eventually going to do something that gets in the way of the harmony you’re feeling together. There are going to be times when you don’t see eye to eye on things and you’ll have to figure out how to give and take and work out compromises. As the video says you need to bury a lot of your hopes if you want to make love work. It says this burial is one of the most romantic things we can do.

Psychologist Willard Harley in his book The One says much the same thing. He says people use different relationship agreements in approaching their love life, and there is often a natural progression through them as a relationship deepens. The problems arise when we get stuck in one of the earlier contract stages and don’t move on to a more mature relationship agreement with our partners.

He uses the analogy of property residents and speaks of buyer, renter, and freeloader agreements.

You often start out as a freeloader. You expect your partners to just accept you as you are.

If they dislike anything about you or ask you to change in any way to take their feelings or sensitivities into account, you conclude you’re “just not right” for each other. If someone is right for you they should simply accept you the way you are and not expect you to change in any way. This is the freeloader’s agreement.

The problem with this is what the video emphasizes. If you keep moving from one person to another trying to find the perfect fit for you, you’ll always end up alone. Relationships require compromise.

Harley says it’s normal when you first start dating to be a freeloader. You haven’t yet learned about investment. But if you date enough people you may find eventually something happens to you. You’ll fall in love. When this happens you’ll begin to see the need for compromise. You’ll begin to be invested, with something you don’t want to lose.

When you fall in love you’ve become a renter. As a renter you have more investment in your relationship. You’re willing to do your part to compromise, as long as your partner is prepared to do their part as well.

You’re willing to meet your partner’s needs as long as they are also willing to meet your needs. It is a give and take, a mutual agreement. This is the renter’s agreement.

Again Harley says this is a natural progression in relationships. But long term love will never truly flourish until you make the final investment and become an actual owner. As an owner you are completely invested. You are not simply in the relationship for what you can get in exchange for what you give, like a renter is with his landlord. You are in it for the long haul. You take ownership of the relationship and do whatever it takes to make your relationship work. This is the buyer’s agreement.

In many ways the buyer’s agreement sounds like the exact opposite of the freeloader’s agreement. The freeloader says “You should love me just the way I am without expecting me to change.” The buyer says “I will do whatever it takes to make our relationship work.”

So it sounds like the buyer will actually give the freeloader what he wants.

This isn’t the case.

As a buyer you are committed to doing what it takes to make the relationship work for sure, but sometimes that does mean change on the part of one or the other partner. Harley says the buyer’s agreement takes the form of an agreement the partner’s make together for the good of their relationship, not the good of themselves like the freeloader’s or renter’s contracts.

Instead of being independent, they are committed to becoming interdependent.

He calls the buyer’s contract the Policy of Joint Agreement which states “Never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your partner.”

What this agreement does is makes your’s and your partner’s investment in the relationship clear. Because you love your partner you never want to do anything that fails to take how they feel about the situation into account. You are always committed to finding a compromise that has both yours and your partner’s feelings and interests and preferences in view.

If you cannot find a way that you both agree on enthusiastically, you don’t act. Neither of you benefit at the expense of the other. You make your mutual enthusiasm and enjoyment your aim.

By living on the basis of this buyer’s agreement you ensure you protect both you and your partner. When you truly love your partner, this is what you want to ensure.

It’s time to take on a healthy pessimism about finding the right partner who is perfect for you. What you need instead is the right relationship, and that’s something you create together by the agreement you share for your relationship.

Don’t live in the fantasy of the freeloader’s agreement and expect your partner to simply “love you as you are” irrespective of whether or not you take your partner’s feelings into account. Don’t live by the unrealistic “what’s in it for me” perspective of the renter’s agreement, where your relationship is just a compromise between your shared self-interest.

Become fully invested in your relationship. Become a buyer and never do anything without the enthusiastic agreement of yourself and your partner. If you feel like you’d like some help getting on track with this let’s grab a coffee together and talk about it.

Is it time to get more pessimistic about your relationship life?

Let me know your thoughts below.

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