Wednesday, March 28, 2007

'Soul mates' cause problems...

An interesting article in Psychology Today. Here's a (long) clip:

"We've done away with a rigid social order, adopting instead an even more onerous obligation: the mandate to find a perfect match. Anything short of this ideal prompts us to ask: Is this all there is? Am I as happy as I should be? Could there be somebody out there who's better for me? As often as not, we answer yes to that last question and fall victim to our own great expectations.

That somebody is, of course, our soul mate, the man or woman who will counter our weaknesses, amplify our strengths and provide the unflagging support and respect that is the essence of a contemporary relationship. The reality is that few marriages or partnerships consistently live up to this ideal. The result is a commitment limbo, in which we care deeply for our partner but keep one stealthy foot out the door of our hearts. In so doing, we subject the relationship to constant review: Would I be happier, smarter, a better person with someone else? It's a painful modern quandary. 'Nothing has produced more unhappiness than the concept of the soul mate,' says Atlanta psychiatrist Frank Pittman.

In fact, argue psychologists and marital advocates, there's no such thing as true compatibility. 'Marriage is a disagreement machine,' says Diane Sollee, founder of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education. 'All couples disagree about all the same things. We have a highly romanticized notion that if we were with the right person, we wouldn't fight.' Discord springs eternal over money, kids, sex and leisure time, but psychologist John Gottman has shown that long-term, happily married couples disagree about these things just as much as couples who divorce.

'There is a mythology of 'the wrong person,'' agrees Pittman. 'All marriages are incompatible. All marriages are between people from different families, people who have a different view of things. The magic is to develop binocular vision, to see life through your partner's eyes as well as through your own.'

'So much of what we learn has to do with the self, the ego, rather than giving over the self to things like a relationship,' Kramer says. In our competitive world, we're rewarded for our individual achievements rather than for how we help others. We value independence over cooperation, and sacrifices for values like loyalty and continuity seem foolish. 'I think we get the divorce rate that we deserve as a culture.'

'Marriage is not supposed to make you happy. It is supposed to make you married,' says Pittman. 'When you are all the way in your marriage, you are free to do useful things, become a better person.' A committed relationship allows you to drop pretenses and seductions, expose your weaknesses, be yourself—and know that you will be loved, warts and all. 'A real relationship is the collision of my humanity and yours, in all its joy and limitations,' says Real. 'How partners handle that collision is what determines the quality of their relationship.'

Such a down-to-earth view of marriage is hardly romantic, but that doesn't mean it's not profound: An authentic relationship with another person, says Pittman, is 'one of the first steps toward connecting with the human condition—which is necessary if you're going to become fulfilled as a human being.' If we accept these humble terms, the quest for a soul mate might just be a noble pursuit after all."

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