In fairy tales, in stories, and in movies relationships are portrayed :
‘And they all lived happily ever after’.
‘Someday my prince(ss) will come’
‘I will be happy when I find the one who completes me’
Many of us were raised with these stories and the cultural conditioning that comes a lot with them. We dream of living happily ever after once we have met that one person who is our soulmate. Unfortunately, these are fantasies not reality and they frequently cause more pain than they bring pleasure.
‘And they all lived happily ever after. The end’.
This is the part at the end of the story or the end of the movie. It is where the person or couple get to after meeting all the challenges, defeating all the monsters. They finally reach the goal and living happily after is the reward. The first problem with this notion is that life is not static. The story doesn’t end. If you want to maintain happiness in a relationship or in any other part of life for that matter, you have to work at things. We change, relationships change. We age, we have children, we become ill, we change jobs. All of our individual changes impact our relationships. Positive changes impact our relationships as do negative ones. If we focus on happiness without change as the goal, we are setting ourselves up to fail.
Happiness is an emotional state that is based on external factors. It is future based. As a result, we have no control over the feeling. Someone else or something that happens causes us to feel happy.
We have no agency when trying to find happiness. Agency is our ability to act and/or to exert power. When we have agency we are able to create changes internally but also in the world around us. Being able to create the changes ourselves usually means we value the results higher.
Joy is an emotional state that is internally based. Joy can come in moments or it can be more stable. We can find joy even when external circumstances are tough. It is often seen as a more spiritual quality. People often referring to finding joy in nature or in the laughter of a child and are able to focus on these experiences even when the rest of their lives are challenging.
Many people are so caught up in the drama of their lives and in reaching for that happily ever after that they fail to take joy in all that they have and all that they are each day. There is a lot of research that highlights the beneficial effects created by practicing gratitude. Gratitude can improve physical health, psychological health, self-esteem, sleep. It can enhance empathy and reduce aggression. Gratitude can increase mental strength as well. Finally, gratitude opens the door for new relationships. Daily gratitude practice is a wonderful way to increase the power of this in your life and therefore increase your experience of joy.
‘Someday my prince/ess will come’ and he/she/they will be the one that will complete me’
This is originally from Plato in his writing The Symposium. His character Aristophanes proclaims:
“According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.” “Love’ is the name for our pursuit of wholeness, for our desire to be complete.”
“Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature. Each of us, then, is a ‘matching half’ of a human whole…and each of us is always seeking the half that matches him.” Aristophanes goes on to say . ‘“when a person meets the half that is his very own whatever his orientation, whether it is to young men or not” he exclaims, “something wonderful happens: the two are struck from their senses by love, by a sense of belonging to one another, and by desire, and they don’t want to be separated from one another, not even for a moment. These are people who finish out their lives together and still cannot say what it is they want from one another.”
These are huge expectations and even Plato felt they were bound to fail.
By ourselves, we are already complete. I need no one to complete me. I don’t have a ‘better half’ or an ‘other half’. I am already whole. When I am in relationship with someone, two whole people join together. If that relationship ends, though I may grieve a great deal, I am still whole.
Believing that you need someone else to complete you denies your full potential. You are handing over your power to the mythical perfect partner. You are giving away your agency again and waiting for someone to ‘give’ you happiness, to ‘cause you to feel happy’. When you need someone else in order to feel productive, to feel good, you are setting yourself up for unhappiness and loss.
Being dependent upon someone else for your good feelings and in order to feel good about yourself is a sure road to relationship failure and can also lead to a loss of confidence and depression. If the relationship ends, you are returning to your earlier state. Half a person is a broken person.
Expecting someone to complete you, to be that one person who can create your happiness is giving someone far too much responsibility. This builds a co-dependent relationship which is not a healthy basis for relationship. Co-dependency in a relationship is marked by excessive need for the other person, problems with boundaries, problems with intimacy, imbalance in power leading to controlling behaviour, and high levels of drama.
Instead of a co-dependent relationship, we seek an interdependent relationship. In this relationship, the individuals are whole and emotionally healthy. The partners rely upon each other and support each other. Each person is extremely involved but they do not sacrifice themselves or compromise their values.
Holding on to the myths of the one who completes us and happily ever after prevents us from experiencing joy and satisfying love relationships throughout our lives by enticing us to keep looking forward. These myths add to a fear of missing out (FOMO) as we believe that we must keep searching because somewhere there is that one soul mate on the horizon and when we finally meet them we will live happily ever after. It stops us from focusing on our own growth and developing our own strengths as we are looking to anotherher to rescue us and provide us with happiness, self-esteem and satisfaction.
If we are able to walk away from these myths, we can create relationships that will enrich our lives. We can become more present in our relationships and our lives and experience the multitude of joy that is available to us each day. When can rejoice in being whole and connecting with another whole human being and choosing to travel the journey of life together, with each other through all the amazing facets of human experience.
Dr Lori Beth Bisbey is a registered psychologist, sex & intimacy coach, professional speaker and published author. She has been working with individuals, couples and polyamorous groups for over 30 years to help them create and maintain their ideal intimate relationships. She writes non-fiction about sex, sexuality, gender, relationships of all kinds, kink, non-monogamy, BDSM and authority transfer based relationships and sexual trauma in her own blog, for a variety of relationship websites, and for a number of print publications. She also writes erotic short stories.