I wrote the other day a bit about the ways in which communication is overvalued among advice-givers. That post was primarily directed at individuals, at ashamed, isolated people who have a troubled relationship to their own desires.
There’s a whole other problem with that “communicate” advice when given to couples: we’re taught, from a young age, that what happens after a couple marries is that they live “happily ever after.” Which would be great, except it’s not what happens in real life. Or at least, it’s often enough not what happens that they make movies, and sing songs, about it. People have affairs, they “drift apart,” they fall in love with new young loves, etc.
They discover kinks they never knew they had, that their partners have no interest in. Their libidos drift apart. They change, and change in different ways, sexually, and otherwise.
Lots and lots of advice centers around the premise that the solution to “relationship problems” lies in some combination of communication and compromise. Maybe this is true for some couples, I don’t know. I’m not a couples therapist, and I’ve only been in one long-term relationship in the last twenty years or so. I’m no expert.
But I know that, for me, acceptance – both of myself and of my wife, and by myself and by my wife – has been far more important to us than communication or compromise. And in fact, communication and compromise, far more than being strategies or tactics, have been by-products of acceptance. Once I got that my wife is who she is, once she accepted that I am who I am – and once we each began to accept those things about ourselves – well, then, a whole host of good things flowed.
I’m not saying that communication or compromise aren’t vital, or that “take-me-or-leave-me” is often a healthy stance in relationships. But when it comes to fundamental questions – questions of belief, or orientation, or desire – questions resolved on a primal, unconscious level – it’s hard for me to imagine a path to happiness that leads through substantial change.
The “happily ever ever” fantasy, and the idea that communication and compromise are the keys to everlasting happiness, both advance what I think is a destructive idea – that rejecting aspects of ourselves as undesirable is a fruitful path.
Admittedly, I have an “n” of 1 in this study (apologies if statistics isn’t your language) – maybe I’m just generalizing from my own experience. But it’s certainly true for me. Happiness for me has come not in transforming myself into a different person, or in my wife’s transforming herself into a different person. Rather, it’s come from each of us growing more comfortable in our own skins, and in so doing, doing the same with the other.
A note: there’s a terrific post on this subject, from a different angle, here. Hat tip to the kind reader who sent it my way as I was in the middle of writing this post.