Everyday I speak to people who desperately want to feel the love, connection and security of being in a loving and lasting relationship.
But for them relationships aren’t working.
And deep down they often feel a sense of failure and shame about it.
They feel like there’s something unloveable about them. Or that there’s something they’re doing wrong.
The question I get asked over and over again is “Am I broken?”
“Am I unloveable?”
“Is there something wrong with me?”
I want to explain exactly what the problem is. And how you can fix it.
You’re not broken… your narrative is broken!
So what does this mean?
The problem with your relationships isn’t you. It probably isn’t even your Ex either. The problem is the framework society has given us to work from.
All relationship problems are problems of narrative.
Life is a series of disparate facts. The film Rainman shows what life would be like if we took the facts of life literally.
So we have to make a story that puts those facts into a context. This is what creates our experience of reality.
The problem is when we don’t realise that we are choosing the narrative. So we become trapped inside a narrative because we mistake the story we have made based on the facts we see for the reality of how it must be.
The problem for relationships is that the cultural narrative we have been given on relationships doesn’t work.
The solution is to break everything down into the core facts and recreate a narrative that works better.
This might seem like a long ramble now, but I’m going to explain exactly what the problem is with relationships… and why they’ve never worked for so many people.
Understanding The Real Relationship Problem
We’re never going to understand the real problem while it’s framed in the way most people frame it. The problem of relationships is a problem in our narrative of relationships.
You see, relationship counselling is sometimes effective, sometimes not because it doesn’t change the narrative we have.
Relationship courses and books tend to attack one element and say that’s the problem. They give us sentences to say, encouragement and often platitudes… but we need more.
The problem is that people are latching onto quick solutions when the structure is rotten. It is like replastering the walls of a house that has a rotting structure.
Our relationships are currently like houses on the edge of a cliff that is facing coastal erosion. Our efforts to fix them are like throwing sandbags down to stem the tide
The tide of change is changing our landscape and we need to regroup and rebuild.
This is that new narrative to build from.
We have to break everything we think we know about relationships down to the core elements. It is only then, when we start from a solid foundation that we can rebuild a narrative on a structure that is sound.
The Relationship Crisis Of the 21st century
The divorce rate has been rocketing since the 40’s and 50’s.
We need to understand why, because this shows us what the narrative has always been about relationships.
In the same way that we assume our pets think and feel as we do, we look back at our ancestors and assume life for them was much like we live.
The reality is that life was very, very different for them. Physical survival was a daily battle. The Welfare State only began in it’s most basic form in the 1920’s. Most parents would lose at least one child, often more.
Marriage And Family Was an economic unit
So marriage and family was a practical arrangement for economic survival. When you don’t know if you are going to have food tomorrow, you tend to worry less about how someone talks to you.
The government and church were the two authorities. They gain their power from society working. And so they needed couples to stay together. And so we have been told for millennia that family values matter.
They matter most because without that narrative, society would crumble. And they would lose their authority.
So we have laws and religious doctrines that come from this motivation. And so there is an enormous social pressure to be a productive and functional member of society, i.e hetrosexual and married.
This leads to a deep sense of shame in being single. Or for that matter being homosexual or anything out of the cultural norm. This bias and social pressure is deeply laden into our language, social structures and psyche.
The Legacy of Patriarchy
We have lived in a patriarchal society for as long as we’ve recorded. This means that society is structured in order to ease men’s fears.
Women have a natural biological advantage in that they always know that their children are theirs.
And so women have been segregated from men. Treated as a lesser gender. Forced to hide away behind veils.
They were made dependent on men. Not given the same opportunities or freedoms. This played into the idea that a man had to be the head of the household.
So there is all this social pressure on women to be good and submissive. On men too, to always have the answer. To be questioned is a sign that you’re not ‘man’ enough to keep your house in order.
And so there is the culture that encourages control and coercement and accepts abuse.
We can also see these play out in sexual desires today. So women go for dominant men because it makes them feel safe and feminine.
The source Of Communication Problems in relationships
But what if the ‘dominant’ man is an idiot leading them astray?
What if he didn’t know what was best?
So women had to put up with it. At least superficially.
But of course, there is always a way. And so women found their power and influence in manipulation.
So we have men refusing to discuss their thoughts or thinking from insecurity. And women never actually saying what they mean or showing their true motivation.
So where do we think the problem of communication in relationships might stem from?
The world has changed dramatically
Now before we move onto the issues in marriage today, we have to consider one other reality of relationships – well marriage – before the twentieth century.
Before the Industrial Revolution changed the landscape of our world, most of the population lived in small rural villages of 150 people or less. They’d rarely leave their village.
The world was dramatically less populated. Since 1900 our population has increased to seven times what it was.
Think about that. How many people do you think would be potential partners?
Definitely less than you could swipe in one evening on tinder. If there were only ten or twenty people being the entire prospective dates on any app, you’d write off the app.
New Times = new problems
So people’s expectations and options were dramatically different to today’s dating.
The problem isn’t that there’s too many options. It isn’t one problem. It’s a mesh of problems entwined in the pre-existing narrative of relationships.
So in terms of dating, we have more options than we know how to handle. And we’re not built to know how to cope with this. Emotionally, we have limits to how many people we can care about. We are built for small villages and so towns already overwhelm us. That’s why no-one talks on the tube or subway.
we can only care so much! compassion is limited
So what happens is we treat people like commodities we are ordering from Amazon.
Dating becomes depersonalised, desensitised and demoralising.
Feelings get hurt. People feel rejected and the lack of trust leads to a toxic culture.
When Survival is assured feelings matter
As we became more prosperous as a society, survival became less important than our feelings and freedom. And so bit by bit women have become more equal.
When women are no longer tied to their husbands, when they have the option of leaving many of them are.
The divorce rate skyrocketed because why stay in an unhappy situation when you don’t have to.
The failure of marriages today is as much an indictment of our traditional model of relationships as it is a sign of our fickleness.
People do look for instant gratification and some relationships are ruined by that unwillingness to work. However, there is also a lack of awareness of solutions and the foundations that need to be in place to develop more resilience.
new times Need a new narrative
The problem we face in our relationships is that we have an entirely new reality for relationships and it’s one that we have no narrative for.
No-one has ever taught us how to do relationships because no-one has seriously considered it.
At every wedding, there’s an older family member that tries to share his or her wisdom to the happy couple.
Almost universally though, the couple smile and say that they are perfectly compatible or so in love.
Half the time the couple are ten or twenty years later in a divorce court.
Humans are hopelessly inept when it comes to predicting our own success or failure.
We adapt the story to the landscape. So when we’re happily in love, it’s because of how compatible and right we are for each other.
When we’re at war and hating each other in the divorce court it’s because of our incompatibility and unreasonable behaviour.
When the narrative is set to fit our emotions, we stray off course and miss our target.
The difference between the dream and the reality
So in the absence of any wiser counsel our relationship narrative has become the aspiration. Before motivational vloggers were telling us how our relationships should be, Storytellers were telling us how love and marriage should make us happy ever after.
There are many reasons why marriages were celebrated and happy events. They sealed business deals and partnerships. They relieved parents of the worry of providing for their children. And of the shame of having a spinster daughter.
It would be natural to make them joyous occasions.
No-one went into them hoping they’d be bad.
Many hoped they would lead to happy ever after. And so Fairy Stories gave aspiration to the social pressures to marry.
The 4 Lessons of The Fairy Tale
The Fairy Tale tells us that when the Prince and Princess meet as fate ordains that they fall in love. And when they overcome their challenges, they will live happily ever after.
It is the relationship version of winning the lottery and never having to worry about money ever again. Unfortunately, it’s equally likely to happen and as flawed a reality.
So there are four lessons of the Fairy Tale
Our Culture Tells us that looks are what matter
If we look closely at the culture of our media, you can see that advertisers use this cultural conditioning to sell us perfume, cosmetics and cars.
When people feel their relationship is under threat they hit the gym, have new hairstyles or makeovers.
yet People Leave Because they don't feel loved or respected
Yet, it’s very rare that relationships hit the rocks because people find their partners unattractive. It’s usually problems in the relationship that make people less attracted to their partner.
However, there is something Psychologists call Cognitive Economy. This means we use mental shortcuts to save our energy in thinking.
So most of the time we operate rather than consciously think everything through.
So we operate from the cultural model we have been given, the fairy tale model. And so, women typically try to improve their appearance and men their status.
The source of relationship problems isn’t usually the people in them. Their behaviour comes from the frustration and disappointment they feel in the relationship and not knowing any better way of dealing with it.
The real source of problems is that what we expect from relationships is setting us up for disappointment.
There is a better way…
The Updated Relationship Framework
The reality is that all relationships will have problems. No two people will ever have exactly the same vision or view of life. Otherwise we wouldn’t be unique. Life will throw every couple enough challenges to test them over the life of their relationship.
There is no magic chemistry or compatibility that will mean two people are especially right for each other. What there is though, is an algorithm that determines the chances of relationship success.
There's an algorithm to love
The more realistic your expectations of your relationship, the more chance it will last.
The more emotionally capacity you have, the more likely you are to be able to maintain the relationship.
The less friction you have in your relationship, the longer it will last.
And so, the better equipped you are for a relationship, the more people you are capable of having a happy and lasting relationship with. The more people you could be happy with, the greater your chance of meeting someone you can be happy in a healthy relationship with.
It all begins with understanding relationships…
THE 4 RELATIONSHIP TRUTHS
The fairy tale model leads to unrealistic expectations. It makes us believe that love is something that happens when we find the magical one that we are meant to be with.
It makes us believe that love is a permanent state rather than a symptom of the state of our relationship.
And so we expect unconditional love, when as a species we are unequipped and incapable of providing it. Which leads to disappointment and a continual search for the elusive One.
The 4 Relationship Truths
I want to share now the 4 real truths of relationships. This is the basis that we need to operate from to be more successful in our relationships.
When we operate from these truths, we have an expectation that we will have to work to make our relationships successful.
We expect that there will be challenges and our partner will not always be perfect and perfectly in love with us.
And most importantly, there is a pathway to solving problems and building a lasting and fulfilling relationship.