John Gottman says that on average it takes an unhappy spouse six years from knowing they are unhappy to actually leave a marriage.
This dynamic has been highlighted by Daniel Sloss in his Jigsaw Standup Routine. He claims to have been responsible for 95,000+ relationships breakups.
It’s a nice media angle, but let’s be honest. If a relationship breaks up because a comedian points out something wrong, there was something deeply flawed already.
The real problem is that people drift in relationships and go with the flow until they’re sufficiently unhappy to pull the trigger on them.
Toxic relationships begin with toxic beliefs. In this article I want to point out the five key myths of relationships this triggered so you can examine whether it’s worth fighting for your relationship or whether it’s time to leave.
Myth 1: There Is No One Perfect Person For You
The story that Daniel Sloss’s dad told him was the one that our culture tells us all in fairy tales.
One day you’ll meet someone you just know is the right person and everything will be roses and rainbows and you’ll feel completed.
The reality is that the attraction you instantly feel on meeting someone is less about soul destinies and more about lust and excitement.
The most damaging, toxic relationships that cause people to suffer years of mental anguish happen because of this myth. Because they believe it could and should happen, they fall for the Psychopath who looks like Prince Charming for the first six months.
The reality is that many, many happily married couples felt no attraction when they first met. Often it took six months for them to notice this person they wouldn’t look twice at, but over time they developed deep feelings for.
As Dan Wile tells us, every pairing has an inherent problem. The decision you have to make is, can I live with this problem. The secret to relationship happiness is less about the initial attraction and far more about the ability to live with their messiness, their snoring, their profligate spending, or the fact that they never listen to you.
Myth 2: A Relationship Can not Complete You
Anyone that’s been in a toxic relationship will attest that a relationship can diminish you as much as it can complete you.
So many relationships start from a position of weakness. People feel a desperation that they’ll never meet anyone. They feel a sense of pressure to be in a relationship. They hope that someone can join them to save them having to solve their own problems.
No relationship can complete you.
There is nothing wrong with being single. When you look at the people we enerate as our wisest and most evolved people, such as the Dalai Lama and so many others who exude calm loving energy, there’s a reason for it.
They aren’t having sleepless nights with kids. They aren’t running around having to cope with someone who’s moods are upsetting everyone.
They live a simple life with little distractions or stress. If you are happy living a single life, it’s so much less complicated. You’ll have time to contemplate at so much deeper a level. You’ll get to selfishly pursue whatever interests you.
What a great relationship can do is enhance your life. The only reason to be in a relationship is because you crave to be in one. Yet, that craving has to be a calling for more and not a cry for help or escape from singledom.
There is something we get from a great relationship that we can’t get alone.
We are social creatures and we need to be with people. More than that, we need to be loved and to love. Most of us desire to spend our life with someone and while the excitement of short term relationships can thrill us, ultimately that pales against having a lifelong companion.
A relationship brings more challenges than single life. If you are struggling as a single person then, those challenges will be magnified. If you have mastered singledom and feel a yearning for someone to share life with, then a relationship will force you to grow and evolve.
The key takeaway though, is that ultimately what matters are people. You and your future partner. The relationship, just like any Government, organisation or other non-physical tool is an entity in service of the only thing that matters… individuals.
We can never make individuals, the basic building block of society, less to support something that isn’t real and only lasts as long as we share the delusion that it exists.
Myth 3: Making Someone Fit Into Your Jigsaw
The idea that someone comes as the ready made piece to complete you is the next aspect to this outlook.
What happens so often is that a couple will meet, get along and one will idealise who the other is. In other words, they see in them the person that they believe will make it easy and satisfying to be in a relationship with.
Relationships of control and manipulation begin with the idea…
“If only you could just… we’d be so perfect”
Believing that relationships are built on sacrifice and compromise, often one partner will begin to change.
Myth 4: Compromise Isn’t The Solution
The real thrust of what Daniel Sloss challenged was the idea that we have to compromise who we are to make a relationship work.
He did what so many do in his relationships. They find someone they like and try to change to please and accommodate the person. We think if we just compromise a bit, they’ll be happy and life will be great.
What happens here is we have one who wants to make the other into their idealisation. And the other compromises and sacrifices themselves into becoming it.
The problem is that compromise is a flawed strategy. Compromise is a strategy that leads to two unhappy people, where neither gets what they want.
Of course, if you want to eat Mexican and I want to eat Thai and neither of us will agree to eat at each other’s favourite restaurant, then it’s difficult to ever do anything together.
All relationships involve some degree of compromise about what we eat and when, what we watch on tv and so on. We do this with friends and everyone else because to not do it makes us a selfish arsehole. Opening up to new experiences gives us the chance to expand our palette.
Where compromise becomes damaging is when we compromise our identity and values because we think the relationship is more important than them. Because then, what do we have left?
If we will change in order to please and fit in with a person or organisation, then that person or organisation becomes our identity. So our North Star becomes their happiness or the harmony between us.
In other words we have subjugated who we are to being a servant or instrument for another. This diminishes us and our sense of self-worth. This leads to a vicious cycle where we completely lose our sense of identity and our internal compass of what’s right and wrong.
Myth 5: Sacrifice Is For Martyrs. Growth Is For Couples.
A closely related myth is the idea of sacrifice. Sacrifice is where one person compromises for the relationship. It leads to an imbalance that leads to bitterness and resentment.
What usually happens is that there is one partner who is more accommodating and agreeable. They don’t want to make a fuss and so they go along with things not to rock the boat.
Often they think if I do this and they’re happy they’ll do the same for me. The reality is that people will give the minimum they have to. So when you accommodate again and again, they expect it because you’ve trained them that’s what happens.
Not only are you diminishing yourself, you are diminishing them. Our job in a relationship is to see the best in someone. Seeing the best doesn’t mean you ignore flaws and shortcomings. It means you see the potential of what they could become and you hold them to that vision so that you activate that highest part of what they could be.
When you tell them, verbally or through your actions, that it’s ok to be lazy and thoughtless, you show them that you don’t think they’re capable of better.
Moreover, you tell them that’s what you expect and so you devalue yourself in their eyes.
So where’s the line between agreeing to compromise on what film you go and see and becoming someone’s guardian of their happiness?
I think the line is where it becomes the idea that your behaviour and actions determine their happiness. When your motivation is to please or pacify, it becomes something you do from weakness.
The defining question is does it lessen you as a person or does it enable them to avoid growing as a person?