When it comes to love, the idea of finding "the one" can dictate how you approach dating. But Jeff Guenther says the "the one" concept can make dating much harder.
"I think that it's very sweet and romantic," says Guenther, a Portland-based relationship therapist. But the idea of "the one" also makes Guenther feel like Disney movies have brainwashed him. "And I don't want to give Disney movies and fairytales all that much power over me. And you probably don't want to do that either."
Guenther says we can often be hyperfocused on our own wants and needs instead of trying to get to know a potential romantic partner. But if you show up with lofty hopes or unrealistic expectations for the person sitting across from you, you may be setting yourself up for an unsuccessful date.
"I think we forget that in a relationship, a lot of the time we're there to just be there for our person – to play a supporting role." Guenther says it's about finding a balance between knowing when we should be the main or supporting character. "I think there's a lot of success and happiness that can come out of that."
Here are some tips from Guenther for a healthier and more realistic dating life.
Interrogate your beliefs about romance and dating
Maybe you've been told to follow a set path to getting married, having kids or buying a house. Perhaps there's cultural pressure from friends and family to meet specific romantic goals. Guenther says you can often feel shame or guilt if you don't meet these expectations.
He says to interrogate those feelings: "Where is that shame and guilt coming from?" Be honest and ask yourself if the messages you're getting about relationships align with what you want.
Make a list of your deal-breakers
Meeting someone who is a perfect match in every way is an unrealistic expectation for dating. But Guenther suggests writing down a list of things you need in a romantic relationship. These things are critical to you and are hard to compromise on. Start by asking yourself a couple of questions: What kind of relationship do you want? Do you want kids? How many? What are your core values and beliefs? Do you want someone creative or adventurous?
Once you have your answers, think about your non-negotiables. Write them down and stick to them.
Beware the sunk-cost fallacy
The sunk-cost fallacy is the tendency to stay with a course of action because you've already invested time and resources in it – even if it no longer makes sense or brings you joy. Guenther likens it to buying an expensive burrito with lots of extra toppings and then biting into it and finding it gross. You finish the burrito anyway because you already paid for it.
He says this logic can also apply to the people we date. Despite feeling unfulfilled or miserable, you decide to stay together even though your needs aren't being met. You stay with someone because you've invested time, money and emotional energy into the relationship.
Guenther says to be aware of this sort of thinking. If you're feeling unhappy or frustrated, perhaps it's time to revisit your list of deal-breakers and examine why you're still with this person. Do they meet your needs in other ways? Do you feel content with this person a lot or most of the time?
Don't expect your partner to make you happy all the time
When we start dating someone, we can sometimes set our partner – or partners – on a pedestal and expect them to be perfect and to only add to our happiness.
"If you're relying on that person 100 percent of the time to make you happy, then you might be possibly setting yourself up [for failure] and are also kind of giving a lot of your power away."
Guenther warns that this pressure on a partner can lead to unrealistic expectations that your life will be better with them. Instead, he suggests that we reframe our thinking.
"You want to make sure that you can find somebody interested in growing with you and trying to figure out how to be the best partner for you and for you to also do that for them."
The audio portion of this episode was produced by Mia Venkat and Thomas Lu and edited by Meghan Keane.
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