The Soulmate Trap

Last year, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar hosted by the Gottman Institute. For readers unaware, John and Julie Gottman are not only therapists, but authors of multiple books on relationships and marriage including The Seven Principles for Making Marriage WorkWhat Makes Love Last?, and 10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage. According to the Gottmans, the secret to a happy marriage rests on the basic idea that happily married couples behave like good friends, and they handle their conflicts in gentle, positive ways. Read that again. This is a concept proven in research time and time again. Happily married couples behave like good friends. The best part about the Gottmans' theory is that we all know what a friend is; we've known since sharing our glue stick in kindergarten. You are kind to a friend. You share with your friends. You encourage your friends. You laugh with, not at, your friends. You defend your friends. So why is thinking of our spouse as a friend so lack-luster? It's because we have been brainwashed to think romanticized versions of marriage are realistic. We think we are destined to have a "soulmate." But, what even is a soulmate? Many married couples come to therapy saying they're not sure if they have found this elusive soulmate. Sure, they've married someone but is that person their soulmate? How can a soulmate be so obnoxious or boring or not know how to do laundry after 20 years? How can a soulmate have bad breath and forget our anniversary? Isn't the soulmate supposed to make your heart flutter? Make your world spin on its axis? Be forever sexy and interesting? But, reframe the marital relationship with some qualities of a typical friendship and it looks different. We all have the late friend. The messy friend. The friend who tries so hard but ends up saying the wrong thing. And you don't wonder if that person is your friend because they're late or messy or socially awkward. You don't wonder if they are your friend because they're comfortable or predictible. In fact, we expect our friends to be like a favorite pair of jeans--soft and worn-in. If you're reading this blog, perhaps it's because you have felt the dissatisfaction of marriage recently. Or, perhaps you have felt it both recently and for a long while now. I challenge you to ask yourself if you've been a good friend to your spouse. Have you handled your conflicts in a gentle, positive way? After all, it's not about having no problems or even having solutions to the problems you do have. It's behaving as you would with your friend--with warmth, positive regard, humor, and love. Because when you behave this way, you cultivate a strong, happy marriage instead of wishing for one.