"What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined to strengthen each other, to be at one with each other in silent unspeakable memories."
George Elliot was writing in the 19th Century, in what historians call the Romantic period.
Emily Bronte, writing in the same era, said: "Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same."
And the Romanticist Thomas Moore, an Irish poet and lyricist, wrote:
"A soulmate is someone to whom we feel profoundly connected, as though the communicating and communing that take place between us were not the product of intentional efforts, but rather a divine grace."
Can you see the theme running through these quotes?
You probably recognize it, as it runs strongly throughout modern society.
It’s the idea of a soulmate.
The idea that if you find the perfect partner, your relationship will be perfect too.
All you need to do for a happy life is find the one person with whom you can form a deep connection.
You may have once believed this too.
But now relationship cracks are showing, and you feel disappointment and disbelief.
Either the Romantic view is wrong, or you've found the wrong person.
You're unsure whether to work at the relationship or call it off and re-subscribe to Netflix.
But what if the idea of a soulmate was misplaced, and doing you more harm than good?
How Did You Approach Your First Date?
Did you know the idea of a soulmate appeared in Europe in the mid-Eighteenth Century? It then spread worldwide.
The idea still shapes millions of lives.
It’s probably affected how you’ve approached a first date. I’d bet it’s influenced your choice of Hollywood movie. And I’d be surprised if it didn’t colour your view of relationship success.
The Romantic view of a soulmate holds that you should immediately be attracted to your partner and they to you. You and your lover should understand each other intuitively and feel destined to be together.
Neither of you should ever find yourselves attracted to anyone else. Sex should remain satisfying.
And despite the challenges of life, neither family nor work should ever come between your special union.
The Romantic view is optimistic about love. It believes if you've found your soulmate, your relationship will succeed without much effort. There's no need for you to learn anything about how relationships work.
All you need to do is be unflinchingly honest with your partner. You need to act as their best friend quietly and diligently. And you need to be their co-parent, co-chauffeur, accountant, household manager and spiritual guide.
And all without friction or a single complaint.
Have Your Romantic Ideas Ruined Your Love Life?
Ask yourself this: "How many relationships do you know that live up to this ideal?"
Do you believe that so many marriages end in divorce because the couples weren't soulmates?
Or is the idea that love is easy with the right person a flawed one?
I think you'll agree with me when I say the idea of a soulmate is damaging to relationships.
The concept has had a devastating impact on the ability of ordinary people to lead successful emotional lives.
Romanticism takes the early part of a relationship as the standard. It projects the beginning of a relationship onto 60+ years of living together.
And it leaves no room for healthy conflict and misunderstanding. No recognition that all humans have flaws.
Every marriage is a union of individuals who bring their own opinions, personality quirks and values.
Even in happy marriages, spouses must cope with all sorts of marital issues.
Some conflicts are minor irritants, but others are complex and intense.
Research shows that most marital conflicts are bitter and long-lasting.
Choosing the Problems You Can Live With
Psychologist Dan Wile says it best in his book After the Honeymoon:
"When choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unresolvable problems that you'll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty, or fifty years."
Marriages are successful to the degree that the problems you choose are ones you can live with.
Imagine a universe where Paul marries Alice.
Alice gets loud at parties. Paul, who's shy, hates that.
In another universe, Paul married Susan. He and Susan didn't even make it to the party. Susan hates waiting, and Paul is always late.
Susan feels taken for granted, which she’s sensitive about. Paul sees her complaining about this as her attempt to dominate him, which he’s sensitive about.
They fight before they've even left the house.
In this universe, Alice has married Mark. They haven't gone to the party either because they're still upset about an argument from the day before. It was about Mark not helping with the housework.
When Mark doesn’t help, Alice feels abandoned, which she is sensitive about. And to Mark, Alice's complaining is an attempt at control, which he doesn't like.
And so it goes.
No matter which universe we go to and who Paul or Alice marry, there's a problem.
And it's the same for you. When you marry a person, you marry a set of problems.
Different person, different problems.
But there's no universe where you've got a problem-free marriage.
Anchoring Your Relationship in the Real World
Knowing that there is no such thing as a soulmate is consoling. The trouble you have in your relationship doesn't stem from finding the wrong person.
Since neither you nor your partner is perfect, there's bound to be friction.
Research shows that even the happiest couples have persistent unresolved conflicts.
The idea of a perfect partner with whom you solve all arguments is a fairy-tale.
Of course, not every marriage is salvageable. Sometimes the differences between couples are too significant to surmount.
But if you scrap the idea of a soulmate, where everything should be easy, and forget about the idea that love comes naturally and isn't a skill you need to learn, then there's a high chance that your marriage can improve.
The idea of a soulmate is damaging.
Instead, accept that your relationship will always have a disagreement, conflict, and tension. Your partner will always have traits that annoy you and vice versa.
Learn the skills to manage these differences better and maintain a solid union.
It may not be possible to find the soulmate of the Romantic era, but it's possible to have a marriage that works.
Be Happier than Ever -- Without a Soulmate
Not too long ago, you might have believed in a soulmate. You might have thought you'd found the one.
But now your relationship is beginning to suffer, and you're not so sure.
Have you met the wrong person? Was moving in together with this person a mistake? Or are our cultural assumptions about soulmates misguided?
If you do away with the idea that love is easy, then you can stop blaming yourself and your partner.
If you do away with the belief that your partner isn't your true soulmate, then you'll be more tolerant of their quirks.
And if you do away with the notion that happy couples don't argue, then you'll realise your relationship isn't damaged.
With the right tools and guidance, you can improve your relationship.
Now's not the time to throw in the towel.
If you reject the idea of a soulmate, then you can work to improve the relationship you've got.
With a bit of effort and understanding and tolerance, you'll come to see your partner is the right person for you.
Your love will bloom.