It’s easy to believe that your relationship is different from everyone else’s. It’s probably not.
Relationships take effort to maintain, and you won’t always be happy with your partner.
Even if you love each other, if you have fundamentally different values, a breakup may be the best option.
Everyone knows relationships are hard, and take effort to maintain, and sometimes disappoint you.
Except, of course, your relationship. That’s different. Or so everyone likes to believe.
Below, we’ve listed some of the truest but hardest-to-accept insights about modern romance. If you can get past these somewhat unsettling ideas, you’ll be more likely to have a happy and fulfilling partnership.
We’re often attracted to people who will later drive us crazy
While researching habits and personality for her book “The Four Tendencies,” Gretchen Rubin noticed a curious phenomenon. People she’d labeled “rebels” often paired up romantically with people she’d labeled “obligers.”
Rebels resist both inner and outer expectations; if you ask a rebel to do something, they’ll likely resist. Obligers meet outer expectations but don’t always meet inner ones; they usually need some form of external accountability.
“If you’re an upholder, you live life according to a schedule. [For example] you never miss your daily run, and you always eat fewer than 30 grams of carbs a day, and you always go to bed by 11. It could be exciting be swept off your feet by somebody who feels very free and not confined.”
But over time, the novelty may wear off and these two different approaches can come into conflict. To be sure, rebels and obligers — and any two types of people — can be happy together. But it’s worth keeping this pattern in mind.
There’s probably no such thing as ‘the one’
Out of the thousands of eligible singles just waiting for a swipe right, how do you know who’s the right one for you?
Trick question: There isn’t a right one.
That’s according to Esther Perel, who is a couples therapist as well as the author of “Mating in Captivity” and “The State of Affairs.” Perel previously told us: “There is a one that you choose and with whom you decide that you want to build something. But in my opinion, there could also have been others — you just chose this one.”
Once you’ve chosen someone, you work to make that person a better fit.
You may be less likely to break up with your partner if you have a pet or a joint bank account
Psychologists call them “material constraints”: Think a house you co-own, a joint bank account, or a pet you both take care of.
Research suggests that material constraints make a breakup a lot less likely. In fact, according to a 2011 study of unmarried men and women in heterosexual relationships, adding just one additional material constraint is linked to a 10% increase in a couple’s chances of staying together.
Presumably, that’s because it’s harder to disentangle yourself from the relationship when it’s not just the two of you. So it’s wise — if slightly uncomfortable — to think in advance about what you’d do if the relationship dissolved.
Poor timing can be a reason to break up — even if you love each other
In “The Love Gap,” journalist Jenna Birch explains why timing is all-important in a relationship.
Specifically, Birch argues that many men and women may be on different timelines: While men want to feel established professionally and financially before settling down, women can work on love and their career at the same time.
Birch urges women to take men seriously when they say they’re “not ready” for a serious relationship right now. That may mean moving on to someone else who does feel ready, instead of wasting your time hanging around.
People probably aren’t as open to interracial dating as they say they are
Data from OKCupid, described in a 2014 blog post, suggests that people’s attitudes and behavior around interracial dating can differ, drastically.
OKCupid found that, among its users, the number of people who said they strongly preferred to date someone of their own race dropped from roughly 40% to roughly 30% between 2008 and 2014.
But as OKCupid founder Christian Rudder wrote, in that same time frame, “OKCupid users are certainly no more open-minded than they used to be. If anything, racial bias has intensified a bit.”
Consider: In 2009, Asian men on OKCupid rated black women, on average, 16% less attractive than the average woman. In 2014, Asian men rated black women 20% less attractive.
Passion may wax and wane in your relationship
You and your partner may not always see fireworks like you did in the early stages of your relationship. The key is not to freak out.
Rachel Sussman, a relationship expert and marriage counselor in New York City, told us that the decline of passion in a relationship is perfectly normal — and that you can lure it back.
One strategy is to schedule sex; another is to try a new and exciting activity together. Above all, try to be patient while you work on things.
It can be hard to make a relationship work if you and your partner have different values
Values are different from interests. If you like going to football games and your partner doesn’t, you can probably find a friend to go with you instead.
But if you’re interested in earning more money and status and your partner doesn’t care, that could be a problem.
Karl Pillemer, a professor of human development at Cornell University, spoke with a series of older Americans for his book “30 Lessons for Loving” and heard a lot about the importance of shared values.
Pillemer’s interviewees recommended having an explicit discussion about core values with your partner before getting married, or deciding to be together long term. You’ll want to cover values around children, money, and religion — and whatever else is important to you.
One 80-year-old man put it in very frank terms: “If you have divergent personalities and ideas of what’s right and wrong, and what you want to do and what you don’t want to do right at the very beginning, well, it’s not going to get better. It’s going to go downhill.”
Sometimes you will be miserable in your relationship
Total happiness is hard to come by — in life and especially in a relationship.
In her book “The Real Thing,” Washington Post features writer Ellen McCarthy quotes Diane Sollee, a marriage educator who explained that too many people have delusional expectations for marriage.
“[Sollee] wants couples who are getting ready to walk down the aisle to know — really know — that it will be hard. That there will be times when one or both of them want out and can barely stand the sight of each other. That they’ll be bored, then frustrated, angry, and perhaps resentful.”
She adds: “Diane also wants them to know that all of these things are normal.”
Most people have unrealistic expectations for their relationship
Ruth Westheimer — better known as Dr. Ruth — has seen it all, having counseled thousands of people about their relationships and sex lives. One general conclusion she’s reached? Most people have unreasonably high expectations for romance.
Westheimer told us: “Hollywood and the movies tell us that the stars have to be twinkling every night,” adding, “That’s not reality of life.”
As for sex, Westheimer said too many people expect multiple orgasms or think that “a man can have an erection like you see in sexually explicit movies.”
That’s why it’s important both to be sexually literate and to temper your expectations about what your relationship can bring you.
You and your partner may not always be compatible
Here’s a scary thought: The person you’re happy with today may not be the person you’ll be happy with forever.
Eli Finkel, who is a psychologist at Northwestern University, a professor at Kellogg School of Management, and the author of the book “The All-or-Nothing Marriage,” told us: “Even if we achieve compatibility in the marriage, there’s no guarantee that that compatibility will remain strong over time.”
The real question is whether you’re planning to try to make the relationship work regardless of how you both change. There’s no right answer.
You’re more likely to get divorced if you’re less educated
Finkel shared another distressing insight with us: “People who are relatively uneducated have a higher divorce rate than ever, and a lower marriage rate, and when they are married, the marriages tend not to be as satisfying.”
Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center reported that the National Center for Health Statistics found “78% of college-educated women who married for the first time between 2006 and 2010 could expect their marriages to last at least 20 years. But among women who have a high school education or less, the share is only 40%.”
Finkel has a theory to explain why: “It’s really difficult to have a productive, happy marriage when your life circumstances are so stressful and when your day-to-day life involves, say three or four bus routes in order to get to your job.”
Even relationship experts struggle with conflict in their marriages
You can read dozens of books and articles on the science of relationships; you can see a couples counselor; you can train in couples therapy yourself. And still, you may occasionally run into conflict with your own partner.
We spoke to four married couples in which both partners are relationship experts and each couple had stories about marital conflict.
The key to navigating that conflict successfully — and this is something all four couples agreed on — is staying curious. One expert said she got upset with her husband recently for brushing her off. When he noticed she was upset, he asked questions like, “Why did that bother you so badly?” and was willing to listen to the answer.