So, you've met your soul mate and you're ready to live happily ever after. And then, ye gods! You have the worst week -- a week filled with conflict and misunderstanding. What happened? Were you wrong about each other? Is your relationship doomed?
It is, so long as you keep seeing yourselves as fated. A new study shows that people tend to either see their relationship one of two ways. Either they think they're soul mates, or they see their relationship as a process: "Our love is a journey, look how far we’ve come." Guess which couples struggle more with conflict?
Turns out, if you see each other as soul mates, conflict comes as a more terrible shock. Why are you disagreeing at all?!? You are each other's missing piece! This should not be happening, so something HUGE and insurmountable must be terribly wrong.
On the other hand, couples who consider occasional struggles just part of the journey of coupledom are better able to handle conflict and move on in a healthy way. To learn more about this dynamic I spoke with two relationships experts. Here's a few enlightening insights I picked up from them.
1. "Soul mates" is a stage nearly every couple goes through. Don't worry if you've been thinking of your relationship this way. "Everyone has that mentality at the beginning of a relationship," says Dr. Lauren Napolitano, a psychologist and author of Over-Scheduled & Under-Sexed: How Busyness Is Destroying Your Marriage (2015). "It's just an early stage."
2. But you do need to switch gears. The important difference, Napolitano says, is how much control you believe you have in your relationship. If you hand that control over to "fate," you're setting yourself up for disappointment. "Magic doesn't take the trash out," she says. Shift your perspective and put yourself in the driver's seat of your relationship.
3. "Soul mates" doesn't mean what you think it means. Family counselor Dr. Laurie Moore says the traditional meaning of that term is different from the way we tend to use it. Instead, consider it a "deep union" that forces you to do the hard work of "facing the less-preferred sides of yourself that need refinement." You may be highly compatible and have an intense connection; it's just that this is the person who will bring out a higher level of personal growth in you. And that's ... better!
4. Your connection is still rare and special. Moore doesn't believe in one perfect soul mate for everyone. But she does believe that there are some people we just have "a particular unexplainable deep love for," she says. "It's just given like grace. But it doesn't spare you the hard work of growing."
5. Change your perspective on conflict. Rather than just fitting together like puzzle pieces, think of your relationship as something you're creating together. We should expect struggle -- it's in the nature of every relationship. However, Moore says, we should "see conflict as a learning excursion that can result in a positive transformation."
So if you and your soul mate feel like you've hit a snag, fear not. It just means you need to shift your perspective, roll up your sleeves, and do the good work of collaboratively creating a strong relationship. This is actually where it gets even better.
Do you believe in "soul mates" -- and does it make relationships harder for you?
Image © iStock/kupicoo