As you consider who your relationship role models are, keep in mind that it’s not about the lifestyle, but about the quality of the connection and relating people have. How do they treat each other? How do they resolve conflict? How do they manage setbacks? You can never truly know what’s going on inside someone else’s relationship, but by collecting examples of how relationships can be, you expand your sense of what’s possible for yourself, in your partnerships, friendships and family relationships.
The Folks You Know
Mom and Dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, other relatives. Our most powerful messages about what relationships ought to be like come from our earliest experiences. What did you learn from these people growing up? What messages did you receive about how love is supposed to be? About how men and women are supposed to behave?
When you look at your family with an anthropologist’s eye, what do you see? What ideas do you agree with? What ideas do you reject? Of the ideas you reject, what do you want to replace them with?
Friends: What kinds of relationships do your friends have? Are yours similar? Often, we surround ourselves with people who are like us, because they “get” us. But if you find your friends have relationships that are full of drama, roller-coastery, or otherwise not what you want, you may want to reconsider who you look to for relationship advice and support.
Same-sex couples: Study after study suggests that because there are no pre-set roles for each partner in a same-sex relationship, these relationships can be more equal and balanced. Now obviously just being gay doesn’t make a relationship role-model worthy, but those guys down the street who’ve made it work for 10 years? Might want to see what they’re doing right.
Older people: Consider looking to the older people in your community as examples of what relationships can be. After all, folks who manage to stick together for a long time might have some ways of doing things that you might want to incorporate into your own relationships.
(One of my clients took this last idea to heart, and interviewed four couples she knew from her family, adventure club and spiritual community. Each couple had been together for 30 years or more. She also interviewed three older women who either were single or had only been in a relationship for 3 years or less. By the end of her interviews, her ideas of what made for an awesome relationship had totally been turned on its head.)
Not all relationship role models are couples. Sometimes there are folks who “do” relationship in surprising ways, or who don’t want to be part of a one-on-on coupled partnership. Consider these folks:
Rock bands (How have the Rolling Stones or U2 stayed together so long? What makes creative partnership last? Watch the documentary “Some Kind of Monster” to see how Metallica got through a rough patch.)
Confirmed bachelors (There’s an entertaining list of bachelors on Wikipedia – but not all were single.)
Chosen family (Communities of tight-knit friends who function much as a family unit, celebrating holidays together, helping each other through life challenges, and being there through the mundane daily life stuff. Common in queer and gay circles. Here’s a story of one woman’s chosen family.)
Think carefully about who you model. Are these relationships what you really want? Do these role models serve you? If your “perfect couple” splits, how would it affect the way you think about your own relationships? Where do you find your relationship role models?
Photo credit by San Diego Shooter via flickr.
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