Let me tell you a story about a girl named Cindy.
Cindy's friends told her about a guy she might like. His name was Ryan, and I swear he looked like David Beckham.
The next night, Cindy and her friends went to one of his professional games. Her friends introduced them afterwards.
He took her hand, kissed it and looked into her eyes.
“Next time we meet, it will be just you and me,” he said.
That did it. She was swept off her feet.
As they got to know each other, the intensity grew. They seemed to deeply understand one another. They enjoyed the same things; food, working out, and exotic beach towns. They both thought, the slipper fits!
It was like a damn Disney movie.
After a few months, Ryan became moody. Actually, he had always been moody, but it didn't show at first. This bothered Cindy. She wanted to talk about what was bothering him, but he got irritated when she tried.
“Just leave me alone,” he said.
Cindy felt shut out.
Once in a while, they planned a romantic night out on the town. Sometimes, Ryan didn't want to go. Other times, Cindy would endure his silence over candlelit dinner. Anytime she said anything, he showed his disappointment by saying something like, “I thought you knew me.”
Their friends, knowing how much they cared about each other, urged them to work on this problem. But the couple felt sad and frustrated. Why should we work on it? If we were right for each other, we would understand each other's needs. We wouldn't have any problems.
The relationship ended.
This thought process is one of the most destructive beliefs for any relationship.
In essence, choosing a romantic partner is choosing a set of problems. If you believe that being compatible with your partner means everything should come naturally, it's almost certain that your relationship will end.
So many relationships turn their hot and passionate fire of love into ashes, just because the couple believes that being in love means never having to do anything that's difficult.
This toxic belief shows up in two different ways: mind reading and agreeing on everything.
Part of the no-effort relationship fairytale is believing that couples can read each other's minds. You believe your partner knows what you think, feel and need. And you do the same for them.
The truth is, no couples can read each other's minds (unless, of course, one of you is actually telepathic).
Just the other day, my girlfriend said, “Kyle, I need more space.”
My heart dropped. I went into shock. Was our relationship doomed? I couldn't believe it. I thought everything was going so well. We were laughing until our stomachs hurt and kissing all the time. What had I done wrong?
Finally I summoned the courage to ask her, “What do you mean?”
“Your fat ass is taking up too much of our chair,” she said as she kissed me.
Oh. I'm so glad I asked.
In Nicholas Epley's book Mindwise, he asked couples to guess their partner's self-worth, abilities, and preferences on house chores on a scale from 1-5. He found that couples were accurate 44 percent of the time, despite believing they were right 82 percent of the time.
Even spending more time together doesn't help. Rather, longer term relationships “create an illusion of insight that far surpasses actual insight.”
The quality of your relationship depends on your ability to understand your partner, and vice versa. The secret to understanding each other better seems not to come from mind reading, but through the hard work of putting our partners in a position where they can openly and honestly tell us what's on their mind.
But even if you communicate and have a lot in common, remember you both grew up having different experiences. You were given different reference points. This makes it impossible to share ALL of each other's assumptions and expectations.
Take my friends Leah and David, for instance. Leah and David had just finished undergrad and were planning on getting married. David, a minimalist, went and signed a lease for a small apartment outside of Portland. He thought she'd be delighted.
When he opened the door, she flipped. Leah had lived in tiny apartments her entire life. In her mind, married couples were supposed to live in nice houses with new cars in the garage.
She felt betrayed. He felt confused. The relationship didn't last for long after that.
A couple may agree on traditional roles or have similar views, but that's very different from taking it for granted that they will agree on everything without even talking about it.
A no-effort relationship is not a great relationship; it's a doomed relationship.
It takes effort to communicate and understand each other. Love takes work. It takes work to expose and resolve conflicting beliefs and expectations.
However, that doesn't mean there is no “happily ever after.” It's more like, “they worked happily ever after.”
This article was originally published on the author's blog.