Is there really such a thing as a soulmate?
Should your partner be able to sense what is up without you needing to spell it out?
Are arguments always a sign our relationship isn’t working?
And can Brexit be likened to a really bad breakup?
Philosopher Alain de Botton has tackled happiness, architecture, work and the news media during his prolific career.
In his latest book The Course of Love, he confronts some of society’s deeply rooted assumptions about what love and relationships should be.
Admit you’re crazy up front to avoid ‘righteousness’
“One of the first things couples should do is rather than saying how perfect they are, they should say ‘I’m crazy like this, how are you crazy?’.
If two people go into a relationship going ‘I’m a little crazy, you’re crazy too’, (there’ll be) a lot less self-righteousness when the inevitable problems arise.
Most of the time we make discoveries about how difficult people are at the moment when the difficulties have actually hurt us, therefore, we are not likely to be forgiving or sympathetic.”
The idea of a ‘soulmate’ leads to an ‘outbreak of sulking’
“There is a cult of romanticism. It started in the 18th century, and it basically told people that everybody has a soul mate, everybody has somebody who will cure them of all loneliness.
We make the equation that, if you love me, you are supposed to understand me even if I don’t explain what’s wrong.
That’s a touching idea that people should understand us without us needing to speak.
With any good relationship, unfortunately, we often have to spell out what we need. People cannot be mind readers.”
It goes back to childhood and sets a dangerous precedent
“There are lovely moments in early childhood when your parent can guess pretty well what you need.
In the early days of love sometimes, you will report an ecstatic feeling you have met someone who seems to understand you without you needing to speak.
That sets up a dangerous precedent whereby we equate true love with someone who doesn’t need to have things spelt out to them.
So many problems of relationships (are) where we have things to say we haven’t said, and we blame people and get bitter that people haven’t understood what we never explained to them.”
Be in a rotating position of teacher and student
There is a damaging idea that to make any criticism of another human being in love is a sign you don’t love them anymore.
Love gives us a ringside seat on somebody else’s flaws. You will spot things that need to be mentioned.
The romantic view is to say ‘If you loved me, you wouldn’t criticise me’.
Actually, true love is often trying to teach someone how to be the best version of themselves.”
The good stuff is the ‘drudgery’ in the middle
“We are obsessed (in popular culture) with beginnings of love, the magic meet-cute we call it, or the end of love, the tragic undoing and death and what not.
But you want to focus on the drudgery of the middle, almost.
Often we think love is a feeling, that you spontaneously experience it. I think, ultimately, it is a skill that needs to be learned. We are not set up for that.
If you are pro love, you have to be a little bit disloyal to the romantic feelings that propel you in the early days.”
You’re not above having an argument
Never believe anything is below you as a topic of discussion.
Love is the beautiful mixture of the practical and mundane.
Often people insist their way is the way and refuse to have a discussion because they think it is not serious.
Brexit has been a bit like a divorce
What Britain has done is the classic error of the person who has blamed the partner, the EU, for everything and is soon to discover many of the problems of life are going to continue even outside that relationship.
My rule of thumb is this: If you believe all your problems are your partner’s fault, then leave them.
But if you believe many of your problems are part of the bitterness of life and you can’t tightly attribute them, then stay.
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
© 2016 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved. Read the ABC Disclaimer here.
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