The dark side of believing in true love
The concept of soulmates is part and parcel of a tale as old as time. For the romantic at heart, a belief in one true love might be the guiding principle in finding partners and starting a new romance.
Psychologists have found that this very belief – or lack thereof – may play a significant part in how your relationship turns out.
Whether or not we believe in romantic destiny strongly impacts the way we maintain partnerships, how long they last and how satisfied we are likely to be with them.
According to the implicit theories of relationships, there are two kinds of approaches to romance. The first is the “soulmate” or “destiny” approach, which believes that one is destined or meant to be with a specific person. The second is the “work-it-out” or “growth” approach, which holds that compatibility is cultivated and developed through effort.
Renae Franiuk, a psychology professor at Aurora University said people with soulmate beliefs are more likely to agree with the following statements:
- “There is a person out there who is perfect (or near perfect) for me.”
- “I couldn’t marry someone unless I was passionately in love with him or her.”
- “The reason most marriages fail is that people aren't right for each other.”
On the other hand, people with growth beliefs tend to agree with these statements:
- “Success in a romantic relationship is based mostly on how much people try to make the relationship work.”
- “How well you know someone depends on how long you have known him or her.”
- “I could be happily married to most people, if they were reasonable.”
Franiuk said more people believe in the soulmate theory than expected. “People have a tendency to think they will be a ‘work-it-out’ type but we see pretty high endorsement for ‘soulmate’,” she told BBC.
“It’s not surprising that we want to believe these ideas when so much in Western culture pushes people towards them.”
When problems arise in a relationship, soulmate theorists are more likely to disengage and even leave, as they may see any fault as a sign of fundamental incompatibility. “They want to go in search of that right person,” Franiuk told CBC.
Their breakups also tend to be less than amicable. Subscribers to soulmate beliefs may prefer to “ghost” or avoid contact until the other person gives up. They may not see their disengagement as a negative, as they believe there is no point in providing feedback for someone who is not ideal for them.
However, once they find someone that fits their ideal “soulmate” image, they are more willing to overlook flaws and mistakes. “They exaggerate the good qualities of their partner and they downplay the bad qualities,” said Franiuk. This may also include violations such as betrayals, cheating and abuse. “When [violence] starts early, soulmate theorists leave quickly. But when it starts later in the relationship, soulmate theorists are more likely to be in a violent relationship than work-it-out theorists.”
On the other hand, growth theorists are more likely to address relationship problems head-on and come out with a strengthened commitment to each other and a better feeling about the relationship. These people are also less affected by the discrepancy between the real and ideal partner, or whether they are with the “right one”. “But they also don't get that boost from believing they're with the right person, whereas soulmate theorists get that boost of happiness from believing they've found their soulmate,” said Franiuk.
These two theories are not mutually exclusive. “You can have beliefs that relationships improve when couples work on them together, but [still trust] there is still the ‘right’ person out there for you,” Gili Freedman, a psychologist at St Mary's College of Maryland told BBC.
Nor is one approach necessarily better than the other. While destiny believers may miss out on potentially successful relationships that require more time to bloom, growth believers may over-compromise to make flailing romance work. “I see benefits to both,” said Franiuk.