How Your Love Stories Make or Break Your Relationship

Open bookEach one of us has ideas about love and what love should ideally be like. These ideas are the basis of our love stories that ultimately become our reality. They are the lens through which we see the world, through which we interpret what happens to us, and through which we form expectations of what will happen. They are what inform our hopes for the future and our deepest fears.

Many of the themes in our stories arise from our childhood experiences, from interactions with family members or friends, or from experiences we had as adolescents.

We all have not one, but a number of stories that are organized in a hierarchy. Different partners or situations can bring out different stories for you so that what's most important to you changes.

Your love stories influence

  • your partner choice;
  • what you want in and expect from a relationship;
  • what your ideal relationship looks like;
  • how you interact with your partner;
  • how you interpret your partner’s actions;
  • your relationship satisfaction;
  • and much more.

Love is a story, and you are its author.

Where do my personal love stories come from?

Couple with umbrella in fieldMany of the themes of our stories come from our past childhood experiences with siblings, parents, and friends. Obviously, experiences from our adolescence can play a prominent role as well, and most often it is the painful experiences that get incorporated into our stories. When we construct new stories, we often use portions of old stories and then add new material to accommodate a new relationship.

Unconscious stories guide your actions, perceptions, and desires

The problem with our love stories is that they are mostly unconscious but influence our life in significant ways. Without knowing our stories, we cannot see how they alter our perception of events and what influence they exert on our life.

couple arguing on bench

Take the following example: Linda asks Patrick to buy an expensive new mattress where she can adjust the firmness by remote. Her request might elicit a variety of responses from Patrick, depending on Patrick's story:

Patrick might feel pleased that Linda is very health-conscious, but alternatively, he might feel that she fell victim yet again to the latest fad or that one of these days she is going to drive him into bankruptcy.

Any interactions in our relationships are tinted by the love stories we have.

For that reason, it is very important for us to understand our stories and the themes they bring with them, like the fear of loss of a loved one, the fear of losing control, the belief that we are unlovable, or the belief that we are entitled to unlimited benefits.

If you know, for example, that you are prone to interpreting the actions of others as rejection, you can more intently analyze what your partner says and does because you are aware of your predisposition to feel rejected.

Arguments: Your stories represent your "truth"

arguing coupleHave you ever had an argument in which the way you saw a situation had almost no overlap with the way your partner saw the situation? Where you seemed to be unable to find common ground, although you were talking about the same situation?

Couples often argue about whose view better represents the “truth,” but if you consider each person’s individual love stories, you will realize it is difficult, if not impossible, to know the absolute truth about any relationship. Any information is always filtered through a person’s stories of his or her relationships. We never see things independently of our stories. That explains why both partners in a relationship may be convinced that the other one is lying when in fact both are telling the truth as they see it.

So it is entirely possible that you and your loved one have opposing interpretations of an event - neither of you is lying; you just view things differently because you have different stories. You both see your own truth.

The 5 kinds of stories you need to know

In our research, we have found that people's love stories can be grouped into five different categories that have common themes.

Through a large number of interviews and conversations with people about their relationships, we have identified 26 dominant types of stories that we have grouped into these five story categories.

Some stories are more common than others. There is no one story that is necessarily more likely than others to lead to a successful long-term relationship. What is most important is that your story matches that of your partner.

However, certain kinds of stories tend to set relationships up for failure, no matter whether the two people in a couple share that story or not.

Here are the five story categories:

1. Power Plays

Big and small person on seesaw indicating power differencesPower play stories are ones in which one person dominates the other -- there is a power differential between the two partners. There can be an element of competition between the two partners, but that is not necessarily the case.

These stories are susceptible to escalation when one person begins to increasingly take advantage of the other.

The prospects of power play stories are variable, but they tend to be less favorable when there is a large power differential between the two partners.

2. Dependence and Saving

In this group of stories, one partner is dependent on the other for their survival, and the relationship (or the partner) essentially saves one of the persons involved.

bird in man's handOften, relationships of this kind consist of one partner who mostly gives and another person who mostly receives. The giving of gifts, services, or affection may provide the giver with feelings that they are wanted and needed, but the giver can also feel uncomfortable and suffocated.

Likewise, the receiver may appreciate the partner's assistance but may reach a point where assistance is not needed or wanted anymore.

While relationships generally should be equitable, Dependence and Saving Stories may work if both partners are comfortable with their role. They are at risk for failure if the receiver realizes their partner cannot save them or that they do not need saving anymore, or if the giver feels overwhelmed.

3. Working Together

In stories that have working together as a theme, partners create something together (like a home, or a relationship in which each partner has a clearly defined role to make everyday life flow smoothly).

two children creating art togetherBoth partners may be actively involved, or one partner may take charge.

These stories tend to be adaptive because they focus on collaboration and creation. They revolve around the relationship, rather than around competition and conflict.

Conflict may arise, however, when partners disagree about their roles or the direction in which they should be working.

4. Partner as Object

In this kind of story, the partner fulfills a role and is valued not for themselves but rather for functioning as an object. A person may be valued for their beauty, or for certain traits that seem valuable to their partner.

collection of leavesThe relationship itself, or the partner as a person, may not matter so much as long as the partner fulfills a certain function.

Because a person is valued for the sake of a particular trait, stories of this kind often involve several partners, either in succession or at the same time.

People with object stories can get very excited about their partner, but there is also a danger that they will lose interest in, or become bored with, their partner.

5. Relationship as Story

In relationships with a story theme, partners see themselves as writing a script or a story that prescribes or even dictates how the relationship should work and play out.

Children dressed as prince and princessSome people, for example, may be in search of their personal prince or princess; or they may look to their individual or shared past that they feel is a record of their lives, with happy memories helping them through hard times.

Others may see their relationship rather like a comedy, recognizing that life has a funny side. But possibly, they are unable to take their relationship seriously and are using humor to cover up their problems.

Relationships with a story theme may work well if partners share the same story, but they can also become tiresome to some partners.

The Three Components That Shape your Happiness

Your love stories very concretely influence what your relationship looks and feels like and what you want it to be.

Three components describe the character of any of your relationships. They play a crucial role in your relationship satisfaction: You are happier when

  • your feelings are close to how you want to feel;
  • you think your partner’s feelings for you are close to what you want them to be;
  • both you and your partner feel the same way about each other, and
  • you and your partner are relatively similar in what is important to you.

Let's have a closer look at those three components.

The Core Components of Love

hands forming heart

Intimacy

You can feel intimacy with another person in a lot of different ways. For example, you may feel comfortable enough to share your innermost feelings with someone else, even when you are embarrassed about it. You experience intimacy when you emotionally support someone in times of need or when someone else is giving emotional support to you. Intimacy is also involved when you value a loved one, are able to count on them in times of need, and when you trust them and feel safe with them.

heart of flames

Passion

When you think about passion, the first thing that comes to mind may be sexual fulfillment. And while that can be a part of passion, other feelings can play a role as well. For example, you may feel that you absolutely could not live without that other person, you may find yourself fantasizing about the person, or you may be excited when you think about the person. In the case of your children, you may have a very passionate drive to ensure their well-being. Just as with intimacy, there are many ways in which you can experience passion.

wedding rings

Commitment

Commitment is not a feeling but rather a decision you make. Well, actually it’s two decisions. First, you decide whether you love and care for another person. The second decision comes later on – it involves whether you intend to maintain that love in the long term. When two people marry, they legalize the commitment to love each other for life. Often, however, these decisions are not conscious. Most people don’t sit down to consciously decide they want to love a certain person forever. Likewise, the decision to stay together in a lifelong relationship with a partner may develop over time.

Your happiness depends not on the absolute amount of intimacy, passion, and commitment you have in your relationship - it depends on whether you have what you want to have, and whether your partner is giving you what you need.

For example, you may not always want commitment in a relationship; maybe you're in an adventurous phase, trying out different kinds of relationships and partners to find out what suits you best. Or you may find yourself in a passionate romance that leaves little need for the sharing of intimate details of your life. Your needs may change at different times in your life. At some point, you may find yourself craving intimacy with your partner, and at another point, looking for something else.

Where Does that Leave You?

If you want a happy and fulfilled relationship or are looking for a partner that's right for you, there are two things to keep in mind.

Work with your stories

1. Identify your ideal love story and the story you have with your partner

If you want to understand what is not working well in your current relationship, consider what your ideal love story is. Do you have in your relationship what you yearn for? Can you possibly make it work with what you have?

What is the love story you are currently living with your partner? To explore your love stories,

  • think about the people you are attracted to and the events that occur in your relationships with these people; analyze not the events, but rather, what they mean or meant to you.
  • think about the kinds of love stories that appeal to you in books or movies.
  • ask others about their perceptions of you.
  • if you'd like, subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to know when our story assessment is available.

2. Examine your relationship through the lens of your stories

Focus not so much on actions and behaviors - what matters is not the action per se, but rather, how we interpret each action through our love stories. Remember that any action can be interpreted in a number of ways. The question is: How and why does your love story make you react in a certain way?

Look at your own mistakes as well. Do you keep repeating old mistakes? If so, the reason is that you repeat the maladaptive thoughts, behaviors, and feelings your story generates.

Become aware of the advantages and disadvantages of your story, and realize that stories are constantly being written and rewritten.

3. Do some replotting if you need to

Are there things in your current relationship you do not like? Can you do some replotting of your love story so that you and your partner can work toward the same relationship goals? Keep in mind that your partner's love stories are  important, too, and that you need to consider how your partner would like for your relationship to change.

4. Try out new stories

Explore your respective stories with your partner. Do you feel adventurous? Try out new stories to see what works and what doesn't. Don't feel shy - love is what you make it! You can create your own love story out of the elements you discover you both like. Your love story is yours alone, and it does not have to adhere to any conventions, just so long as it works for you and your partner.

 

Work with your core components of love

1. How much intimacy, passion, and commitment do you want in your relationship, and how much do you have?

Remember that your happiness depends on the difference between what you want and what you have. There's no right or wrong with your wants and needs; there's just what makes you happy and what doesn't.

2. Take action to get closer to your desired level in intimacy, passion, and commitment.

If you find a discrepancy between what you wish for and what you have, take action! Check out our blog for ideas to increase the core components of love, or to take things a little slower if you feel a need for a decrease in one of the components.

 

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