Love Stories Influence Your Partner Choice, Relationship Satisfaction, and Behavior


The second part of the Love-Match Theory (the Theory of Love as a Story) is about the love stories that each one of us have - beliefs and conceptions we have about how our partner and our relationship should be.


Here's an overview of what you will find on this page:

  1. What are love stories?
  2. Where does my personal love story come from?
  3. Why are love stories important?
  4. How do stories work in real life?
  5. What are the different kinds of stories?

And here's a short overview of both parts of the Love-Match theory.


What are love stories?

Love stories are all around us and you’ve probably come across hundreds, if not thousands of them, in your lifetime. They’re on TV and in the movies, they’re in books, they’re on the radio and in podcasts, and of course, they’re all around you in real life - just look at your parents, your friends, and most importantly, yourself!

Couple with umbrella in fieldEveryone of us has needs they hope will get fulfilled in a relationship. Maybe you wish for someone to protect and take care of you, or maybe you’d like someone you can care for. Maybe you desire a strong partner who will give you direction and take over the say in the relationship (dominance), or maybe you are the one who would like to be the dominating partner in a relationship.

Our needs create a certain pattern or conception of a relationship we are searching for. In effect, they help us create our own unconscious “love stories” that determine what we’re looking for in a partner. The problem is that most of us are not aware of these conceptions and needs.

Where does my personal love story come from?

Many 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 in our stories. When we construct new stories, we often use portions of old stories and then add new material to accommodate a new relationship.

Why are love stories important?

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

  • how we interpret events;
  • how we perceive actions of others;
  • our own actions as we try to shape our relationships to fit our stories

couple arguing on benchBut the point is: the same action could confirm any number of stories, so almost any event can be seen as a confirmation of our story – we just make it fit. For example, a wife who asks her husband to buy a new expensive mattress where she can adjust the hardness by remote might elicit an variety of responses from her husband depending on his story: Her husband might feel confirmed that she is very health-conscious, but he might alternatively feel that she fell yet again victim to the latest fad or that she is going to drive him into bankruptcy one of these days.

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.

How do stories work in real life?

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 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.

Let’s have a closer look at a relationship in real life:

Elliott and Marion both have very different conceptions of a loving relationship. Elliott’s idea of a relationship is that it is smooth, tranquil, and relatively conflict-free. He believes that two people who love each other behave in non-confrontational ways, don’t attack each other verbally, and accept each other as they are.  Marion, on the other hand, feels that two people in a relationship communicate about and confront their differences so they can forge a path together. If there is no communication about the couple’s differences, no progress together can be made. For that reason, Susan brings up and wants to work through problems whenever she sees an issue.

Elliott is hurt by Marion’s constantly bringing up problems. He feels attacked, and does not believe partners in a loving relationship should attack each other. So he withdraws, which makes Marion furious. Then of course, Elliott withdraws some more. Their relationship starts to deteriorate, not because they do not love each other but because their different stories lead them to interpret events in different ways. None of the two understands the other’s story about love.

Because our love stories have such a strong impact on what we do and say, and how we interpret our partners actions, relationships with partners whose stories differ significantly from our own can be fraught with difficulties. For example, people who tend to be jealous may find that it just doesn’t work for them to be with someone who doesn’t like to report on where or with whom he is spending time.

Love stories tend to work almost like “automatic thoughts” in that they come up with no effort. You are likely not aware of your stories and how they shape your perception of reality. To you, what you see is the “truth” – things as they are objectively. But this is not the case; your stories color everything you see, and how you interact with your partner and interpret your partner’s actions. But these assumptions color your perceptions at an unconscious level so you don’t know they’re there. But because they are there, you and your partner can look at the same situation and see things completely differently – yet each one of you is convinced they’re seeing things as they really are.

If you have any doubt, talk to two people going through a divorce. As likely as not, it will sound as though each of them is describing a different marriage. That is also the major reason they are divorcing: Their stories about the relationship they are in have diverged to the point where there virtually do not overlap anymore.

What are the different kinds of stories?

Love stories are built just like any other story. They have a beginning, which is when we meet our partner. They also have a middle, and an end which we often anticipate in one way or another before the relationship even ends. Of course, depending on the events that happen during our relationship with a person, we might adjust our story accordingly.

Any good story has a plot and characters. The characters are you and your loved one, and the roles that you play as well as what happens in the story illustrate what you imagine your relationship to be like.

There is a large number of stories people can have. Oftentimes, you have not only one story but rather several stories. These conceptions of what a relationship should be like compete with one another — with one partner, one particular story of yours may surface, and with another partner, another story may take over the main role.

Love stories can have complementary roles. For example, the "police officer" in a police story--they keep close tabs on their partner--looks for someone who takes on the role of the "criminal"--the partner who is perceived as trying to outwit the police officer.  Both partners have police stories, but they fill complementary roles (police officer and criminal.) You don’t necessarily need to find someone who is just like you. You will increase your chances for happiness with someone when you share a similar story or set of stories.

Through a large number of interviews and conversations with people about their relationships, we found that 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. Again, 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.

These stories are

  • the horror story,
  • the police story,
  • the science fiction story,
  • the theater story,
  • the humor story,
  • the collector story,
  • the autocratic government story, and
  • the recovery story.

So let’s dive right in and have a closer look at some of these stories.

Addiction Story

In this story, a person feels addicted to their partner. Not being with the partner leads to withdrawal symptoms, similar to withdrawal symptoms from drugs. People with an addiction story are not afraid of being alone per se; rather, they are afraid of being without their particular partner.

kissing couple in train stationIn the train station,  Misty urges her husband Michael to cancel his trip to Philadelphia. Michael is on his way to visit a friend from college who is about to move cross-country. It is not clear when Michael will be able to see his friend again. Misty, however, gets nervous just at the thought of Michael boarding that train. She thinks of all the horrible things that could happen to Michael in Philadelphia, and she wonders what would happen to her if something went wrong on Michael's trip. She breaks into a cold sweat. But Michael reassures her that things will be fine -- he will safely return in four days and will call her every night. With tears in her eyes, Misty watches as Michael boards the train.

On the way home, Misty wonders how she will be able to make it through the next few days. In her mind, she is constantly replaying different scenarios that would lead her to lose Michael - he might get shot or get killed in a car accident, or he might fall in love with someone else and never return to her. She cannot see how she could possibly live without him. Not only would she be terribly lonely, but he takes care of most of the family's needs as well and so she needs him!

Michael, meanwhile, is enjoying his trip to Philadelphia. He is happy to catch up with his friend, and though he misses Misty, he is also relieved in some way to be out of town for a few days: Her clingy behavior sometimes makes him feel like he is suffocating. He hardly ever has time to pursue his own interests because Misty always wants to be with him. He also has to be careful not to say anything that Misty might interpret as a sign that he no longer wants to be with her. But in a way, he also misses being with Misty. Her clingy and dependent behavior makes him feel important and needed. He misses having her around and telling him how much she loves him and that she could never be without him. 

Business Story

People who have a business story believe that a relationship should be run like a business -- you consider things like economic factors and social status before you enter the relationship or when you evaluate your relationship. Partners are evaluated with respect to their potential as a business partner.

Dan and Maria have been married for eight years. Today is Sunday, and just like every Sunday, they are sitting together at the dining room table working out anything that needs to be handled in the coming week. Dan is responsible for the family's budget and financial matters of any kind. Maria is in charge of any other family matters: She assigns chores to their two children as well as to Dan and herself; she plans out the week's activities and childcare; and she makes a meticulous meal plan and creates a shopping list. Most weeks go by pretty smoothly, but when a problem or conflict arises, Dan and Maria sit down to discuss their options and work out a solution to the problem.

man and woman in business clothesMost people think Dan and Maria's relationship is close to perfect. Maria's brother Jeremy, however, disagrees. He is much more romantically inclined than his sister and feels that she has a hopelessly dull and impersonal relationship with her husband. Maria agrees that there is little romance in their relationship. But this does not bother her much since she and Dan are very adept at running their life -- they enjoy financial stability and their everyday life is predictable and organized. Maria firmly believes that their love for each other has a basis in their shared interest in their well-being and that of their family, and that this is more important for the success of their relationship than passionate feelings for each other.


Garden Story

People with a garden story view their relationship as something that needs to be taken care of and nurtured. Just like plants in a garden only grow when you provide them with sufficient sunshine, water, and weeding, partners in a garden story put an emphasis on taking care of each other and their relationship.

Jack has just returned home from work after a very busy day. He looks exhausted and, just as soon as he enters their house, his wife Dora asks him how he is feeling. Shortly thereafter, the doorbell rings. It's Jack's secretary Darlene, who noticed Jack had forgotten some important files in his office. She decided to run over to his house to drop them off. After all, they don't live too far apart from each other. Jack is taken by her thoughtfulness and thanks her repeatedly. 

woman watering plants in a gardenDora has been watching the scene and finds herself thinking about how close Jack and Darlene are to each other. Maybe their relationship is growing into something more than a relationship? Immediately, Dora thinks back to the past weeks, which have been stressful for both her and Jack. They have not taken care of each other as much as they usually do. Did they talk enough with each other, and did they go out often enough?

After Darlene leaves, Dora voices her concerns to her husband. Jack reassures Dora that her concerns are unjustified and that she is the only woman in his life. He agrees that life has taken over a bit too much over the past weeks and that they should make more time for each other, just as they have been doing for most of their marriage. He suggests they go on a little vacation to take a time-out and reconnect with each other. Elaine is enthusiastic and they sit down together to start make plans.

Sewing Story

People with a sewing story believe that love is what a couple makes of it. They believe the relationship can be completely constructed to the couple's liking. When you sew, you first choose a fabric you like, and then decide to follow a pattern or create something entirely new. Either way, it is your decision what kind of a relationship you create with your partner. Because so many decisions are involved, no relationship is ever going to be exactly like another.

John and Nicky are walking out of math class together. It was the last class of the day, so they can spend the rest of the day doing together whatever they please. Instead of going to the movies, they decide to pack a picnic and have a candlelight dinner at dusk on the beach. Early on in their relationship, they had decided that their relationship was not going to be like other couples' relationships. Whatever those couples were doing, John and Nicky would forge their own path and create their own unique relationship.

couple with picnic basket at beachAs they sit on their blanket eating their sandwiches and watching the sun go down, they reflect on how happy they are as a couple, and how wonderful it is to defy the conventions of what couples usually do and how they act. A half hour later, however, John and Nicky have gotten into a rare argument. It is centered on the upcoming prom. John does not want to go and suggests they instead do something together they have never done before. Nicky is not keen on going to the prom either, but she feels they should attend, if just to please their parents. She feels they can still be unlike everyone else, even if they go to the prom.

Eventually, John gives in and agrees to go to the prom with Nicky. However, he insists that he will not wear a tuxedo and he certainly will not set foot on the dance floor. Nicky agrees, telling him that he can wear whatever he wants and warning him that she may still ask him for a dance.

Travel Story

People with a travel story view love as a journey that two people take together. There are many different metaphorical "destinations," and the couple choose together which one will be their own particular destination. They also decide on how to get there, if they want to stop along the way, and at what speed they want to travel. A couple may even decide that the destination doesn't much matter because they just enjoy traveling together, no matter where they are headed.

Andrew and Diane are seniors in college and have been together for more than two years. They both have a desire to make their relationship last past graduation day, and they are making plans for what their life might look like once they have graduated. Both Andrew and Diane have applied to graduate schools, and Andrew was admitted to his top choice. Diane did not get into that school, but both of them were admitted to what is Andrew's second choice of graduate school.

Diane does not want to pressure Andrew into making a choice just for her, and because Andrew has been dreaming of going to his top-choice school ever since he was a little boy, they eventually decide that this is where Andrew should go. They feel that the physical distance between them will not interfere with their relationship. After all, Diane's graduate school will only be five hours away from Andrew's. Both of them have been told by friends that long-distance relationships rarely last longer than a year, but they feel this will not be the case for them.

In fact, they begin to see their physical separation as a chance: They will each be in different environments, have different friends and experience many different things. That way, they will be able to grow as individuals but also contribute significantly to their relationship. Sure, it will take some extra effort to keep the relationship as strong as it is, but this commitment and effort will also remind them of how important they are to each other. No matter what life brings them, they plan to always have room for personal growth, and to experience that growth together.

Teacher-Student Story

In the teacher-student story, one partner plays the role of the teacher and the other partner takes on the role of the student. Often, the older or more mature partner in the relationship takes on the teacher role, but this does not always have to be the case. Likewise, it isn't necessary that the teacher really has anything to teach to the student - what is important is only that the two partners perceive it that way.

It's late at night, but while they've long gone to bed, Miles and Gia are still talking to each other. That evening, they attended a sales-awards ceremony of the company that employs them both. Miles explains to Gia in an animated way why he despised the whole ceremony so much and how their company is valuing exactly the wrong things, holding up arbitrary standards that do not make much sense.

two people in front of whiteboardThis evening is like many others since they've been together. Miles loves to philosophize about all different kinds of topics. He seems to have a strong opinion on every topic under the sun. Gia, on the contrary, mostly listens to his remarks. She loves learning more about Miles's interesting and novel perspective on the world, and feels that she has learned quite a bit from him -- not only about the world but also about herself.

Sometimes Gia feels that they would have more time to live their life if Miles stopped talking about life so much. But she realizes that this is unlikely to happen; Miles is Miles and he won't change anytime soon.

Sacrifice Story

In the sacrifice story, one partner repeatedly and consistently makes sacrifices for the other. Sometimes, of course, an individual may not make real sacrifices but may perceive themselves as making sacrifices for the other. Sacrifice stories are relatively common in relationships between parents and children.

Ryan has been together with Paula for six years. They've talked frequently about getting married, but so far things have not worked out. The problem is that Paula has made strict stipulations for where they would live and how their life would be if they got married.

old woman sitting on chair in gardenRyan is still living with his mother, who by now is 88 years of age, and in failing health. To be truthful, his mother has been in failing health for the past ten years. She needs about four hours of care every day. Ryan cannot see leaving her alone or making other arrangements for her care. Who could care better for her than her own son?

Ryan understands that his situation is not ideal for a newlywed couple. But his mother won't live forever. He realizes there is a good chance he will lose Paula over this issue, and the thought depresses him deeply. Nevertheless, he has to care for his mother. Ryan sees himself as making deep sacrifices for his mother and hopes that Paula, in turn, will make the necessary sacrifices for him. If Paula cannot see the need for such sacrifices, Ryan will just have to find someone else who does.  

Government Story

Government stories are generally about how power is distributed between the two partners. There are three different forms of government story, depending on the power distribution between the partners:

  • Autocratic: One partner has all the power, makes all the decisions, and ensures that they are implemented.
  • Democratic: Partners share decision-making powers. In some domains, one partner rather than the other may make decisions, but overall, both partners are more or less equal in their power in the relationship.
  • Anarchic: Neither partner takes responsibility for problem-solving or decision-making. Both partners hope the other one will take action.

Harry and Olivia have been going out together for about three years. Most of their friends think they will get married at some point but some of Harry's friends are concerned about the degree to which Olivia seems to be controlling Harry's behavior.

three men standing togetherOne day, Harry and his friends are watching the final few minutes of the NCAA championship basketball game. The score is tied and all of them are anxious to see how the game plays out. Suddenly, Olivia appears and asks Harry to come out so they can have a conversation. Harry asks whether the conversation can wait a few minutes, but Olivia states it is important. Harry leaves right away. Harry only returns when the game is over. 

Afterwards, his friends ask how Harry feels about being treated that way by Olivia. To their surprise, Harry seems to be just fine. He is happy for Olivia to take over mundane decisions because he believes he's got more important things to do than to tend to these trivial matters. He is quite comfortable with the situation although he concedes that he can see how his friends may be confused. But for Harry, the autocratic arrangement works out just fine.

Police Story

The police story has two distinct roles: the police officer and the person being policed. In relationships, the police officer sees it as their moral responsibility to uphold the laws of the relationship. Those "laws" may correspond to the more general laws of society, or they may be entirely made up by the police officer. The police officer may also punish the partner for breaking the "laws." The partner who is being policed may not realize what is going on until the relationship is relatively far along.

When Linda first met Liam some years ago, she thought she had found her Mr. Perfect. Liam was courteous, kind, thoughtful, and intelligent. He sometimes made fun of the way she dressed or behaved, but she did not think any more of these jokes.

Then, things started to get worse. Liam made more and more comments about the way Linda dressed. He did not like the way she sat down on the bus or the way she talked with strangers.

police officerLinda has talked to Liam about his behavior. But Liam points out that his comments and criticisms are for her own good - he wants her to be the best person she can possibly be.

Recently, Liam has also started to interpret any kind of conversation Linda has with another man as flirtatious behavior. He gets very upset when she talks to other men. Linda has assured him that she has no interest in other men and has no intention of leaving him. But that does not seem to matter to Liam. Linda now takes care to dress in the least revealing way possible and tries to avoid conversations with men in Liam's presence.

Pornography Story

In the pornography story, one partner debases and degrades the other and may even find it difficult to love the partner without degrading them. In our research, we have found that few people of either gender admit to having a pornography story. However, this story is almost certainly more common than people admit. Considering the thriving market for prostitution, movies based on degradation stories, and forms of sex that degrade the partner (for example, whipping or chaining them), this story is more widespread than one might imagine.

man sitting at barJames stares at Ava from across the bar until she meets his gaze. She feels unsettled by his direct stare and turns away at first. But when she looks back, James is still staring at her. Ava can clearly feel that James's interest in her is purely sexual and she feels partly disgusted, partly pleased by his desire.

James approaches her and after a half hour, the two of them leave the bar, heading over to James's apartment. Upon arrival, James leads her straight to the bedroom and undresses her. Then he watches her sitting on the bed, patiently waiting for his next move. Eventually, he reaches into a drawer and pulls out a pair of handcuffs. 

When Ava wakes up the next morning, James is gone and so are the handcuffs.  Ava finds a piece of paper on the bed with a time and address - no name or phone number. She assumes that this is when and where James wants to meet her again. She almost can't help it, but Ava feels attracted to men who do not care about her as a person and see her as an object to be captured. Although part of her does not want it, she likely will show up at the time and place James jotted down on the paper.

Horror Story

The horror story has two protagonists: one partner who terrorizes, and the other partner, the victim, who gets terrorized. People with horror stories usually do not realize that they have this kind of story. Rather, terrorizers view themselves as liking to have a little fun or as liking to be with people "who ask for it." Victims tend to think that they are unlucky in their choice of partners. None of the partners' self-images reflect the behavior they exhibit.

Ethan met Susan at a party. He did not know many people and she came over to him to chat. Ethan was impressed by how cool and straightforward Susan was. He was by nature rather shy and introverted, and seeing Susan navigate her way effortlessly through all those strangers was something he could only dream of. She never seemed to get flustered, angry, or sad, but she did not seem happy either.

person holding lit candleThey started dating and spent more and more time together. After one night out, they got back to Susan's apartment and ended up making out on her bed. Suddenly, Susan got up and lit a candle. In her cool, calm voice, she asked Ethan to put his hand over the candle. When he refused, she took his hand and brought it closer and closer to the flame. Ethan was stunned and felt paralyzed.  Then he started to shout at her and finally tore away his hand from the fire. Susan seemed amused more than anything at his behavior. Ethan grabbed his things and ran out of her apartment.

The next morning, Susan called and apologized. Ethan did not feel her apology was sincere, but when Susan asked him to meet her at a nightclub the following evening, he agreed. He became more excited as the day went on, wondering what Susan would do with him when they met again.  He thought it odd, but he hoped for the candle again and maybe something even just a bit bolder on her part. Truth was, he couldn't wait!

Science-Fiction Story

In the science-fiction story, one person either seeks out partners that are very strange, or the person him- or herself feels extremely estranged and alienated from the rest of the world and looks for a partner who values this strangeness. When people repeatedly end up with someone who is very strange, they may either choose that kind of partner on purpose, or they may feel that they end up with weirdoes by accident. But in any case, just with any story, partners end up actively shaping the behavior for their significant other through their own expectations and actions.

Anna stares at Parker and can't help but feel confused. They are driving home from a dinner and she asked him ten minutes ago how he felt their relationship was going. They've been dating for a bit more than three months.

man and woman in car

But instead of replying to her question, he goes on and on about the complexity of human nature and how he has never been able to truly understand himself. He then goes on to cite from some of his favorite novels to illustrate what he means. But to no avail. Anna has no clue what he is talking about. Certainly he has not addressed his feelings toward her.

Anna does not think that Parker is avoiding his question. Rather, he really is trying to give her an honest answer. But to her, he is just speaking in riddles.

When they started dating, Anna first thought she just was not smart enough to understand what Parker thought. But as time has gone on, she has come to the conclusion that she'll never be able to understand him.

This feeling of alienation makes it hard for Anna to feel really close to Parker. She regrets this because he can be very sweet and romantic, and often surprises her with little gifts and affections when she is feeling down. But she wishes he'd surprise her from time to time just by making some sense.

Collection Story

People with a collection story choose their overall partner based on how the partner fits in some way into their collection, just like a stamp or coin might fit into a stamp or coin collection. Partners are viewed with some detachment. In addition, partners may not be aware of the fact that there are other people in the collection as well who may or may not be treated the same way.

When Martha comes home after classes, she immediately asks her roommate Melanie if she received any calls in her absence. Melanie nods -- Martha usually gets lots of calls from guys asking her for a date, although she has a steady boyfriend, John.

collection of vintage radiosWhen Melanie asked Martha why she hands out her phone number to just about anyone she meets, when she has a boyfriend, Martha explains that she likes having a steady boyfriend so there is someone around when she needs him. But she finds it advantageous to be in touch with lots of other guys because she can't anticipate if and when things will go downhill with John.

After Martha has called back her suitors, she leaves again to meet John at a restaurant. She arrives somewhat late because she likes it when he waits for her. As she sees him, she notices that John has stitches over his left eyebrow. He explains that they are the result of a mishap at soccer practice. Martha does not ask how he feels but instead inquires when he'll be back to looking like normal; after all, she wants him to look his best. He fits perfectly into her collection as the one really good-looking guy--or, at least he was before the annoying stitches.

Art Story

In the art story, a partner adores the significant other for their physical appearance, just like one might admire a piece of art.

beautiful Asian girlLogan is sitting in his first class after the summer break daydreaming about his days on the beach at his parents' summer home. As he looks up, he lays eyes on the most gorgeous brunette he's seen in the longest time - she most likely is the most beautiful girl in his college! Luckily, she sits down right next to him. After he has regained his composure, he starts making small talk and asks her out for dinner that night. It turns out her name is Mila, and she accepts his invitation. 

Logan admires just about everything in Mila: her ivory-white skin, her dark eyes, and her long, wavy reddish-brown hair. When they go out for dinner, he finds that Mila is actually somewhat boring. They don't have much to talk about, and to make matters worse, she seems rather arrogant. Nevertheless, he asks her out for another date.

After two months, Logan is still dating Mila. Logan's friend Wes asks Logan why he is still going out with her; after all; Mila has a rather terrible personality even though she may look lovely. He also points out that she won't look that way forever.  The thought of Mila losing her beautiful face and her slim figure pains Logan enormously.

House and Home Story

The home has a very prominent position in the house and home story. People view it as the center of their relationship and thus invest a great deal of attention into it. At times, the house may seem to become even more important than the relationship itself.

Aidan and Grace are outside tending to the lawn and front yard of their house. They have been married for 36 years and spend a good part of their free time and weekends caring for their house and property. In fact, their house and well-manicured garden are such eye-catchers that, for a long time, the town's annual charity fundraiser showcasing beautiful homes in the area featured their house as the last and most important stop on the route. Obviously, the inside of the house is just as sparkly and elegant as the outside of the house. Everything is carefully laid out and cared for.

beautiful houseAt some point, Grace thought that the two of them might have some more time for each other after the kids left for college. Care of the house eats up most of their time, and perhaps a lower level of perfection would do now that the kids are gone. 

But Aidan disagrees. When Grace tells him he should go easier on himself, he essentially ignores what she says. Grace knows that habits are hard to break. And of course, he is not working on just any home -- he is taking care of the home in which they have spent half their lives and raised their kids.  It sounds like the house will remain at the center of the relationship.

Recovery Story

The ultimate topic of the recovery story is survival. One of the partners has experienced some kind of trauma in the past, for example, violence, child or domestic abuse, prison, war, or substance abuse. The traumatized partner feels that a relationship with someone else will help bring about sorely needed recovery. Ultimately, both partners in this story are deeply dependent on the past and what happened then. If the partner seeking recovery actually succeeds at some point and overcomes trauma, the relationship may fall apart because the trauma and needed recovery were the main reason for the existence of the relationship. Neither the person in recovery nor the co-dependent person may find a reason to keep the relationship going.

Chloe has had a hard life. Her father died of a drug overdose when she was just two years old. Her mother soon remarried but Chloe's stepfather soon began to physically abuse her. Chloe's mother saw that her new husband beat Chloe on a regular basis, but did not do anything about it. At age 16, Chloe ran away from home, lived on the streets, and eventually ended up being addicted to drugs.

assortment of pillsEventually, a social worker referred her to a clinic where she was treated and was able to overcome her drug addiction, at least for the time being. She is now 21 and working as a waitress in a local restaurant. One of her colleagues introduced her to Wyatt, and the two immediately fell for each other.

Chloe knew she had to tell Wyatt about her history, and she did so as soon as she had a chance. To her surprise, Wyatt was very supportive and more than willing to keep going out with her. 

Chloe has many nights where she suffers from nightmares that bring her back to her troubled past, but Wyatt patiently calms her down every time she wakes up in a panic. Chloe knows if she did not have Wyatt she would probably resort to drugs again to cope with those nightmares. She isn't sure if the relationship is going to last, but for now she is glad to have Wyatt in her life.

Religion Story

There are two different stories that involve religion. In one story, both partners are believers and see God as infusing their entire relationship. In the second story, a person might see their partner as their salvation.

Together with her friends, Ella was attending a rally at her college when she heard a fellow student, Luke, talk about the importance of God. Luke explains that people must fight the evil of the world by turning to God and loving each other. Ella was deeply moved by Luke's speech. Her mother had died four months ago of a stroke, and ever since then, Ella has been contemplating life and how suddenly it can end.

praying handsAfter Luke's speech, Ella went up to Luke to tell him how much she liked the speech, and that she would like to learn more about his beliefs. The two of them ended up spending most of the night discussing God's presence in their lives and how turning to God can help people through hard times. 

Ever since that meeting, Ella and Luke have been inseparable. Ella considers her relationship with Luke as the most sacred thing she has, and hopes that through the grace of God they will spend their whole life together.

Game Story

The game story is a competitive story; there is a winner and a loser, and as one partner gets closer to winning, the other partner by necessity gets closer to losing. That is, the game story is not one about a game in which the partners are playing together. Rather, they are playing against each other. Sometimes the game story involves more than two individuals. However, each of the partners may not necessarily be aware of the fact that more than two people are involved in the game.

Gabriel and Zoey are in the gym playing table tennis. They have been playing for almost an hour and Zoey keeps winning game after game, although in most matches, it is really close. Finally, in their last game, Gabriel hits a really good shot that Zoey is not able to catch. This is a turning point for him and he is thrilled to win the last game. Zoey, instead of being happy for him, gets very upset. She rushes off to the locker room and it is only in the car back home that she apologizes to him.

goats fighting with each otherIn other aspects of their life, Zoey is similarly competitive. She's made up a dating game where they separate in a bar for a specified amount of time to see who gets approached by more people.

Sometimes Gabriel wonders whether their relationship is more of a competition than something they undertake together -- Zoey mostly gets excited when she can beat him at one thing or another. But he has known about her competitive streak ever since they started going out together, so he figures that is just the way she is.

Fantasy Story

The fantasy story is perhaps one of the most classic love stories - it is about a prince or knight finding his princess and the two of them living together happily ever after.

hands of couple getting marriedJackson calls his friend Andrew and starts blurting out the news without even greeting his friend. Jackson was out in the park walking his dog when this wonderful woman came up to him and asked if she could pet his cute dog. Before long, they were involved in a conversation and Jackson asked her for her phone number before she left. Jackson absolutely knows that the woman, Miranda, is just made for him. She is the woman of his dreams.

Andrew smiles mildly. He has heard this story before, but Jackson's dream women never quite turn out to be so dream-like, after all. Andrew points this out to Jackson, if only to moderate his expectations and the possible disappointment that might soon follow. But Jackson is sure that this time he has hit the jackpot. Miranda is the perfect woman for him. He pictures their wedding, and how they will soon raise their perfect family. Let Andrew list his past failures; Jackson knows that things will be different with Miranda.

History Story

For people with a history story, the present is largely characterized by the past. As author William Faulkner once said, for them, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." They tend to keep photo albums and make videos, or they might be interested in their (and their partner's) family tree. They might be proud that they descend from a particular individual and may seek a partner who also is descended from a line of historically important people. Or they may place a particular emphasis on their own history, rather than the history of their ancestors.

Charles and Leah had intended to get married for quite a while. But before they were able to settle down on a date, Leah got what she considered to be the chance of a lifetime: an invitation to participate in an archeological project on Inca culture in South America. That project would take Leah away from home for six months. Charles was very upset and did not want her to leave. But at some point, he realized that Leah would not change her mind. That's when he stopped fighting with her over the project so that at least they would be able to part in peace. Leah promised in turn that they will get married as soon as she returns.

assortment of photosLeah has now been gone for four months, and as he had predicted, the separation has proved difficult for Charles. Almost every night, he spends his time alone in their apartment, pouring over their numerous photo albums. In his mind, he travels back to the time when they went hiking in Bryce Canyon and almost lost their way. He wanders back to the time he met Leah and how they went on their first overnight trip to New York City together. And as he looks back at group photos with their friends, he remembers how much fun they have had together. Going through the photos again and again, Charles realizes that it is all those memories that keep him going and that make the separation bearable.

Science Story

People with a science story tend to analyze their relationship and the feelings the couple have for each other, as well as the couple's interactions. This analysis may be functional up to a certain point, but when one partner overanalyzes anything and everything in the relationship, the unending analysis can start to interfere with the relationship and the partners living their lives together.

Hudson and Layla have been married for 26 years. While neither of them went to college, Layla has always been fascinated with science, and particularly with the study of human relationships. Layla analyzes almost everything in their relationship -- the way they talk with each other, the way they act, and the way they feel about each other.

tape measureWhile Hudson isn't so sure if everything in human relationships can be brought down to hard science, he often finds himself agreeing with Layla's analyses. Layla's objective approach has often helped them solve problems in their relationship. But his wife's analyzing behavior also brings problems with it. Hudson sometimes feels she looks at him more like a lab rat than like her spouse. And Layla feels she's got his behavior down to a point where she can predict his actions. Sometimes she does not even let him finish his sentences because she feels she knows what he is going to say. Or she acts without consulting him because she thinks she knows how he would want her to handle a particular situation. But obviously, Layla is not always right. Her presumptiveness bothers Hudson, as does her lack of romance that comes with her scientific approach.

Cookbook Story

People with a cookbook story are convinced that the best way for relationships to work out is to take certain steps, and execute those steps in a particular order (just like you would follow the directions in a cookbook). The problem, of course, is to figure out which steps you have to take to make your relationship a success. But even if you do, there are some people for whom recipes do not work.

adults cooking togetherAsher and Bella have been dating for eight months now. Both are recently divorced, and they know how easy it is for things to go wrong in a relationship. Asher and Bella feel that it is important to spend quality time together if you want to have a successful relationship. That, however, has turned out to be quite a challenge because their interests are so different.

Bella likes dancing and watching movies, whereas Asher loves watching and playing sports. To solve this problem, the two of them have decided that they need to make compromises. They have a created a system whereby they go out once a month to watch a movie, and go dancing every two weeks. In addition, they have started running together in the mornings and Bella has agreed to attend one athletic event with Asher every month.

The new system has been working just fine. After some weeks, Bella has found that she even enjoys running, and Asher is getting to be a quite a movie expert. Both enjoy spending time with each other. Of course, from time to time, things do not work out as expected. Some days, Asher just does not feel like going out dancing, and on other days it is too rainy to go for a run. But in these cases, they just find another activity to do that is agreeable to both of them.  Asher and Bella both believe that their relationship will continue to be happy and fulfilled as long as they are willing to reach compromises when the situation calls for them.

War Story

People with a war story see love as a series of battles in a war. As long as they're both fighting a good fight, both partners may be happy (if they both have a war story). If the fight ends, however, things may change and the partners may find that they don't even know what to do with each other. If only one of the partners has a war story, however, it is well possible that one of the partners is quite happy and the other one utterly miserable.

Caleb and Audrey are having lunch together when Audrey asks him whether he has thought about trading in his sports car for a van that will hold the entire family. She finds it important that Caleb be able to transport the whole family in case something happens and Audrey's car is broken or she is temporarily out using her car.

Caleb, however, sees Audrey's question as yet another insult. He feels that he has already told her in very clear words that he is not willing to drive around town in a van. He starts yelling at her and pounds his fist on the table. Audrey responds in kind, yelling at Caleb that he should get over his selfishness and finally act like a father.

angry manIt's been like that with Caleb and Audrey ever since they started dating. Caleb has always loudly fought for what he believes is the right thing, even though Audrey would prefer a calmer way of discussing issues. She often gives in to Caleb before a big fight ensues. But sometimes, just like in the case of the car, she feels that an issue is too important for her to give in just like that. 

Although Audrey does not like the continual battles that take place in her household, she realizes that this is just Caleb, and there will always be animated fights in her household as long as they are together.

Theater Story

In a theater story, one or both partners are playing roles and acting out scripts that go with these roles or particular situations. Once a scene has been set, the reaction of a partner almost becomes predictable. Sometimes, both partners get into such a relationship knowingly, and they may be quite satisfied with the way things are. At other times, one partner may realize only after a while that the other person follows a script and may not always truly mean what they say.

Almost as soon as Lincoln arrives at the party of his best friend, he is smitten with Harper, who turns out to be the roommate of another student attending the party. At first, Lincoln tries not to show how much he is attracted to her, but soon he strikes up a conversation and things go really well. They exchange phone numbers at the end of the evening and go out on their first date a few days later.

Harper's ideas for dates are quite unconventional and very romantic. For their first date, she suggests they have a picnic at the beach. Further outings lead them to to hunt for antiques in local quaint towns as well as taking an overnight river cruise. Harper's behavior is impeccable every time they see each other, and in fact, it seems almost too perfect.

One day, Lincoln is chatting with his old friend John and tells him about his unusual new girlfriend. He is shocked when his friend tells him that he dated Harper for a short while and that Harper's behavior as well as the elaborate dates were pretty much exactly the same as what Lincoln is experiencing with Harper now. Lincoln is overcome with sadness as he realizes that Harper has been putting on an act for him all that time. She just made the mistake of using the same script as in the past so that Lincoln was able to find out.

Humor Story

People with a humor story tend to take things easily. They try to see the humor in things and tend to joke around a lot. They often use humor as a way of solving problems - they just turn them into a joke. Nothing is to be taken too seriously in the relationship. A partner who does not share the humor story may at times be surprised to receive a humorous response from their loved one when they encounter a serious situation.

neon sign spelling out the word "laugh"From the time Jacob and Luna met each other, it was clear that their relationship would be full of laughs. When they went out together, Jacob would turn the conversation to other couples and start acting out the problems he presumed those couples were having. When Luna was sad, he always cheered her up by making her situation sound less dreary and upsetting than Luna thought it was. Soon, Luna started seeing the more humorous side of life as well. 

As time has gone on, however, sometimes Luna wishes Jacob was able to be serious as well. She does not like it when he goes out with his friends and returns only the next morning. But whenever she has tried to bring up this issue, Jacob has just deflected her concerns and joked around. 

Luna agrees that seeing the funny side of things often makes life easer. But sometimes serious issues arise and she would like Jacob to address them together with her. That has yet to happen, however, and she is not sure it ever well.  At this point, Luna is not sure if she can imagine spending her life with someone who will just joke around when things are out of control in their lives.

Mystery Story

People with a mystery story enjoy the mystery that comes with dating a new partner. Every day brings out some more facts or surprises about their loved one. While people who do not have a mystery story expect the number of surprises and mysteries associated with their partner to decrease as time goes on and they get to know each other better, people with a mystery story hope the excitement will never end.

silhouette of a personLeo and is having dinner with his best friend Scott. Over the course of the evening, Leo tells Scott that he is having serious issues with his girlfriend Violet. Scott is dumbfounded because he feels the troubles the couple are experiencing are of a sort that should be easily avoidable. In short, Leo does not communicate openly with Violet. He believes that there should always be some excitement in relationships. He is afraid that if he told Violet everything about himself, their relationship would just peter out. So he keeps many secrets from Violet, letting her explore his life, feelings, and behavior over the course of their relationship. For example, Violet is a passionate violin player. But Scott has never told her that he is an avid pianist and they could play duets together.

Leo and Violet's most recent fight was based on Violet's suspicion that Leo might be seeing someone else on the side. This was not true, but Leo figured it would be better to not say so and to let Violet figure things out on her own. Violet, in turn, has been getting more and more frustrated with Leo's behavior. She feels she will never be able to get to know Leo, or worse, that he is hiding things from her that may be important to their relationship.

Note: Parts of the material presented on this page are based on the book "Love is a Story", written by Robert J. Sternberg and published by Oxford University Press (1998).

Scroll to Top