Happily Ever After Isn’t the Point

Our First Teachers and Our Flawed Foundational Training

I’ve been thinking about how our parents are our first teachers. In particular, I’ve been thinking about how they provide our foundational relationship training. And the thought has made me a little uncomfortable. (Okay, perhaps, all out terrified!)

The terrified isn’t because my parents were evil or had ill intent but because I was raised by two people who happened to be imperfect. And even more terrifying… so were my kids! That means that despite best intentions, my little spirit was squashed more than once during my young life and I, in turn, did the same to my children.

When I find myself ruminating over the often-rocky relationship I had with my parents and they with each other, I am reminded that here I stand, an imperfect individual with flawed foundational training who has unintentionally passed some of that on in my own relationships.

Luckily, that’s only part of the story.

If relationships were only about smooth sailing and happily ever after we would actually miss out on the real value in having them. 

In fact, the best relationships are about growth and change and learning and well-being and acceptance and awe and boundaries and empathy and connection and lots of other big and little things. Of course, happiness is part of any good relationship; I just no longer buy into the belief that it’s the point or even the end goal.

For me this has meant changing my perception of what my relationships with my husband, children, friends, sibling, parents, and co-workers are about. When I remember to shift my thinking I have all sorts of room for the mistakes that inevitably happen in all relationships.  I stop wishing for happily ever after and instead accept and integrate the discomfort that comes with the change and growth that all relationships require.

But shifting our thinking is hard, especially when a relationship is difficult.

When I find myself struggling to make peace with my less than perfect upbringing, my flawed foundational training and my own less than perfect parenting I initially feel victimized and ashamed… cheated out of my own happily ever after. But then, I am invariably reminded that these feelings were simply a chance to learn something new about myself, about love, and about acceptance. 

We all have flawed foundational training, some more than others.

But that’s not an excuse unless we hold on to the fairytale that relationships are about happily ever after. (Which, if we’re being realistic, probably didn’t really materialize given the truly awful foundational training that the likes of Cinderella, Snow White and even the Paperbag Princess experienced… but I digress.)

Instead, if we can switch our thinking and realize that the uncomfortable parts of our relationships are an opportunity; an opportunity to learn more about ourselves, and about love and acceptance. It is only then that we are ready to discover the real gift of any relationship. The gift that is growth and change and learning and empathy and acceptance and all the other big and little things that make relationships interesting. 

If you’re experiencing an “interesting” relationship right now (and who isn’t, in some part of their life?!?!)  I encourage you to take a deep breath and then another. And then, once a little calm has settled in (this may take a minute, an hour, a day, a year or a lifetime) there is space to remember the discomfort is nothing more than an opportunity to learn something new about yourself, about love and about acceptance.