Imperfect Bonds

Imperfect Bonds. Psychology Fanatic article header image

Relationships are a curious thing—full of give and take. Any relationship, the bonding of two imperfect and different people, encounters a few bumps and bruises as the couple acclimates to each other’s peculiarities and preferences. Loving partners adapt and adjust, accepting rather than fixing. Successful relationships do not demand perfect harmony, but, rather, successful managing of differences.

Whether an intimate partner or a close friend, perfection is not a prerequisite. If it was, we would only have friends and partners who were able to momentarily skilled enough to hide all their faults. Trudy Govier wrote, “in friendships, we reveal ourselves, give of ourselves, let ourselves feel and care. For these reasons we can be hurt or harmed; we are vulnerable. In being friends, we accept this risk.” She continues, “in good friendships, trust is central and strong. But that does not mean that it must extend to every single aspect of a friend’s behaviour. Friendships, after all, are between people who are imperfect and know each other to be so” (1998, page 34).

Govier brilliantly describes the foundation of every relationship. It is not so much that we fit together perfectly, without ever rubbing against a partners sore spot, or conflicting on an important issue, it is how we navigate these moments where the imperfect bond is exposed.

Exposing Our Imperfections

On my decades of online interaction, I have witnessed many couple magically and almost instantaneously connect. Within a few weeks, if not days, the lonely are singing they found a soul mate—a perfect partner. It is as if they have this incomplete puzzle, missing a key piece, and all of a sudden a person comes along that perfectly fits. Happily ever after.

The true meaning behind these magical romances is not that the person perfectly fits but, rather, we haven’t spent enough time with them to see the rough edges, the differences, and in some cases, the nasty underside.

Cynthis Lynn Wall, a couples therapist, wrote, “intimacy demands the slow unfolding of your secrets and doesn’t thrive in casual relationships.” Wall warns, “people can suddenly jump into your life with such intensity that it overpowers all safe boundaries and your good sense. This heartfelt connection can last for a plane trip, one magical night, or an exhilarating month. The person plunges deep into your life and then leaps out, leaving you filled with a confusion of emotions and sometimes regrets.” (2005, Kindle location 726).

Usually the hurry up affair is nothing more than that. Quick to start and quick to end. One our both participants can easily present their best selves for these short bursts of powerful connection. A lot of “sound and fury signifying nothing.”

As a healthy relationship develops time appropriate imperfections are shared through gradual unfolding. If we hold back, eventually the hidden secret becomes a willful deception.

Blaming the Partner

​We must accept that intimate connections heightened emotions—both joyous and frightening. Our fears seek a cause for the upset, often resorting to blame of the partner. The thing is that everyone has flaws, including ourselves. Two flawed people create imperfect bonds.

We protect our self-image by limiting awareness to our imperfections. The immediate benefit of soothed emotions comes at the cost of continued disruptions. By dodging responsibility, we never change the damaging behaviors.

Perhaps, our relative smooth move from the perception of a perfect companionship to an imperfect bond is that critical juncture in the road for every couple. We don’t need to pull the blinders on for the duration of the relationship. However, we do need to encounter difficulties and differences with respect, civility, and acceptance.

An imperfect bond is not the partner’s problem; it is a relationship problem that is best managed together.

Everyone is imperfect. Every relationship has flaws. Discovering an error, or pointing to an imperfection doesn’t prove a thing. They are there and if we look hard enough we will spot them. Every bond we make will be imperfect. Healthy relationships succeed because they have learned to live with the imperfect bonds and partners.

Idealized Views of an Imperfect Partner

Our bonds are imperfect. Our partners are imperfect. And, yes, we are imperfect. Somehow, in all the imperfection, healthy relationships thrive. One theory is that healthy partnerships see each other in idealistic ways. Basically, we don’t see our partner as flawed. We carry a positive bias and thought positive bias kindly interprets our partners flaws in less harmful ways.

Sandra L. Murray, John G. Holmes, and Dale W. Griffin from the University of Waterloo explain that “these idealized constructions may prove to be just as important for feelings of satisfaction as the reality of the partner’s actual, or at least self-perceived, attributes.” They continue, “such unconditional positive regard—a sense of being valued and accepted in spite of one’s faults and imperfections—may prove to be the key to satisfying romantic relationships” (2004, Kindle location 10,466).

Many, if not most, relationships begin with this positive bias. However, overtime the characteristics we once justified begin a shift, becoming something less attractive. John Gottman refers to this as negative sentiment override. This is a dangerous shift, often leading to a down sliding of a relationship. A partner begins to see the imperfections, and in many case, magnifies their magnitude, until the relationship is no longer livable. On many cases, the imperfection always existed, it is not that the flaw, but our interpretation of it that shifted.

A Few Words by Psychology Fanatic

In our imperfections, we still can connect with imperfect others. The imperfect bonds will challenge and bless. Our skills, with effort, improve. We find ways to calm our emotional woes and move towards healthier and happier connections.

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Govier, Trudy (1998), Dilemmas of Trust. McGill-Queen’s University Press; First Edition.

Murray, Sandra L.; Holmes, John G.; Griffin, Dale W. (2004). The Benefits of Positive illusions: Idealization and the Construction of Satisfaction in Close Relationships. Close Relationships: Key Readings (Key Readings in Social Psychology). Editors Caryl E. Rusbult and Harry T. Reis. Psychology Press; 1st edition.

Wall, Cynthis Lynn (2005). The Courage to Trust: A Guide to Building Deep and Lasting Relationships. New Harbinger Publications; 1st edition.

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