Are Relationships Just Mismatched Puzzles?


When it comes to relationships, do you ever feel like it is a puzzle where the pieces just don’t seem to fit? Does it almost feel that you took pieces from different puzzles, and then tried to build a puzzle with those mismatched pieces?

In one relationship, piece A fits with piece B perfectly, but in your next relationship, piece A and piece B didn’t line up whatsoever, and piece C couldn’t even be found. We think maybe it is just because we have not met the right person yet, so we fool ourselves into thinking that when we meet that special person, it will all fit perfectly. And for a minute… it does!

When we are riding high on endorphins, the pieces seem to fit seamlessly, and we think, “this is what a relationship is supposed to look like!” Then slowly that feeling begins to fade, and the pieces that seemed to fit so easily start to slip out of place. When you try to put those pieces back together, they no longer seem to line up.

If this sounds all too familiar, fear not – you are not alone. Many people question why relationships appear to be so difficult, and sometimes if they are even worth it. Here are 3 reasons that help explain why relationships are so challenging.

Reason #1: A relationship is made up of many moving parts.

Let us think about a relationship for a second, and I mean truly think about it. You take two individuals from two different families who have different family cultures, have experienced life differently, and as a result, interpret the world differently. If that wasn’t challenging enough, let us then throw in some other challenges.

Often these two individuals are of different genders, possibly different ages, maybe of a different race, religion, and nationality. One may be very experienced in relationships while the other may not be, which might shape the way they view relationships and inform their expectations of a relationship. If this couple we are speaking about is married, this may be the first marriage for one, while this may be a third marriage for the other person. One partner might be from a divorced home, while the other might be from a family where divorce is frowned upon.

I could go on and on with possible differences, but I think you get the point by now. If it feels like a mismatched puzzle, that is because it is. It is as if someone took 3 one-thousand-piece puzzles and mixed them together. Now you must sort through the pieces to make sense of it.

And what if the couple has more similarities than the differences I mentioned? Maybe they are a same sex couple, from the same town, similar ages, similar interests, of the same race, religion, and nationality. Surely this couple stands a much better chance of having a successful relationship, right? Unfortunately, the answer to this is no.

The truth is, is that no matter who you end up with, you will have similarities and you will have differences. However, these similarities and differences play only a very minor role in achieving a happy, healthy, successful relationship. How you handle these similarities and differences plays a much larger role in the success of your relationship.

Reason #2: We are unprepared.

How much time have you invested into your schooling, your job, or any serious hobby that you might have? What type of financial investment have you made in college classes or further education of any kind? What about hobbies and interests? How much time and money have you spent to master a certain sport or craft? What about those “how to” videos on YouTube? How much time have you spent watching videos on makeup application techniques or how to improve your golf swing? Then, once you watch those videos, how much time do you spend imitating what you just watched?

Now let us think about your intimate relationships. How much time and money have you spent on getting a better understanding of relationships, and how to have a successful relationship? Think about where your current relationship or future relationship ranks in importance for you, and then think about the importance of that golf swing or that makeup application. Does the time and money allotted to each align with their level of importance?

When you think about that “forever” relationship, are you thinking about what that might look like, and what you can offer to your partner, and what you could do to ensure that relationship is a happy, healthy, successful one? Or are you thinking about the wedding, what your dress might look like, what the ring will look like, what guests will be there, etc.? The average couple in the US spends 528 hours planning their wedding and spends on average $20,300 for that wedding. Let those numbers sink in. That is an awful lot of time and money to spend on one day/evening that has no impact on the success of the marriage.

For some reason, we have a hard time accepting that most of us don’t know much about relationships. We act as if we are just supposed to know. That without the proper preparation we should be able to master this extremely difficult endeavour. With a better understanding, and being more prepared, a relationship would still be difficult; without it, it can be downright miserable and impossible. There is no shame in accepting that you weren’t taught about relationships, so struggling through it is more of what you should expect.

Only you know the importance that a relationship is to you, and that level of importance should determine the amount of investment you are willing to put into it, both before the relationship (to be prepared), as well as during the relationship.

Reason #3: We over prioritise culture.

We have already discussed the complexities of relationships in point #1, which is further highlighted by our lack of preparation in this area mentioned in point #2. In my work with individuals, I have often heard that they are looking for a partner who shares the same or similar culture. That is a very understandable position to take, thinking that the more similar in a culture that you and your partner are, the simpler and happier your relationship would be.

The truth is that many cultures have an abundance of similarities while having some differences as well. Culture is such a complicated area as there are so many variables that add to a person’s culture. People who share the same place of birth, race and religion can have very different cultures. I find it analogous to a pizza (or any food for that matter). You probably have a favourite pizza from a certain place. But if you go to another place, and order the “same” pizza, it tastes different, and certainly, there are some places where you find that very same pizza unpalatable. Despite that fact that the pizza is the same pizza, with the same toppings, you will find thousands of variations of that pizza. Thinking that all pizzas, or all pepperoni pizzas, or all pizzas from the same store are the same would be a big mistake. The same is true for individuals.

The magical thing about relationships is not only getting to share yourself and your life with someone but getting to learn about them as well, getting to understand their likes and dislikes, their quirks. If you enter a long-term relationship with this person, the two of you will end up creating a culture of your own.

When we come across individuals of the “same” culture, or who appear to have a similar culture, it is easy to fall into a trap. We begin to think that because A, B, and C are similar, then D, E, and F must be similar. Truthfully, we do this for characteristics that extend beyond culture.

However, as time goes on and we discover that D, E, and F are in fact different, we somehow feel deceived. We build up an image of someone to be more like us than they really were, and when they do not measure up to our false expectations, we feel betrayed.

It is important to remember that a person’s culture and character are comprised of many factors, so we should come from a place of curiosity, wanting to learn about that person as much as possible before we make any judgements, for better or worse. Remember, you are not getting into a relationship with a culture, you are getting into a relationship with a person, the only thing that matters is who that person is, not who that person “should be” based upon the group that they belong to.

Please note that I am not saying that culture plays zero relevance in the equation. I am just saying that sometimes a larger priority is placed on a certain aspect of someone’s culture than truly matters.

Relationships are complicated, relationships are complex, and relationships don’t always make sense, but relationships provide us with the attachment and bonding that we all desire. Don’t limit yourself in love… stay as open and as curious as possible. You don’t know when love will come or where it will come from, but when it does come, be sure that you are prepared to recognise it and nurture it so as not to lose it. You can get those puzzle pieces to fit, you just need to know how.

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Troy Stone - Family Therapy


Troy is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of Arizona, and is also the Founder of un•think relationship consulting.

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