Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Conflict in Romance Novels and Real-Life Relationships - Part Two

What is it about a relationship – fictional or not – that sustains it in the long-term? And can a conflict-ridden couple ever change their destructive pattern and live in peaceful co-existence?

In romance fiction, one of the most important elements of writing a great story is to create characters that somehow grow and develop as the story progresses. I wouldn’t want to read a story where the characters remained stagnant and had an inability to mature and change.

And in real life the same fundamental elements are necessary for a relationship to be ultimately satisfying.

The difficulty about romantic relationships, though, is that they contain… two people! Two people who come to the relationship with two sets of dreams, hopes, fears, hurts and histories. And somehow they have to find common ground, feel attraction, fall in love, and get along and understand each other to the point where they can start to plan a life together.

Internal conflict of some sort in each party is a given in any relationship, but how that conflict is managed can often mean the difference between a promising relationship, or a gone-off-the-rails-before-it-even-gets-started kind of experience.

So why do so many real-life romances derail within a few months?  Let’s look at romance novels to get a little guidance… Sometimes, when I’m reading a romance, and I observe the internal conflict that the hero and heroine are experiencing, I start to doubt that they’ll ever solve their problems and get together.

However, at the back of my mind, I have the comforting thought that there is an author behind the story whose duty it is to deliver a guaranteed HEA, so I sit back, relax and enjoy the read (or the ride depending on how caught up I am in the book). Misunderstandings, misperceptions, and miscreant behaviour are all sorted out by the author, and the HEA is ultimately reached.

But, if you think about it, in real life, there is no one behind the scenes manipulating our own love stories, and any misunderstandings or misperceptions about the person we’re romantically involved with are not automatically cleared up by some magic third-party author waving a relationship wand in the air.

And what makes it worse, is that during the infatuation stage of a relationship - when a host of crazy hormones are racing through our bodies - it’s very hard to remain calm and rational about a relationship, especially as people often arrive at different destinations along the relationship road at different times. This can create a host of problems that can make the most die-hard romantic throw up their hands in the air in despair. (Actually die-hard romantics often have the hardest time of all with relationships, as their expectations of romance are so high).

Sometimes a relationship that is full of conflict is simply not meant to work out, and it’s good to know when to let go of someone who just isn’t right for us. But sometimes, the problem isn’t so much with the other person, as much as it is with our own internal conflict.

So what can we do about how this affects our relationships? I can only speak from a female perspective in this regard, but I think a big problem that a lot of women have with relationships is that they’ve been disappointed by men in the past, and bring that negativity into their new relationship. When their new love interest disappoints them, they take all the accumulated disappointment of their past relationships and project that negativity on to the man they’re with, which is – let’s face it – not a recipe for a successful relationship with someone.

It’s all about the heroes and villains that exist not only in romance, but in our own imaginations… and in my next post, I’ll be elaborating on this theme.

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