Who are the Real Relationship Role Models ?

On the heels of the breakdown of the Shriver / Schwarzenegger marriage Jezabel recently asked the question, “Who Are Your Relationship Role Models?” These days they are pretty hard to find as the article notes:

“One might question whether any couple is destined to last. So when you think of the perfect partnership, you’re quite likely looking for a sort of relationship role model. In the new Elle magazine, Rachel McAdams says she is inspired by her parents’ marriage:

‘They are still together and still in love. I’m very blessed that way. I had a great example of love in front of me, and that’s probably what makes me such a romantic, because I’ve seen it firsthand….You grow up and you assume that everyone is like that, and you quickly realize that they’re not, and then you have those days when you wonder if you’re going to find it for yourself. It’s such a hard thing to find. I think it was more that realization that rocked me.”


Her parents gave her some expectations that are hard to match. We all know other parents provide a guide on what not to do. So the article asks, “Where do you find your relationship role models?  Other family members? Movies? TV shows? It got me thinking.


I, like Rachel McAdams, look to my parents as role models. They have what always seemed a perfect blend of independence and partnership but what I know now was also a willingness to accept that it’s not always going to be perfect but you have to allow it to breathe and give each other spaces to grow. And realize those spaces might not happen at the same time for both of you. I went through life with high expectations of what a relationship could be…but also endless optimism about what it could be. It made me not only expect more but also put up with more at times. I believed that we all, somewhere inside us, had that capacity to love.


Then I started picking my mom’s brain on what made her marriage work and of course, I learned more about what you don’t see. When I first said to my mom, “In 50 some years you must have had some rough times” she first she answered, “Nothing we couldn’t solve over a glass of wine.” Hmmm. That sounded pretty hard to believe. When I pushed her and continued the conversation overtime, I learned there were definitely things not simply fixed over a glass of wine, but rather with patience, persistence and a openness to enjoy the journey good and bad. And a good martini never hurt.


Having these conversations with my mom and now with other women gave me more realistic expectations. As the Jezabel article notes, we default to our parents or the frameworks we see in fairytales, celebrity couples or on film. In typical American fashion, it’s a tale of extremes. It’s either perfect (e.g. Brad and Angie) or kaput (e.g. Tiger and Elin). Now we have the joke that is Arnold Schwarzenegger with the punchline that is anything but funny for the wife and children.  But what’s going on in the middle?  What about the marriages that have stuck together that are neither fairytales nor heading for divorce? My role models are my friends, family and real women who do love but aren’t afraid to tell it like it is. Those who are present. In the relationship. Everyday. Without glamour or game-face. There’s no one answer but you can gain perspective from others experiences and stop setting yourself up for disappointment by comparing to a rigid or unrealistic ideal or simply feel some comfort that you are not alone in the middle.

This post was adapted from my comment for the Jezabel.com website on this article.

  • http://enthusiasticrunner.com Jocelyn @ Enthusiastic Runner

    I agree, I look towards my parents as role models for relationships. They have been together for almost 30 years, and they just click. They aren’t very “lovey-dovey” (or atleast in front of my sister and I) but they still love, laugh and respect each other very much. They both have different interests…and then they share some interests as well. I think they have a really good balance of being their own person but also working together as a couple.

    When I tell my mom that I would like a relationship like my dad and hers, she always says “Every relationship is different. No two can ever be the same.”

    I also ask my mom and dad all the time, “How did you know that she/he was the one?” (My mom was proposed to twice before my dad…)
    My mom says “I knew he was ambitious and nice to his mother. I just knew he was the one.”
    My Dad says “What kind of question is this?” (He doesn’t like these questions…He looks at me like I have two heads when I ask) I guess he means to say “You just know when you know.”

    For me having parents that are still together, puts even more pressure on myself for finding the “right” marriage. We have never had anyone divorce in my entire family. I just want to make sure that I make the right “choice” with my husband.

  • Christina

    I think that is the point — when you have a really great role model in your parents, you might have unrealistic expectations for what marriage should be like and may be setting yourself up for disappointment. It’s true there is no one perfect marriage. But what’s also true is that there are wonderful marriages that aren’t perfect. And as my conversations with my mom revealed…it isn’t always as rosy as it seems even when there is great independence and partnership. It’s still the last great taboo for many people to talk about realistically (I think).