You’ve heard it said that two heads are better than one. That is usually true, under one condition: That they are both going the same direction. In the 1967 film adaptation of the classic children’s tale ‘Doctor Dolittle’, a creature called a “pushmi-pullyu” demonstrates why. Portrayed as a llama with two heads, one at each end, the pushmi-pullyu is immobilized much of the time. That’s because when it tries to move, both heads start off in opposite directions. It can’t quite manage the cooperation needed to get going.
The result is amusing —unless, of course, you are half of a two-headed llama.
A healthy relationship always joins two distinct personalities into one common venture. That’s precisely what romantic love is meant to do. But for two heads to live up to their collective promise—and avoid the stalemated fate of the pushmi-pullyu—you must create a cooperative, supportive partnership built on common ground.
The key to success lies in this: Shared purpose.
Each of us has a purpose, dream, or goal that is our “mission” in life, our reason for being. It puts our unique talents to work. It calls us to something higher than ourselves. Purpose keeps us going, even when life has doled out plenty of reasons to give up.
Carl Jung once wrote, “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”
That may be, but what constitutes “a light in the darkness” is different for each of us. Some people are driven to make the world a better place—volunteering at a homeless shelter, counseling at-risk teenagers, or advocating for a cleaner environment. Others may find sufficient light in cooking gourmet meals, gardening, or fly-fishing.
Here’s the point: When searching for a romantic partner, hold out for the person who will say of your deepest dreams, “Go for it! I’m with you all the way!” Steer clear of those who are pessimistic about your most passionate pursuits. Here are three strategies that will help:
Clearly identify your purpose. To paraphrase Socrates, “The unexamined life is hard to share with another person.” Why? Because without knowing what you want from life, how will you find a partner able to support you? How will you communicate your needs and desires? Make the necessary effort to get clear about your unique calling, and take time to create a personal mission statement. Doing so will keep you focused on the future you want—and help you know if your partner is, too.
Understand your partner’s purpose. Finding the support you need isn’t enough. You must be willing to give it as well. Recognize your partner’s passions, and determine whether you can do what it takes to get behind them.
Be honest early on. When dating, it is tempting to think that mutual attraction is purpose enough. It isn’t. If there is evidence in the beginning that your partner can’t or won’t share your long-term desires, don’t ignore this billowing red flag. Time, or marriage, is unlikely to reverse that.
Mutually shared and supported purpose is essential to a great partnership. It is a powerful energy source that can light up your relationship for years to come.