In Plato’s Symposium, Aristophanes claims that at one time all humans were really strong two-headed, four-armed freaks who could roll around like balls. When we challenged the gods, Zeus got scared and split us in half, dooming us to wander the earth in search of our complementary set of arms and legs, our soulmates. This “soulmate” theory has been passed down from Plato to Emily Bronte to all romantic comedies ever made and eventually to Kay Jewelers ads.
Because it’s Valentine’s week, some of us will be forced to ponder whether we’re really doomed to spend every Saturday night alone watching Under the Tuscan Sun twice in a row on Oxygen, gorging ourselves on ironically phrased candy hearts until the only reason someone knows we’re dead is because one of the neighborhood cats broke into our house, chewed off our toe and left it on a doorstep somewhere. Is this how we’re supposed to wait for Mr. — or Mrs. — Right? Or do we just give up and settle for Mr(s). Whatever? And, really, do we even need these quantifiers?
While she may not be Plato, relationship counselor Rhonda Audia, MSW, LISW, is the “Guru for Two.” After 22 years developing an expertise in helping couples and their relationships, this self-proclaimed guru — from the Hindu definition as one who has the power to disperse darkness — has some thoughts on love, happiness and the existence of Mr. Right.
CityBeat: A lot of things, like movies and books, tell us that there’s one person out there for us. One true love. Is there really a Mr. Right or Mr. Perfect?
Rhonda Audia: I used to think that. I think there are some people who have the potential to understand us better than others … but with every person there’s going to be problems. You just have to accept that you know with every person you date there’s going to be a few problems. You have to be willing to try to do some of the work so you can meet in the middle.
CB: What makes people compatible?
RA: I think there’s a lot that’s been written about different personalities and different personality types. I think that one of the problems when couples come in for counseling is that they have different styles of dealing with conflict.
Some people are more like fighters and some people are more like flighters. When you have one person that’s a fighter and one person that’s an avoider, they get into negative cycles. If you’re more of a talker, or fighter, you want someone who likes to talk too. I think compatibility is also about wanting the same kind of relationship, having the same kind of dreams, having the same kind of purpose for your relationship.
CB: Why are people afraid of conflict?
RA: I think that a lot of couples are really afraid of conflict and it’s natural that people feel that way because it’s unpleasant, especially when you’re in a relationship that’s less mature. You’re afraid that the person’s going to break up with you if you disagree with them or you’re afraid they’re not going to be able to accept who you are. The trick with relationships is to be honest about who you are and what you need without judging each other, without trying to make each other change.
CB: What have you learned in your practice? What works?
RA: Essentially what I have come to believe is that couples need to accept some truths about relationships. There’s a lot of ideas out there about if you find the perfect partner, you aren’t going to have fights. Conflict and differences are a reality. I try to find a way of encouraging couples to accept they’re going to have differences and give them the tools to work through it.
CB: What are your tips for a successful relationship?
RA: 1. The first is that you need to understand that your relationship grows in stages and understanding those stages is really important. You’re going to love each other but you’re going to have to work through this stage where you deal with the reality of each other. You have to work through those differences. Good relationships aren’t based on fantasies. You have to go through a stage of disillusionment to get to a real stage of intimacy. When you go through that stage where you go, ‘OK. I’m not going to have everything I hope for,’ it’s important not to get disconnected and to stay through those differences.
2. The second is conflict is necessary. Do not avoid it. Conflict is natural between two unique human beings. Conflict is necessary in order to get your relationship to grow. Conflict helps a relationship deepen because you end up understanding each other on a much deeper level. If you can work through insecurities and fears, it helps a relationship expand so that there’s more room for both people to have control of the relationship.
3. To try to stay away from “me versus you” and try to think more like a “we.”
4. It’s all about staying emotionally connected, being accessible and responsive to each other emotionally. It doesn’t matter what kind of difference you have if you’re willing to tell someone the truth about what you need and you need to be able to listen to someone about what you need without judging them. … A lot of couples, when they are disappointed about something or stressed, they turn away from each other. You have to remember to always to turn towards each other.
CB: Let’s say you’re alone this Valentine’s Day and you don’t want to be alone next Valentine’s Day, what are some things you can do to prepare yourself to enter into a successful relationship?
RA: What I would do is I would make a list of my wants, my needs, my preferences. What are the things I really, really want that I don’t want to live without. What are the things that would really be nice — like it would be nice if he made $500,000 a year. And what are the things and lessons that I’ve learned from my past relationships. Take an inventory of what you want, what you’re looking for and get to kind of know yourself and know what you’ve learned from other relationships. Some people say they have trouble expressing what they want and they really need. One of the things that I think is a myth is that if you find the right person, you’re going to have a good relationship. Instead of waiting to find the right person, you want to be the right person.
Learn more about Rhonda's counseling center and take a relationship IQ test at www.gurufortwo.com.