Have you heard people talk about their “soul mate”? This perfectly-designed person is your ideal match. God sent them just for you. There is no other person on earth who would be such a good match.

Do you believe this? Because, if you do, recent psychological research shows that you’re going to have a very hard time in a romantic relationship.

New research suggests that believing in the concept of soul mates tends to make people more dissatisfied in their relationships. If your partner must be your soul mate, it implies that the two of you should have perfect harmony and no conflicts whatsoever. As a result, when you and your alleged soul mate end up arguing – as you inevitably will – it hurts even more.

Studies suggest that instead of looking for your soul mate, that a couple instead view their relationship as a journey, a process that unfolds over time, e.g., “our relationship is an ongoing adventure” and “look how far we’ve come.”

Viewing love as a journey – not the magical stuff of soul mates – is more associated with happier relationships. Why? Well, these couples expected conflict. They expected hard times along the way. They weren’t naïve, and, as a result, their relationships were more resilient and happier.

Believing in soul mates, destiny, or the idea that there is exactly one person you are meant to find is highly correlated to relationships where the couple put less effort into working through relationship conflict.

Soul mate people more often expect that nothing should go wrong in their relationship; that it will be easy. When conflict happens, Mr. or Ms. Soul Mate is likely to question whether their partner is really the one, so they give up on working it out. People who believe in relationships as a process of growth typically experienced disagreements as opportunities to grow closer as they work things out together.

The last research study I read found that there’s one relationship cliché that may actually be helpful: thinking of your partner as your best friend. Valuing the friendship aspect of your marriage/relationship might be the most important thing you can do, suggests a study from Purdue University.

Couples who are, at their core, very good friends are also more likely to be more in love, are more committed to each other, and even have better sex than couples who value their friendship less. All that good stuff keeps growing over time, this research suggests, and these couples are also less likely to split up.

Why is friendship so important to a loving relationship? I think that the core of friendship is the core of a good marriage/partnership: mutual respect, enjoying each other’s company, common interests and values, kindness and acceptance (even when there are major differences of opinion). These values make both friendships and marriages strong.

What about sex, you might say? Well, great sex is a wonderful thing, but in most long-term relationships, the sex continues, but is often less important than the emotional bond and the physical intimacy – touching, kissing, lying on the couch together watching a movie – that may not lead to orgasm. Friendship-based love will grow stronger as the (inevitable) repetitive nature of sex with someone you love – over time – becomes less exciting and novel, but deeper and more fulfilling.

When I was younger, I loved the idea of soul mates and was determined to find mine. I was idealistic and went through quite a few men (and women) in my search. Alas, none measured up: they were all too fallible, just like me.

Now that I’m older (63), I see that every relationship in my life is an unfolding adventure. Every relationship is hard to predict, from casual acquaintance to intimate partner. Despite our good intentions, we never really know everything about someone we love. There is always the unknown and the unpredictable and if we don’t make room for it, our relationships probably won’t last very long.

A great relationship is less about magic or destiny, and more about finding someone who is both friend and lover, fellow adventurer and faithful companion.

May you find such a person and treasure him/her when you meet.

Enjoy your search.