Want to find lifelong love? Stop looking for your soulmate

Lasting relationships are made, not found, research shows.


As Valentine’s Day approaches, many singletons are hoping to discover that one true love — but to find a lasting relationship, people should stop looking for a soulmate, says a U of A researcher. (Photo: Getty Images)

As Valentine’s Day approaches, many singletons are hoping to discover that one true love. But to find a meaningful, lasting relationship, people should stop looking for a soulmate, says a University of Alberta researcher.

The idea of finding “the one” actually makes that quest more unrealistic, says Adam Galovan, a family scientist in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences and co-author of a new research report that challenges the myth of having a one and only love.

“The idea of having one soulmate in a world of eight billion people can be daunting, and that can make people hesitant to get into or commit to a relationship because they might feel there’s a better match out there,” Galovan says. 

“On the flip side, if things aren’t going well in a relationship and you have a ‘soulmate’ mentality, you might believe you simply chose the wrong person. That can be used as an excuse to not work as hard on a relationship and call it quits,” he cautions.

He notes that dating culture commonly embraces “destiny” beliefs —the idea that if a relationship or marriage is “meant to be,” things will naturally go well. But that’s a flawed notion, he adds.

(This research) shows that soulmates are not found; they are made. Start by finding someone you seem to get along with, then see how the relationship develops. You make someone your soulmate through the effort you both put into nurturing the relationship.

Adam Galovan

(Photo: supplied)

That can make people be fatalistic about an otherwise good relationship, hijacking it before it even gets started, Galovan says.

“People may think their choices don’t matter, what they do doesn’t matter, that they have no sense of control, so they may not try to work at the relationship.” 

That’s especially problematic as couples move past the early ‘falling in love’ stage, he notes.

“When the relationship changes from being passionate to having to work harder to maintain it, that’s when some people think maybe this person isn’t their soulmate and move on.

“But that means you might be giving up on some real opportunities to have a lasting connection. You don’t allow the relationship enough time to get to know the other person much more deeply.”

“Soulmates aren’t found; they are made”

Flourishing couples are instead committed to building their relationships, according to the report, which examined how personal virtues and intentional efforts were closely linked with relationship quality. 

“They are much more likely to stay connected through responsible actions like spending meaningful time together and being kind and empathetic to one another,” Galovan notes. 

Drawn from a comprehensive study led by Galovan of 615 couples across Canada and the United States, the data analyzed in the report revealed that happier couples had percentile scores that were typically three times higher than other couples on these intentional aspects of their relationships. 

A followup study, which earned Galovan an award from the U.S.-based National Council on Family Relations, delved into the couple’s daily lives and found that on the days they were more intentional and mindful of their relationships, they were more likely to be kind to their partner.

“It all shows that soulmates are not found; they are made,” he says. “You find a person and then put in the work so they become your soulmate.”

The report’s findings can help reset expectations for more realistic and rewarding dating and relationships, he adds. 

Galovan recently presented data showing that flourishing couples in their day-to-day lives are likely to report that their relationship was flourishing that day 61.4 per cent of the time. “Relationships are not always chocolates and roses, even for the happiest, flourishing couples.”

“Rather than finding ‘the’ one, find ‘a’ one, he suggests, noting that there are lots of options out there. 

“Most people could be happy with a number of potential partners. Start by finding someone you seem to get along with, then see how the relationship develops. You make someone your soulmate through the effort you both put into nurturing the relationship.” 

Five ways to build lasting love

The report recommends five ways to set aside “soulmate thinking” as stepping stones to building lasting, loving intimacy.

Avoid a “consumer” approach to relationships.

Consumerism encourages a me-first attitude, which means people are only thinking about what they can get out of a relationship, not what they can give.

“You’re leaving out the effort you need to put in, to take time to notice your partner. When you’re just taking, the relationship is less likely to flourish. People don’t want to be in a relationship where they are always giving and don’t get anything back,” Galovan says.

Foster realistic expectations.

Don’t rely on destiny — believing that a relationship is either meant to be or not. Instead, take a “growth approach,” Galovan advises. 

“That means putting in the effort to grow the relationship and accepting responsibility for your contribution. You find ‘a’ one and you are happy because you are working on the relationship together.” 

Develop a mature understanding of love.

The romanticized view of love in pop culture focuses on emotions and sexual attraction, but there’s much more to a relationship, Galovan says. Based on three aspects — mind, heart and hands — mature love means in addition to falling in love, people need to choose to be caring and then act on it.

“It’s about more than the emotional level. It’s also how you think about your partner and relationship, and then making an effort to plan a date or help out around the house or bring home a gift now and then.”

Follow healthy dating trajectories.

“A person can be so fearful of choosing the ‘wrong’ partner that they date a lot and never commit to anyone, never go deeper for a richer relationship,” Galovan notes.

“Those who have a healthy relationship trajectory are willing to move forward in a relationship and not worry if someone is their ‘soulmate.’ Instead, they look at how the relationship is progressing and consider the potential.” He asks, “Have you had a chance to see your partner in lots of different situations, for example?” and urges, “Be willing to give the relationship time to develop instead of short-circuiting it.”

Stay optimistic while resolving breakups.

When a breakup happens, the soulmate mentality can trap people into thinking they’ve lost their one shot at having a partner.

“People can take that very hard and be very depressed and worried. But if you stay optimistic, you can say, ‘That didn’t work out, but they weren’t the one person I needed to find. There is someone else out there.’ You still mourn the relationship, but getting out of the soulmate mentality gives you more optimism that there are other opportunities out there to find happiness with someone.”

Galovan’s research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.