Guessing at Normal


Chances are that your idea of what normal relationships and family dynamics should look like have been formed by various influences. Your parents were probably the first couple that you saw that helped to shape these ideas. Later you may have seen older siblings or friends add to your idea of normal and finally, TV and movies have probably had some effect on what you believe to be a normal relationship. You entered into your first relationship with a preconceived notion of what the relationship should be like and all of your expectations about the success (or lack thereof) came from those preconceived notions.


Your preconceived notions may be positive things like never going to bed angry or not arguing in front of the kids or they may be negative things like infidelity is okay or physical violence is suffered in silence. You may have grown up in a house where these things happened but you didn’t like the effect they had on your family so you decided it defied your definition of normal and vowed to do the exact opposite in any relationship you had. Usually, though, the things that we learn from our parents are things that they learned from their parents and a generational norm gets formed without any real reasoning or understanding behind it.


These generational norms that we hold can take us down the wrong path in many ways. First, just because something is normal to us doesn’t mean that it’s right and in many ways is no different than succumbing to peer pressure. A better question to ask than is this normal, is whether or not it’s a healthy action or something that you actually want? Second, when we’re picking what’s normal, our picker is often skewed toward what we feel most comfortable doing or what we prefer. When you want to pose a question to someone to help you decide whether or not you should or shouldn’t do something, often you end up going to the person or persons that you know is going to co-sign and agree with your actions. Next, when we use these norms as a gauge for our own level of normal, it can cause us to compare but it’s usually to those that we feel we’re more normal than. If you’re in a bad relationship and trying to normalize it, chances are that you’ll do so by comparing your relationship to one that you feel is worse than your own to reinforce your own normalcy. Last, depending on the norm, continuing to do it can keep us in an unhealthy place. If you come from a family where the norm affects either one or both people in a relationship in a negative way, continuing with that norm just keeps the vicious cycle going. In the end, none of us really know what normal is and that causes us all to guess at what is normal and if we’re normal.


So if normal is something that we’re all striving for but at the same time guessing at, how do we achieve “normal?” We all have an internal gauge that tells us to some extent what normal is and what it is not, we just often ignore it in favor of comfort. We feel guilt or a feeling in our gut that tells us when something feels wrong. We also know when something feels right. We feel good when we do it no matter what anyone says, genuinely good, not good with guilt later. When we're trying to make someone else's normal fit into our lives, it can cause us to be unhappy, whereas, when we achieve our perfect level of normal, we feel happy and at peace. The truth is that there is no standard formula for normal and everyone’s normal is different. We’re all different and what’s normal for one person may be weird for another.