Are Soulmates Real?

Are soulmates real? Believing you've found your one true match may not be the best thing for your relationship. Here's another way to look at "the one."

Stephen Snyder, MD
5-minute read
Episode #7

No one ever asks, “Are soulmates real?” just because they think it’s an interesting question. There’s always more to it than that.

It’s like when your 5-year-old son or daughter asks, “Are monsters real?” They’re not just asking you this because they’re fascinated by the topic of monsters in general. Most likely, they’re asking you whether monsters are real because they think they may have just seen one. 

No one ever asks, 'Are soulmates real?' just because they think it’s an interesting question. There’s always more to it than that.

Most people yearn to find their soulmate, and they assume they'll be happy once they do. But as writer Elizabeth Gilbert notes in her best-selling book, Eat Pray Love, "A soul mate’s purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in."

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In other words, if you’re hoping to find your soulmate, be careful what you wish for.

Why Do Soulmates So Often Cause Us Pain?

But what is it that makes you, dear listener, interested in the question of soulmates right now?

Maybe you’ve fallen in love with someone who you think might be your soulmate and you’re finding the relationship harder than you expected. Or maybe you’ve found your soulmate, but they’re married to someone else.

Or maybe it just didn’t work out. And now you’re left trying to make sense of it all. Because why would this have happened if the two of you were really soulmates?  

Elizabeth Gilbert also wrote: "A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful."

But hey, maybe that’s just Elizabeth Gilbert. Maybe other people’s experiences will be more positive.

Let’s say you decide to google the question, “Are soulmates real?” What are you likely to find? 

What We Know About Soulmates

First, you’ll find a lot of speculation about whether soulmates are even possible. In order to believe in soulmates, you first need to believe in souls. That's something science can't prove or disprove.

But according to one recent study, two-thirds of Americans do believe in soulmates. For women who are currently in committed relationships, it’s even higher—82 percent.

I assume this means they believe certain people in our lives were put there for a particular purpose, to guide us in a certain direction, to accompany us on our life’s journey—or maybe in some cases, as Elizabeth Gilbert writes, simply to break our hearts so more light can get in. 

According to one recent study, two-thirds of Americans believe in soulmates.

Logically, this would have to mean there’s a higher spiritual intelligence in the universe. Otherwise, who would create all these soulmates, and find a way for them to meet?  Presumably, there must be some higher power doing all this planning and arranging.

On the other hand, if you believe the universe is purely random, and governed only by the laws of physics, then the idea of a soulmate makes no sense at all. In a purely random, physical universe, who could possibly do all the work necessary to create two souls and bring them together?  

Now, obviously we shouldn’t expect physical science to weigh in on this any time soon. But what does psychology have to say on the subject?

Soulmates in Modern Psychology

The first thing we learn from psychology is that if you're someone who believes in soulmates, your relationship is less likely to survive long term and more likely to break up. People who don’t believe in soulmates may have more stable long-term relationships.

When conflicts happen in a relationship, couples who believe in soulmates seem to get more upset about them—and more crushingly disappointed by the fact that they don’t fit perfectly together in all respects.

But of course, that's just a statistical finding. I assume there are some believers who are happy together, and some non-believers who have horrible relationships. 

People who don’t believe in soulmates may have more stable long-term relationships.

From the vantage point of this research, though, it would seem that a belief in soulmates is more of a hindrance for a relationship, rather than an asset.

But I’m not so convinced it’s so uniformly negative. There’s something profound about falling in love, where you do really feel touched by magic. Sure, you should keep in mind that no two people are an ideal match. But the feeling that there’s something special about the two of you as a couple—that must have some value too. Even if you don’t necessarily feel that way all the time!

A New Way to Think About Soulmates

I’d like to suggest another way to think about soulmates. A way that doesn’t leave you so vulnerable to feeling betrayed by the universe when someone you thought was your soulmate turns out to be a disaster.

Let’s say you think of your “soulmate sense” as a kind of GPS that lights up when you meet someone promising. But what if someone was meant to be your soulmate but the two of you messed it up or, for some reason, you missed the chance to be together?

Soulmates, if they exist, are surely not irreplaceable—though it can feel that way when you feel you’ve lost one.

The great thing about GPS is that if you take a wrong turn, it recalculates your trip and puts you on another route to your destination. I think that's more similar to what relationships are really like. If things don’t work out as planned, maybe you just have to reroute your trip.

The main thing is not to assume there’s just one way to get to your destination. Soulmates, if they exist, are surely not irreplaceable—though it can feel that way when you feel you’ve lost one. Remember, you still have your GPS to help you find another one. 

How to Find Your Soulmate

Are soulmates real? Perhaps not in the absolute sense, where there's one person you were destined for from birth.  

But we humans can’t help making meaning out of the raw materials of life. That’s part of our nature. As long as that’s so, here are three suggestions.

  1. If you feel that your partner might be the true, intended companion of your soul, and if this feeling inspires you to love them more deeply, then don’t let anyone talk you out of it. Most of us experience what you might call a “hunger of the soul” for connection with something bigger than ourselves. Some people feel this very keenly. Maybe you’re one of them.

  2. But don’t let the idea that someone is your true soulmate become a tyranny. If someone you thought was your soulmate turns out to be too much of a disappointment, remember there are multiple paths to a meaningful life. Don’t get stuck on one person, just because at one time you thought they were your one and only irreplaceable soul-mate. Use your GPS.

  3. Great passion doesn’t always lead to a great relationship. To paraphrase my colleague Esther Perel—just because it’s a beautiful love story, doesn’t mean it’s meant to be a “life story.” Just because someone feels like your soulmate, that doesn't mean you have to be with them forever. After all, maybe they were just destined  to “break your heart open so new light can get in."
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Stephen Snyder, MD

Dr. Stephen Snyder is a sex and relationship therapist in New York City and Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine. He's also the author of Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long-Lasting Relationship. In 2019, he was the host of the first season of the Relationship Doctor podcast.