- “How I Met Your Mother” followed 5 friends as they navigated love and friendships in New York City.
- Insider spoke with a therapist to find out what relationship lessons can be learned from the sitcom.
- Ted’s constant search for love may have blinded him from some unresolved personal issues.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
So what was their secret? Either Barney left before a conflict escalated or Robin distracted him with sex.
Their “perfect relationship” was eventually put to the test during a trip when they get stuck on a ski lift together and were finally forced to confront their issues.
But, according to Bukky Kolawole, a couples therapist and licensed clinical psychologist, the two shouldn’t have been afraid to hash things out from the start.
Kolawole said that the reason a lot of couples avoid confrontation is the fear of not being supported.
“What that means is that it’s easy when we can get along. That’s easy. But for you to actually have to navigate and hold on to each other, through conflict, through differences, is really what speaks to the testament of your relationship,” she told Insider.
She went on to explain that when working with couples, her job is not necessarily to eliminate the possibility of disagreements but instead to help them reach for each other during conflict.
But things took a sharp and unexpected turn when Lily called off their engagement to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming an artist — which was put on pause after moving to New York with Marshall — by accepting an art fellowship in San Francisco.
Kolawole said she believes the healthiest relationships are the ones where individuals can learn to be interdependent with each other without having to sacrifice or compromise their own authenticity.
“Because sometimes we make these decisions to put aside our dream and often what happens is we discover that actually we can’t do it and then it has potential consequences,” she told Insider. “When we’re in relationships we have to feel empowered in ourselves and our desires and have the audacity to be clear about that.”
She also analyzed their relationship through the lens of societal gender norms.
“If we look at the heteronormative ways that we’re socialized, in some ways, there would have been an expectation that somehow the female partner in a heterosexual relationship would just put aside her dreams,” Kolawole said.
“When Marshall sees Lily put aside her dream, he should be having questions about that. He should be trying to fight for her and ask ‘Babe, is this really OK with you?'” she added.
For situations like these, Kolawole suggests that couples take time to discuss important life decisions before they can cause conflict.
“For Marshall to make such a significant decision without consulting with Lily, that’s going to break trust in the relationship — as it should,” she said. “Because they had made a decision together, they have dreams in Italy together, and all of a sudden Marshall essentially prioritizes his dream over what they’ve said.”
It would’ve been better to have a conversation about the job offer together and come to a mutual decision.
“Couples have to be willing to communicate and jump into the stuff with each other, but when we make these kinds of reactive decisions, it has more dire consequences on the relationship and on the partner,” Kolawole said.
Kolawole also noted that she ultimately thinks Marshall’s decision was a residual effect from Lily’s move to San Francisco.
She told Insider, “Given the move that Lily pulled and her breaking up the engagement — even though they got back together — did they really tend to the broken trust? Because when she bailed on him potentially it sends the message to him that he can’t really count on her to be there and do what she said.”
This leads to what Kolawole calls “attachment insecurity,” which “causes us to behave in ways where we protect ourselves because we don’t trust that the other is going to have our back and take care of us.”
It was an ongoing quest throughout the series that only ended when he met his future wife, Tracy, at Barney and Robin’s wedding.
Kolawole explained that people who are always searching for a relationship may be ignoring internal, emotional struggles.
“What is understandable to me about folks who chase love that hard is how scary being alone is or can feel,” she told Insider. “What has Ted not paid attention to or what has he not tended to? Because those things both influence his preoccupation with finding love as well as the difficulty with holding on to love.”
Kolawole also pointed out that seeing friends like Marshall and Lily and, eventually, Barney and Robin partnered up can create insecurity for a single person in a friend group.
But that doesn’t mean Ted should be ashamed of how he’s feeling.
“I want us to instead show up with curiosity about that and say your anxiety makes sense and that’s why you’re chasing love so hard,” Kolawole said. “And let’s notice what’s happening that these relationships you find yourself in aren’t really sticking despite your claim that you want it.”
Everything seemed to be going well in their relationship until she was accepted into a cooking fellowship at a culinary institute in Germany. They agreed to try a long-distance relationship, but things quickly went south after Ted slept with Robin under the pretense that he’d broken up with Victoria.
Kolawole said that this was a sign that Ted’s inability to find closure with Robin was affecting his love life.
“All the relationships that Ted is not really being present for or that are not working out — how much of it is being influenced by the fact that he’s pining for this other woman?” she questioned. “Ted has a lot of unfinished business that he needs to handle.”
Dealing with unresolved feelings during the course of a relationship is something that we all do to an extent. But for Ted, these feelings hindered his ability to find a relationship that’s actually good for him.
“In some ways, when he lets go of Robin, he lets himself now be available to be in a relationship,” Kolawole said.
He laid it on pretty thick from the start — stealing a blue French horn to woo her and professing his love on the first date — which immediately made her wary and laid the groundwork for the bumpy trajectory of their relationship.
Ultimately, their goals didn’t align — Ted wanted a family, and Robin was focused on her career. Kolawole pointed to this conflict as proof that love isn’t always enough to make a relationship work.
“We have to have shared goals and shared dreams,” she said. “We will save ourselves heartache if we let ourselves actually pay attention.”
Kolawole observed that, for Ted, the relationship was almost doomed before it began.
“Yes, if you want to be in a relationship, relationships require compromise but they shouldn’t require us to compromise big things. For example, whether or not we want to build a family with children,” she told Insider. “… If you have to persuade somebody to be in a relationship with you, that relationship isn’t going to work.”
At this point, Robin and Barney have divorced and Ted’s wife, Tracy, has been dead for six years. But there was a collective cringe across the fandom as many questioned why a couple who never seemed to be on the same page would make yet another attempt at a relationship.
Kolawole offered a different perspective on Ted and Robin’s reunion.
“Because we are incompatible in this moment doesn’t mean we are also incompatible in 10 moments from now,” she told Insider. “We are always evolving as human beings. We are always growing. So their context changed. Whether or not they last is a different story.”
After all, Ted dated Robin first, and Barney and Ted are best friends. Ted even stopped talking to Barney for a while when he found out Barney was sleeping with Robin.
But according to Kolawole, as messy as it all sounds, Robin and Barney’s marriage wasn’t necessarily ill-fated.
“We all have different tolerance levels and beliefs, so I don’t know that inherently because she has dated his best friend means that the relationship is doomed,” she said.
The situation absolutely put stress on their relationship, but the outcome is still up to them.
“How they manage that is really what says whether or not the relationship is doomed,” Kolawole told Insider.