A lot of the challenges between couples these days seem to be triggered by cultural influences. Sometimes, these external influences actively conspire to sabotage what the couple feels for each other by creating or amplifying false expectations. Hollywood, Bollywood, romantic novels and glossies all seem to create the notion of an idyllic relationship that overlooks the hard work, patience, grace, forgiveness, and empathy that is involved in the day to day details of life as a couple. No one talks about the changes each individual of the couple needs to make as they move from being just ‘me’ to ‘we’. These changes include finding a new balance in how one manages:
- priorities (for example, work – and more on this next week!);
- relationships (family of origin, the old friends circle);
- interests (being involved in your partner’s interests irrespective of what you feel about it);
- and most importantly, consciously and consistently spending time with each other.
1 plus 1 does not equal to a great relationship if the focus is still on the ‘self’ and not on the ‘couple’ as an entity.
A 1 plus 1 mentality typically means that one (or both) partner (s) feel that they have had to ‘give up’ something of themselves or their life, that they are not able to ‘get what they really wanted’ for themselves, they have to ‘compromise’. In essence, it’s a win-lose status – with each partner feeling that the other has ‘won’. This is not the best foundation for trust and intimacy. Perhaps, it might be more helpful to look at what each needs to do to ‘build’ the relationship; find a new equilibrium that moves from only ‘my’ needs to what would be the best for the relationship. It’s not about one having to give up something but both co-creating something new and better. However, this is easier said than done!
If you are part of a young couple explore how these three areas can create a risk to your relationship. These areas are:
(i) the strong focus on individualism;
(ii) idealized notions of what a relationship or an ideal partner should be; and,
(iii) the diversity that each partner brings.
Each partner in a young couple brings their own needs, wants, and expectations into the relationship. Each carries some baggage of a relationship from their family of origin (My mother cooked 3 fresh meals a day! My dad was always home at 6 pm! and so on…) Further, contemporary culture places a strong emphasis on individual needs being fulfilled rather than what would be beneficial for the couple as a new unit. There seems to be an inherent conflict in wanting to be independent and wanting a stable, long-term relationship. Career aspirations and work schedules are often a trigger point: Whose aspirations have to take priority? Given existing stereotypes it’s not easy to decide what would be best for the relationship. An existing stereotype might be that a woman decides to stay at home till the children grow up. (Unfortunately, they never do!)
This conflict is hard to resolve with a simple formula. It’s more of a give and take process over the long-term. Common responses to this issue usually leave one partner feeling marginalized and starting to carry this feeling of ‘having had to give up something’. Therefore, couples soon realize that sustaining intimacy in a relationship needs more than just flowers and chocolates. It takes hard work! And, that starts with re-looking at some aspects of ‘I-me-myself’ that do not support the integrity of the couple.
Based on the thoughts above, what’s coming up for you in your relationship? What are areas that your unit are doing well in – and areas that you both are struggling?
If you’d like to talk to someone in confidence and safety about what you might be going through in your relationship, then email us on firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about what we do on our website: www.thewellnesstrust.com.
Continued next week … How Organizations Screw Up Couple Relationships!
Sheras, P. L., & Koch-Sheras, P. R. (2006). Couple power therapy: Building commitment, cooperation, communication, and community in relationships doi:http://dx.doi.org./10.1037/11264-001