I was watching an awesome TED talk from Belgian Psychotherapist, Esther Perel about desire in committed relationships. Specifically talking about having more desire and passion for intimacy. But she mentioned some REALLY great points that completely resonated with me, and I think they will with you too.
She talks about how as humans we have two fundamental human needs that conflict with each other when we are in a committed relationship. We have a need to feel security, predictability, and dependability. But we also have a need on the opposite spectrum for mystery, surprise, and adventure. There’s a particular part of her talk where she makes an interesting point about how we expect our partner to give us ALL of these experiences, even though they contradict each other.
“Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children and social status, and succession, and companionship. But now, we want our partner to still give us all these things. ‘but in addition I want you to be my best friend, and my trusted confidant, and my passionate lover to boot…’”
“So we come to one person and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide. Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transendence, and mystery, and awe, all in one! Give me comfort give me edge. Give me novelty, give me familiarity. Give me predictability, give me surprise.”
- Esther Perel
I listened to this part again and again and kept coming back to the same thoughts and realizations.
- This explains why our partner can’t meet all of our needs all the time — essentially explaining why our partners can’t “be our everything,” so to speak.
- We put a lot of pressure on our partner and we don’t even realize it.
- How do we relieve the pressure to be all of these things?
1. Why our partners can’t “be our everything,” so to speak.
The reality is that our partner can’t meet every single one of our needs, and I don’t think marriage was designed for that anyway. Can you imagine trying to have all of those characteristics she said?! There were so many! I mean, toggling back and forth between predictability and dependability while also being mysterious and adventurous sounds EXHAUSTING, right? We can’t go into marriage expecting so much of our partners, we just can’t. We’ll just be disappointing ourselves! I mean, I don’t know how a single person can be every one of these things for someone, especially on a continuous level and for years to come!
Which is why I’m a firm believer in this statement:
2. We put a lot of pressure on our partner and we don’t even realize it.
Esther made a great point that hundreds of years ago, marriage wasn’t as much about love. It was more about financial security, status, and to have someone to create a family with. As social change has progressed all this time, finding a marriage partner is more about connection than it is about economic and social stability.
It’s possible that we exacerbate this idea that our spouse has to be all these wonderful things when we continually hear couples say things like, “She’s my everything!” or “He’s my best friend!” and that marriage is like “having a sleepover with my best friend every night!” But what happens when the nights feel less and less enjoyable together because of time and natural lifestyle changes? Suddenly we begin to doubt that this person was right for us because marriage is suddenly NOT like having a sleepover with your best friend every night, haha.
These doubts can be so pressuring to you and your spouse, putting a huge burden on your relationship over time. I believe that the pressure can turn into this feeling of not being enough for your spouse. And the actuality is that they aren’t enough… based on everything we said above about the needs we have as humans. To keep that realization from making us feel worthless as partners, we need to relieve the pressure.
3. How do we relieve the pressure to be all these things?
- Alter your expectations. Determine what’s realistic and what isn’t. Which of these expectations truly matters to you in your marriage? Have this conversation with yourself. Going along with this idea, you may have to work on some acceptance…
- Accept that you are different people with different interests, opinions, values, and hobbies. Because IT’S OK TO BE DIFFERENT FROM YOUR SPOUSE :) That’s what the “How to Navigate Your Differences” video course is all about! Taking this 25-minute course can definitely relieve the pressure in your marriage!
- Have friends that you can get together with to fulfill a certain interest or need. If your spouse isn’t a fan of football, then call up your friends to watch college football on Saturdays!
- Practice more independence. Give a designated night for each of you to be on your own, whether it’s to take a relaxing bath, read a book uninterrupted, getting creative in your craft room, or just watching your own weekly TV show. Getting your fill independently allows you to come back to each other with a different mindset. Instead of thinking, “They didn’t do this and this and this for me and I could really use it,” do something for yourselves so you can then be in a better place to give to each other.
- Going along with independence, go do some spontaneous activity for yourself. If you are looking for more spontaneity in your life, then you can take on that responsibility to fulfill it yourself :) Maybe it’s extreme like going skydiving or maybe it’s more simple like just going to see a movie by yourself.
- Spend time apart like vacations, business trips, or at the very least, have a girls night or guys night. Esther traveled the world to ask couples at what times they were most attracted to their partner and the majority said, “When we have spent time apart” or “When we reunite.” Which means that absence makes the heart grow fonder :)
- Instead of thinking about what your marriage isn’t, think about what it IS. We tend to focus on the lack we feel, rather than the abundance. Focus on the good things in your marriage and be grateful for that.
As a spouse, I encourage you to drop the “be everything” mentality, because it’s just not reasonable. We can’t expect our spouse to fulfill all of our needs, because they won’t. We can’t can’t expect ourselves to be a superhero by consistently being and doing all these magnificent things in marriage, because it’s just not possible.
Put in an effort to fulfill your spouse’s needs. On the other end, recognize your spouse’s efforts for trying to fulfill your needs.