You scanned the headings of this blog post and I am sure you are surprised. Relationships as a habit, being independent, endless harmony, and knowing everything about your partner: These are generally qualities that are deemed positive for a relationship or a long lasting love life. However, as we classically know “too much of a good thing is not always a good thing.”
Making your relationship into a habit
The killer: The beginning of relationships are exciting and invigorating. However, there is one nagging thought “will this last?” While the relationship continues to develop and we realize that we really like this person and we really like who we are while we are with him or her, we begin to desire more. Naturally, we want the relationship to continue, maybe hoping it will last a lifetime. Hence, we begin to make efforts toward chasing away the nagging thought of “will this last?” We desire this person so much, that we want to chase away the unpredictability of the relationship. To manage our anxiety, we move toward securing the relationship (and that means something different for every person) by creating routines and predictability. While security, predictability, and routine, is always positive progress for a relationship, there is an inherent risk in making your relationship predictable and almost monotonous. Your relationship becomes a habit, and no one feels sexy when they are someone’s habit. Habits are not particularly invigorating or exciting, habits are just there. You practiced long enough and now it is a part of your life, you do not need to think about it. Secure relationships would definitely be on the list of good habits. Conversely, constant seeking of excitement and “non-habit” relationships are what fuel sexual affairs. So now, all this seems too confusing. Hence, we need to find that magic spot between stability and keeping a relationship passionate.
The remedy: Trying to do something different is always good for a relationship. Instead of trying to find something new to do, kick it up a notch and try to stop doing what you always do and see what happens. Let the moment take you. For example, you always kiss your partner good night, it is ingrained in your routine and you are not even aware that you are doing it. What happens if one night you don’t kiss her? How does she react? What happens between the two of you? Do you do something else? How do you feel? How does she feel? No matter how this ends, you will learn something new about your relationship and your partner. Be aware: It is risky! But perhaps your relationship has been yearning for some risk.
The killer: “Independence is a problem? Didn’t you write an article on the importance of independence?” Yes! and I also wrote an article on dependency leading to satisfaction and commitment. But, complete independence and eliminating dependency in a relationship is the recipe for the death of love. Being dependent on someone makes the relationship “high-stakes”. The more we desire, the more we fear the loss. When we have a high-stakes risk, we invest in it. It is the high-stakes in relationships that fuels romantic passion. Desiring our partners love, is a declaration of dependency. You cannot have desire without dependence. You are dependent on your partner’s reaction and your partner’s response toward you; “will he/she love you or not?”. Hence, dependency makes us feel vulnerable and many of us are entrenched in trying to escape vulnerability. In fact, one of the character traits of narcissistic personality disorder is the inability to be dependent on a romantic partner. Narcissists are unable to admit that they need their lover in their life. For narcissistic men and women, dependency is too threatening and they are likely to escape the relationship (physically or emotionally) the moment they feel a sense of dependency.
The remedy: Be dependent. Ok, not completely dependent. You need to strike the balance between being independent but not fearing to admit some dependency on your lover. If the word “need” is too much for you, then go with the word “desire”, then take the plunge to express to your partner that you desire his or her love, comfort, recognition, respect… If there is something that your partner does best, let them know. For example, your partner makes a wicked coffee, thank him and let him know that his barista skills beat yours.
The Killer: I know I am pushing it now. But, endless harmony is the killer. The essence of relationships, as cliché as this sounds, are “its ups and downs.” Relationships will always have disagreements. If you are waiting for the day when you and your partner will never, ever fight again, you might want to reevaluate. If couples are in a relationship, past their honeymoon phase, and never fight or disagree, then their relationship is dead. Endless harmony means that one of you are not being honest. Partners will often avoid telling one another what they think or feel in order to avoid a fight. They create a façade of harmony when internally they are sitting on a lifetime of emotions they have never disclosed. Or, one partner is completely checked out of the relationship. He or she could not careless about their partner or their relationship.
The remedy: Check in with one another. If expressing yourself in the moment is not your style or sometimes you don’t even know what you are feeling till after the fact, create a time of the day or week that is dedicated to sharing with your partner. For example, your partner mumbles under her breath that this is the third time this week she’s cleaned up after you and you are such a slob. You go about your day but find yourself irritable and yelling at your kids. You insightfully recognize that you were quiet hurt by your partner’s comment but you are unsure how to bring it up to her since the incident has passed. If you have a set time of day where you check in, you would be able to express your hurt feelings to your partner without trying to find the “right moment.”
“I know everything about you”
The Killer: Knowing everything there is to know about our partner makes us feel secure. We want to know what our partner is up to and we want to believe that our partner does not have hidden parts to him or self. However, there is a risk in believing that we know everything about him or her. The declaration of “I know everything there is to know about you” undermines and undervalues the complexity of the human psyche. We will never know each other completely -- that is what makes human relationships interesting, and yes, sometimes quite difficult. We are always changing, new environments stimulate different responses and triggering events evoke parts of our personality we might not have known about. When you stop being curious and discovering new aspects of your partner, your relationship stops growing.
The remedy: Be curious. Remain open and curious to learn about your partner. Ask you partner questions with curiosity and leave judgment outside the room. Asking questions with curiosity gives the other person the opportunity to respond honestly rather than defensively. Curious questions cultivate respect in a relationship allowing space for individualism and honoring differences. By remaining curious, you are guaranteed to learn something new about your partner.
Sara Schapiro-Halberstam, LMHC, CASAC is a licensed mental health counselor in NYC, where she provides individual counseling and intimacy counseling. You can contact Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more blog posts at www.mwr.nyc