I was walking my dogs with my new friend Jake the other day. He was telling me about his relationship with his ex-wife and how different they were and why their relationship didn’t work out. Jake had his list of reasons for why she wasn’t right for him. These were framed with a negative lens where in the main, she had been inadequate as a partner or even a bit crazy in some way.
When we find ourselves in a relationship like Jake’s, it’s so easy to blame our partner for not being the partner we want them to be. We can feel let down, frustrated, and even distressed that they haven’t been able to offer us the kind of relationship we wanted or dreamed of having.
Now Jake and I had quickly established a friendship where I felt I could be very honest with him, so I wasn’t going to beat around the bush. It helps that he’s intelligent and able to laugh at himself. So, after listening to a few of his complaints about his ex-wife, I asked him why he chose her in the first place? We can’t understand our complaints or resentment about our partner unless we remember why we chose our partner in the first place.
Jake: She was fun and liked to be playful and I really enjoyed this about her.
Me: (I remembered that Jake was an only child) Was she like a sibling, you’d not had someone at home to play with?
Jake: Yes. I missed out on this, and my home could be lonely.
As Jake’s not my client I didn’t go deeper with him or have him explain how he was lonely or what he’d missed out on as a child. What I do know is that one reason is never the full story of why we chose our partner to commit to for life. Some reasons are conscious, and we can think about them and may even talk about them. Some are unconscious, and we have no awareness of the reasons.
Whatever the reasons, when we choose one partner, we are giving up the chance to be with all others. It’s a pretty serious commitment. In fact, it’s the most serious, especially if we have children and are tied together for life.
Me: Why else did you choose to commit to her?
Jake: I wanted a family and she seemed to want this too.
Me: Ah so your biological drive had kicked in. You’d already invested in this relationship, and you were ready to get on with it.
Jake: Yes, and after we had our children, it all broke down.
Me: So, she’d fulfilled the contract of what you wanted? You’d both had the kids, life became more hectic and definitely less fun.
As a therapist, I’ve seen many Jake’s. So many couples feel the pull of the biological drive but don’t necessarily have enough of a couple connection to keep them together to last the distance.
To their credit, Jake and his wife had worked hard to hold the relationship together. They also saw a couples therapist. Neither of them wanted a separation, especially with such young children.
We need to remember why we chose our partner as this provides important clues as to what the initial couple contract was about. Of course, Jake’s contract was more complex than this. However, when we enter a relationship, we want something particular for our relationship with this chosen person. We want them to help create a relationship that fulfils certain aspects for us.
When the contract isn’t adhered to, relationships can destabilise, and sadly like Jake’s, even end. What’s important for all of us is to think about are the parts of the contract we signed up to. And what did our partner want from us when they committed? Are they complaining or resentful about us? Don’t forget – there are two contracts in any relationship.
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