A couple relationship is created by the two unique individuals who are drawn together for various reasons. Whatever the reasons, both individuals make an effort to be impressive, attentive, interesting, caring and thoughtful.
I know this well. Prior to having children, I remember spending at least an hour to get ready to go out with someone I wanted to impress. My freshly washed hair perfectly in place. Make-up to look natural. My blemishes completely covered up to look as flawless as possible. How indulgent all that feels now. I’d kill to get some of those hours back!
A dear client recently showed me a photo of an incredible meal he’d prepared for a prospective partner. It looked spectacular. I joked with him to “Show me the same level of meal preparation and detail for her in 2 years’ time!” He laughed at this because deep down he knows, and we all know, that we reveal the best of ourselves to get a relationship over the line. We want to be impressive. We want them to see just how special we are compared to any other potential suitors.
We can do this by telling stories in a particular way, casually dropping in past awards or revealing our successes. We may name drop, institution drop or degree drop. We may spend time cleaning our car or home more than usual. Paying much more attention to detail than we would for ourselves, as we wouldn’t want them to see us as grubby in any way. We may curtail our emotional reactivity. We don’t want them to see us flip our lid, as we all have a sense just how unattractive that can be.
We may have more philosophical discussions with them than others we know. We may buy them little gifts or go out of our way to find their favourite gluten free vegan cake. We may like them to see just how kind we are, whilst hiding just how mean we can also be about others – or even ourselves. We may agree with things we don’t truly believe or even go against our own values to keep this show on the road.
We may be more sexually enticing or seductive. We may spend above our earnings. If there is a huge financial imbalance between us, we may downplay this to make them feel more comfortable or we may show it off and spoil them if we believe this adds to our appeal.
We all water the garden of our new relationships. And we do this consistently until we both make an individual decision that we are invested in this union for the long haul. This could be when we move in together, a proposal to commit, or a commitment to have kids together. Our couple garden is looking pretty good. Yes, there are some weeds, and sometimes they’re very persistent, but we’ve invested heavily. Sometimes we turn a blind eye to these weeds, even convincing ourselves that a solid commitment will solve the problem.
So what happens to the watering system when we’ve made the commitment? Well, many partners turn the water pressure down. They stop feeling the need to be as impressive or sexually adventurous, or as attentive as they were before. It doesn’t happen all at once, just bit by bit the watering decreases.
Then after a period there may be some children on the scene. These wholly dependent beings need the watering and many of us are happy to turn the water pressure up blasting our love, curiosity, devotion, time, and effort in their direction. They need this from us to thrive. They need to be continuously watered.
And this is where so many unions become unstuck. Partners become lonely, overworked, unseen, or exhausted. Both parenting and being a family unit can be wonderful and satisfying, yet also relentless. Where do these two individuals water themselves? How do they ensure they’re not parched? What do they do about their couple relationship dehydrating?
So many relationships end up with two partners run ragged with absolutely no individual life anymore. They’re not watering themselves or their relationship. Many partners feel resentment or hostility. Many fight. Many turn away from their partner. Many are stressed or even distressed. They’re immersed in the family, in work, then back to the family, then to sleep. This is on rinse and repeat for years, even decades.
The biggest mistake I see partners make is they take their eyes off themselves and their relationship. I regularly see the end result. And it can be devastating as one unhappy, lonely, or unfulfilled partner feels a need to open the gruelling door to separation and divorce.
It’s critical that both partners continue to make some space and time to look after themselves and their relationship. Obviously, it can’t be the same as when we first met. However, I can promise you, from my many years as a therapist – this is not an optional extra. Water is a vital ingredient.
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