HELPING OUR RELATIONSHIPS TO BE BETTER
BY KALI MUNRO, M.Ed., Psychotherapist, 2013
Why is it that so many people want to be in a relationship when they’re not, yet aren’t happy when they are? Because both present their challenges which we rapidly forget when we’re in one or the other.
Many single people will tell you that while they value many things about being single, they often long for the closeness, intimacy, and companionship that comes from being in a relationship. Many coupled people will say that they love their partner but s/he gets on their nerves, they can’t stand the arguing or the boredom, they resent being responsible for the household chores, and they long for the freedom and independence they had when they were single!
WHY CANT WE HAVE IT ALL?
While I could argue the point of whether we can ever have it all, instead I’ll talk about how we can get more of what we want while in a relationship.
I think a large part of the answer is in looking at what we enjoy about being single and what we enjoy about being in a relationship.
If you’re in a relationship, think about what you miss about being single. Many people will say they were more independent, did more things with their friends, went out more, and generally felt freer to do what they wanted. Remember when you were single, and ask yourself why you wanted to be in a relationship. Most people will talk about companionship, closeness, sex, and sharing a life with someone.
But, all too often what was once fun and close and exciting turns into arguments, boredom, feeling constrained, and resentments.
Lots happened! Lots changed and therein lies part of the problem. For example, most couples start spending all their free time together which, frankly, will only lead to boredom, irritations, arguments and less sex. The guy or the gal on the couch next to you every night in their robe loses much of the appeal that was there when you were dating and dressing up to go out. And the frequent contact leaves little room to miss the person and thereby desire them more. Many couples where one or both parties go out of town on business will tell you that reunited sex is very passionate. We need to bring back some of the things we did when we were single and dating. And that means more individual independence/freedom and separations.
Is that scary for you? Not sure what she or he will do with their freedom? That’s the point. That mystery about the other person, and it doesn’t have to be that much of a mystery because you can tell each other what you’re doing and when approximately you’ll be home, is good for a relationship. You get to miss each other, spend time alone in the house, see other people, and express yourself in different ways (we express ourselves differently with different people.) And, that’s exactly what you did when you were single and first going out.
The key is good communication. No one appreciates not knowing where their partner is or an approximate time of return or not hearing anything if that changes. Also, partners want to be included in decision-making. Maybe this weekend the kids have to be driven some place and you have to coordinate how that gets done and not just leave it for your partner to take care of because you made plans. I think this part is why so many couples default to doing everything together. It’s easier in some ways than it is to communicate, negotiate, and plan together how to get stuff done and make room for both partners’ free time apart.
Many women, in relationships with men, complain that their free time is usually spent doing household chores or looking after kids. Not fair. What can be done about this?
Survey after survey shows that heterosexual women are still responsible for more time spent on household chores and child care. Why is this?
I’m not convinced that this is because most heterosexual men are lazy or chauvinistic. Some may be but in my experience many men are genuinely confused about what to do. They just don’t see what needs to be done. Many women can’t believe that their partners can’t see what is patently obvious to them. And this makes them mad!
Where does this lead? Women who were once happy, calm, and loving people, much to their own horror, find themselves turning into nagging, irritable, angry, and resentful people. And men who at one time felt loved and appreciated by their partners feel discouraged, badgered, and that they can’t do anything right. Not good for either parties!
What’s the solution? In my experience, many men are happy to do what women want them to do if they are asked nicely. Many women feel angry about the thought of that. No one needs to tell them what to do, they just do it. Why do they have to ask their husbands to clean up or cook vegetables? Because the reality is they don’t always know what to do. They don’t feel confident jumping in, planning and preparing a meal, or they didn’t see that the floor needed to be mopped. But if they are told nicely what they can do, they often jump at the opportunity.
I know one woman who prepared a list of chores for her husband. They wrote it up on the computer, assigning chores to each day, and he now does the chores that pop up as messages each day. I know another woman who tells her husband what his jobs are each night whether that’s to scrub the veggies, mop the floor, bathe the kids. And over time, men will develop routines for their household and child care responsibilities. The key is to keep it all friendly and good humoured. And to do that, Some women may need to let go of their resentment. Resentment implies that you think he’s not doing chores because he doesn’t think he should have to, because he’s lazy, or because he doesn’t want to. When, honestly, he may just need to be guided with kindness and respect.
This can not only make for happier couples but offer women more time to do what they would like to do. A win-win situation.
Other things to think about are to compare how you took care of yourself and how you dressed when you were single or first dating and how you do that now; how you spoke to one another in the beginning and how you do that now; and what you used to do together and what you do now. Generally, we’re all better in those areas when we’re single or first dating. And yet we all want to see our partners looking good, to go out on the town (what ever that means to you), and to be sweet talked. We need to continue to take care of ourselves and each other to keep the love and desire alive!
Maybe we can have the best of both worlds. We can be free and independent while communicating and sharing. We can share in the work and give both people the space to do what they want. We can have our own separate activities and be excited and happy to see one another. We can continue to dress for each other and to go out and have fun. And, we can be kind and loving to one another.
I know, it sounds easier said than done. This is true. It takes great patience to communicate clearly, to change patterns of behaviour, to take a deep breath and say something kindly rather than in anger, to share in responsibilities, to trust your partner, and to let go and come together again in love and peace. And, still, it can be done and is well worth it.