About two weeks ago in the Globe and Mail, I came across an interesting article written by columnist Sarah Hampson: Happiness in Couples is Contagious- So is Misery The article discusses the notion that couples should make more effort to be responsible for their partners’ happiness while at the same time pointing out (very fairly in my opinion) that excessive people pleasers fail to take care of themselves. It’s true; everyone has their own definition of what it means to be happy. Some of us feel content with the idea that our partners are bringing home the dough, others define happiness by the things they experience together as a couple and there are those of us who when in a relationship seek intellectual and emotional unity. Ok, if I was to start nit picking I would say that my ideal partner is a little bit from column A, significantly more from column B and a wagon full from column C, but who really strikes such a perfect balance when it comes to happiness? Having said that, I’d like to offer you a slightly different take on why I think couples tend to neglect their partners’ happiness.
While I do agree that a responsible and happy partnership is a subjective matter I am convinced that as human beings we need to feel like our partners understand exactly what we’re thinking and feeling. In other words there is no denying that we should definitely try a lot harder to take an active part in our partners’ happiness; whether it is emotional connectivity, intellectual harmony or financial stability we’re looking for. Only if we strive to become conscientious partners can we hope to achieve that balance that relationships are based on.
We all need to be attuned to our partners’ aura; we need to inject some of our own feminine and/or masculine sensibilities and charm into the relationship. Couples should not hesitate to let their guard down, open up and welcome a certain sense of vulnerability into their everyday lives. Men about as much as women, have the desire to be nuzzled and nurtured. My husband for example is a big snuggle bear who loves to cozy up to me with a blanket. In relating to one another both men and women crave the kind of mutual responsiveness (I will dare to call it emotional wooing) that often gets severed for a variety of complex social reasons.
The disconnect that happens when attempting to attain that sense of mutual happiness lies in the fact that more often than not we expect too much of both our partners and ourselves. Our need for financial gain, our desire to win the rat race, to become the absolute best, often overshadows our want to connect with each other. How often do we find ourselves racing against time itself, grabbing our morning coffee on the go, taking our kids to and from hockey practice and overwhelming ourselves with heaps of redundant chores and every day minutiae. We literally have to make time, for time; in other words, things like ritualistic kissing that happens as your partner runs out the door or the a la carte style sex that’s only as satisfying as our rehearsed lines about how much we (women) enjoyed a quickie.
In short, I believe that the imbalance in relationships is caused in part by the societal pressures that in a way convince us, that we can achieve greater success only on our own rather than together. We are preconditioned to assume that we can best meet our daily responsibilities individually rather than as a unit. That is mainly the fault of the way in which our society is constructed. We are addicted to acting on our own rather than as partners which contradicts the very values of what it means to be involved in the others’ happiness.
Often when dating we find ourselves more in tune with each other’s’ sensibilities, ideas and desires. We welcome courtship, connection and understanding. We take time to know about one another and revel in our shared happiness. However the longer we are together the less responsive we become to the small nuances and gestures that make us happy. Particularly women often feel relegated by their partners into the role of the ‘long-time partner’ or wife which serves to diminish the desire to actively participate in each other’s happiness. As a result of a variety of internal and external factors and ambitions we find ourselves checking out of the shared experience of our partners. To women, this kind of emotional checking out is particularly distressing as they are creatures that have a need to be wooed and adored.
Another aspect of what happens when couples are together for years are that there are no more surprises as far as your partner is concerned. By now you have washed their clothes, cooked their meals, and watched them waste an entire box of tissues when blowing their nose in bed. There is nothing remotely sexy or chivalrous about routinely “putting up” with each other’s belches, burps and farts. In fact it’s that mundane reality of constantly being in each other’s face that ultimately squashes all desire to connect in a meaningful way. Married couples tend to settle into their “comfort zone” of inadvertently ignoring their partner and thus their happiness. Many of us are just plain lazy and unwilling to reach out and take that extra step. We would much rather conveniently forget that relationships are fragile, than bother re-examining our own truths. It is no secret that today’s busy world is a constant race to come up on top, to compare ourselves to our counterparts, to forget the little things that make us who we are. However we must not discount just how blind that causes us to become to our partners needs and desires pushing us into an emotional wasteland.
The truth is, in most instances we do not set out to purposely neglect our partners’ happiness. We are perfectly aware that none of us like being taken for granted. The trick is not to use your partnership as an excuse for no longer making an effort. The key here is not to underestimate the value of conversation, of dating again or re-creating the time when you first saw each other from across the room. There is no harm in going back to writing love notes on mirrors and walls, in shouting “I love you” in the most unexpected of places. It is important to remind ourselves of how sexy we are, how funny; of the certain je ne sais quoi about each other that makes our heads spin.
I invite you to stop for a moment and appreciate the things you have; each other. Happiness is the ability to laugh together despite it all. After all life is tough, so we should all stop taking ourselves so seriously!!