Compatibility, commitment and independence in relationships
"What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility." - Leo Tolstoy.
There is often tension in a couples relationship as to how much and to what extent they expect to share or merge their individual lives. For some the ideal is a companion with whom they eat, sleep and are close to as much time as is possible. During the early stages of a relationship this can sometimes, though not always, be the norm. This is when the relationship is fresh, romantic and often sexually exciting. For many, as the relationship progresses, it becomes more of a balance where each has their own life, work and friends but they increasingly develop as a couple; sharing people, things and activities in common as well as developing common interests in over time.
There is a vast range within these two stages and of course the relative balance will change over time and will be different for each unique couple. Initially there is often a desire to be close physically, sexually and emotionally, fueled by lust and desire as well as attraction and there is so much you do not know about each other. However, as time progresses that can change and of course, work and life events, often out of your immediate control, will alter the dynamic. At some point most, though not all, will have children and once again this will change the balance and nature of your relationship and you as an individual within it.
The real issue though seems to be how we interpret what our partner wants from us as well as from the relationship. Whilst seeing old friends or going on holiday independently maybe seen by some as rejection and/or abandonment and smart phones offer the chance of constant contact and reassurance. Even the lack of, or delayed response to a Whatsapp message or email can cause anxiety in some relationships. What are they doing? Where are they? Don’t they love or care for me anymore? Are they seeing someone else? All and more of these thoughts and feelings can arise and fuel uncertainty, even jealously and lead to arguments and distancing between couples as one feels smothered and the other rejected. How much you want and/or need to be an independent person within a relationship and how much you feel you want or need the other, to give up their single person identity to be a couple varies between men, women and couples of all orientations, cultures and backgrounds.
The underlying way we approach and resolve this common relationship problem is rooted in a multiplicity of issues, from past relationship experiences and family history to age and the developmental stage in a person’s life. Regrettably, it is an area rarely openly discussed or explored except when a crisis arises, due to different expectations or reactions to events. A couple can find that their individual needs have changed over time; living together, buying together, the desire for marriage, children or even work issues can bring into focus a real difference of expectation or need.
This can lead to a background of bickering and arguing, often not about the underlying issue, leaving you feeling trapped on the one side and abandoned on the other. The result is usually resentment, distancing, lack of intimacy and ultimately the breakdown of the relationship without having given the real problems a fair airing.
The sudden, unexplained walking out of the relationship or just the passive avoidance of sex and intimacy are far too common unfortunately. Talking through these feelings and desire before a crisis with a therapist can be difficult and even upsetting, but it can also often help clarify what the underlying issues are and help you make a more informed choice together about your relationship or even avoid some of the pitfalls.
"Marriage is that relation between man and woman in which the independence is equal, the dependence mutual, and the obligation reciprocal." - Louis K. Anspacher.
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About Simon Parritt
Simon Parritt is a Chartered and Counselling Psychologist who, whilst working with a range of issues including anxiety, despression and chronic illness, has had extensive training and experience over 30 years in psychosexual and relationship therapy with couples and individuals from a wide range of cultural backgrounds and sexual minorities.