ERP 110: How To Manage Two Majorly Conflicting Needs In Relationship
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Do you aim to please your partner or do you aim to express yourself authentically? Do you give your partner what he/she wants immediately or do you advocate for your desires? With a sensitive topic, do you avoid stating what is real for you because you fear upsetting your partner?
These questions address the continual challenge of negotiating our need for individuality (personal needs, desires, dreams) and our need for closeness in relationship (connection and intimacy).
Two Conflicting needs:
In relationship, we often feel as though we only two options; 1) go along with your partner’s preferences 2) exert your preferences.
(Please listen to the podcast episode or read the transcript to hear more explanations, stories and examples.)
Aiming to please:
When the priority is all about accommodating our partner, we can lose connection with ourselves. We may lose integrity with what is real individually. We may not express our authentic needs, desires, and preferences because we are afraid of:
- being rejected (being seen as “too much,” “inappropriate,” or “not okay.”)
- looking silly or being embarrassed.
- conflict (i.e our partner not wanting what we want or not liking what we shared).
- upsetting our partner.
- feeling alone.
- feeling disconnected.
- feeling abandoned.
With pleasing and prioritizing our partner, we can run into these challenges as well:
- When our partner is not happy with our attempts to please, we can feel hurt, misunderstood, and/or not good enough.
- Our partner can begin to expect us to give over freely and easily, and/or we can feel pressured too put our partner first (or that putting their needs first is “the right thing to do”).
- Our partner’s happiness becomes a measure of our performance – or how well we are doing as a partner. This begins to feel like “If my partner is upset, I am not okay.” or “If my partner is happy, we are good.”
Excerpt from Passionate Marriage, by David Schnarch, about the concept of “fusion fantasy” (from page 56), which is “the fantasy of two (or more) bodies appearing to be controlled by a single mind – as of we’ve given up our separate identities and become part of a larger oneness.”
“Fusion fantasy” reminds me of the phenomenon “Groupthink.” Google’s definition of groupthink is: the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility.
“Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.” Wikipedia
Partners who have been caught in the pattern of suppressing their individual or creative selves in relationship to avoid conflict will typically get to a point where they feel stuck, frustrated, and dissatisfied. Their relationship does not represent them and does not feel like what they expected or planned for.
Culturally, we often get the message that if we find “the one” things will flow and be easy, as if this route of self-sacrifice leads to relationship bliss. However, this is not the case. In fact, continual self-sacrifice in relationship leads to many issues.
“Fusion Fantasy” leads to:
- protecting the status quo, which gives the illusion of safety.
- staying in the comfort zone and being afraid to take risks.
- hiding and not sharing, revealing, and being vulnerable.
- loosing touch with self, and what is meaningful and important.
- a loss of excitement, passion, and intimacy within the relationship.
- stagnation and lack of growth and development personally and relationally.
Taking care of the relationship
Attachment theory in adult romantic relationships helps us understand how important it is for partners to feel safe in their emotional connection. Partners need to feel that they can rely on, trust, and turn to each other for care. Partners need to know that their parents will have their back and be there for them. Couples need to feel that their emotional bond is secure and stable.
In helping couples create more safety in their emotional connection, the process is not about getting the couple to have the same experience or getting them to be in unison. It is about creating a space space of each individual to reveal their deep, authentic experience more vulnerably to their partner. When this type of sharing occurs and our partner will more likely hear our experience without feeling blamed, shamed or responsible (as you are showing them what is going on for you rather than making it their fault or problem). In turn, our partner’s genuine response will usually be empathic and an expression of desire to help (because they care and can see your pain).
Safety & Growth
In my dissertation, couples talked about the importance of commitment to have a safe foundation to grow from. They talked about how the commitment gave them a sense of comfort and security to take risks and explore more freely. Therefore, their commitments were more liberating rather than constraining. They felt the courage and safety to try new things and to be more vulnerable.
Taking care of self
“Differentiation is the process by which we become more uniquely ourselves by maintaining ourselves in relationship with those we love.” Passionate Marriage, by David Schnarch (page 51)
Value for both:
In relationship, we are faced with the task of balancing these two very important and essential needs…autonomy and intimacy.
Many people talk about the benefit of balance, and it worth noting that balance is a very difficult state to achieve. We usually have moments of balance, but more often than not we are in a state of seeking balance.
Interdependence – having value for both autonomy and intimacy.
When a couple dances together in an expressive way, they can flow together, where both people are having fun and contributing to the movement. Both people are individually responsible for their balance and at times may choose to join or even lean on each other in a mutually consensual way. They may also choose to focus on their individual movement at times. All along, they are creating a larger dance together.
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