What's going on in marriages and committed relationships today? An increase in our expectations that our marriages/committed relationships should be doing something for us. We want our partnerships to make us feel heard, supported, seen, fulfilled, and so on. The expectations can be a lot. These same hopeful expectations can cause partnerships to decline in satisfaction and happiness.
Leading marriage and sex therapist Esther Perel notes, "it used to be that we divorced because we were deeply unhappy. Now we divorce because we could be happier."
What do you think about that quote? Does it resonate with you? Why or why not?
This week's blog series focuses on expectations of happiness in committed relationships, and helps illuminate why this could lead to difficulty. It's a follow up to my quotes in a recent Bustle article on the topic. You can read the original article here.
The video I posted is not embedding into this blog for some reason, so I'm linking to here. Click here for the video on The Trouble with Relying on Your Partner for Happiness. Read on for the written version of the video's dialogue!
It's Important to Know What You Need (and why)
It's my belief that two whole people make a better couple. And so with this, you've got to show up to the relationship, as best you can, content with yourself. Do you have insight (and honesty with yourself) about your own likes and dislikes? Your own desires? What about your needs?
It's very often that individuals and couples I treat, both in my Old Saybrook office and remotely, struggle to recognize their own needs. They've drifted from those needs, and their needs no longer take priority on the outside. But on the inside, their (unrecognized) needs are still shouting. This element leads to discontent in their marriage or partnership. And so, of course, they're feeling like their needs are not being met.
But, I ask in session and here with you now, do you know what your needs are? Why you have those needs? How have you expressed those needs to your partner? Those are the questions I dive into with my clients. Think: What could change if your partner truly understood the significance of certain needs, and if you had language for talking about them?
It's easy over time for your own wants, priorities, and enjoyments to get muddled with or by your significant other's. For many, it's a later wake up call when they're wondering why they're not feeling as happy as they could.
What Made You Happy Before? It's Easy to Let It Go.
It's likely that you had your own sources of happiness before your relationship. So where have those sources gone? What were they? Why are they no longer in the forefront? What have they been replaced by? A thorough examination of this natural shift that often takes place in long term coupling is really important. Re-orienting to where you seek and fulfill your own content is absolutely essential at regular intervals. There might even be something new you've been dreaming of but haven't had the guts to go outside of your relationship to do/try. What about that, too?
And if you didn't have your own sources of happiness before your relationship, I'd think that it's a great place to do some productive work on knowing yourself. Perhaps you've been primed to feel your own wants, needs, and desires weren't important. Perhaps you hold deep seeded beliefs about how much happiness and joy you really deserve. Perhaps you're harboring a scarcity mentality and reserving your ability to give yourself happiness. Whatever the reason, there's work to be done. And when you do that work, it will absolutely change how you relate to your partner.
The Higher the Expectations, The Lower Chance of Meeting Them
This is not a message about lowering your expectations so your partner will seem good enough in departments they're seriously falling short in. No. Rather, this has to do with the widespread tendency in today's partnerships to expect our marriages to fulfill all things for us. This is a perfectionist expectation. And an unrealistic one.
In ages past, people lived in communities that were much more social and intertwined. While couples had each other in marriage, they also had loads of other people -- family, friends, acquaintances -- to fill their cup during the day. These days, we tend to isolate into our nuclear families. Sure, we're on Facebook or Instagram, but that's not the definition of true connection. Married couples are less connected to other people and so look to each other to do it all.... make them laugh, listen to their stories, ask them the right questions, share the load, fulfill intimacy needs, and on and on.
It's no wonder that it's highly likely we'll experience dissatisfaction in one or more of those areas. And, if what Perel says is true and we divorce now because we can and because we believe we could be (and deserve to be) happier, then it's also no wonder many relationships decline. Especially as stressors like having children come on the scene (and no, children don't count as adult connections that fulfill our need to be seen, heard, and taken seriously).
Throughout this week I'll be continuing the conversation on partnerships and happiness. Stay tuned, and please be in touch if you could benefit from increased work in this area of your own life. Every initial phone consultation is free and confidential. I'd be honored to help.
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is the founder of Lauren Drago Therapy in Old Saybrook, CT and in
greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all". Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve by changing how they experience and understand their world. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Follow Lauren on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Call (860) 339-6515 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up your complimentary initial consultation.