Looking at Your Marriage Through New Eyes
Marriage can be one of the most rewarding relationships in life. In this relationship, we can learn the most intimate details of our partner, and we have the opportunity to truly be known by the other. When couples start dating, everything is new and exciting. We work to learn about the other by asking questions, listening, and observing inquisitively. However, as time goes on and we think we "know" the other person so well that we start to fall into the trap of setting expectations and having assumptions about the other. When this happens, we run the risk of not listening to the other, not stepping out and trying new things, and losing touch as each partner continues to grow and change over the years.
We all have expectations of how a relationship or marriage should be or how a partner should act in the relationship. Many of these expectations build from the relationships we saw and experienced growing up. We saw the example of our parents or the parents or others and we experienced different relationships (parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.) that all guided our expectations of how people should treat one another in a close relationship. The problem comes when our expectations don't align with those of our partner. For example, if I have an expectation that men work outside the home and women work in the home, that might be fine if my partner shares that expectation, but not if she believes in having a career outside the home and sharing household duties. The problem worsens when these expectations are unspoken. When this happens, we keep the expectations internal and expect our partner to just "know." Then, when they behave outside of our expectation we can get angry or hurt, but again we keep it internal until it builds up and comes out in a fight. It is important to talk about how we were raised and our expectations in the relationship, realizing that this new relationship is co-created between the two partners and both will need to negotiate the new "rules" in the relationship.
Assumptions in a relationship are when you believe you know what your partner is going to do or say before you give them a chance to do so. This causes you and your partner to behave differently, either because you are trying to avoid conflict, or you are afraid of hurting your partner, or you just don't want to be let down again. While this might be an attempt to protect yourself in the relationship, it is actually making things worse. Assumptions are very powerful because they are easy to validate, you just have to see an example of your assumption working out as planned and you have confirmed its validity. However, this is likely not always the case. Where before you might have said something or done something and received a good response 30 percent of the time and a bad response 70 percent, you now have no chance of a positive or different response. You are actually limiting the possibilities in your relationship and denying the chance that you or your partner can change.
Remove the Filter
This can be an extremely difficult task, but try to remove some of these filters that you look at your partner and relationship through. It is like wearing sunglasses that are distorting your view and taking them off.
This week try to open your eyes to the possibilities in your relationship and don't accept the status quo. Try to react differently than you always do and engage your partner as you did when you first were dating. Look for new reactions rather that what you assume will happen and you might be suprised.
James McMillian, LCPC
Resolve - Counseling & Wellness
Prairie Village, KS