The teamwork of a long-term relationship is fascinating. Perhaps nowhere in life is the fact that we are creatures of habit more obvious than in our relationship patterns. We not only become locked into habitual ways of interacting with each other, we even grow accustomed to perceiving each other in certain ways. These perceptions resist changing even when overwhelming data suggest that a fresh perspective would lead to a more accurate understanding of the other person and the relationship.
These perceptions and behavioral patterns constitute the relationship “contract” that organizes who you will be for each other and how you will live together as a couple. Several universal truths about relationships are worth noting:
- Your original relationship contract serves a very useful purpose. It helps you organize your behaviors and perceptions of each other in ways that allow you to join together to create a team that works.
- The original contract always relies on selective perception, wishful thinking, and well-intended but unrealistic hopefulness about who you will be in each other’s life. (My husband always figured I would be happy at home serving him unhealthy meals each evening regardless of his time of arrival. I always figured he would enjoy regular date nights, not consumed by work tasks and responsibilities. Surprise!)
- The quality of your relationship depends on your ability to “renegotiate” periodically the contract that organizes your perceptions, behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions to each other. (No willingness by either partner to “renegotiate” and you are in trouble…)
During the initial stage of romance, our thoughts, observations, fantasies, and conversations add clauses to a “contract” that organizes the relationship on both a behavioral and emotional level. Much of the “negotiation” of the initial relationship contract is done consciously. Many early days together are spent discussing likes, dislikes, past experiences, family dramas, emotional hurts and victories, dreams, future plans, and so forth. Such discussions shape images of what type of partner each of you wants and needs, given who you were and what your life experiences have been up to that point. If those discussions do not occur, it is not likely that the couple has a future in store.
In a state of infatuation, we all agree to be what our partner needs even if doing so means leaving some parts of ourselves out of the relationship. This can cause trouble for the relationship down the road… Ultimately each partner may grow resentful of losing parts of themselves that once mattered a great deal. (I always thought my husband would want to swim and dance as much as I did. He, in turn, assumed I could also spend hours each week during football season in front of the TV. Wrong!)
Stay tuned for more on what makes a marriage work…
Sotile, W. & Sotile, M. (1996). The Medical Marriage: A couple’s Survival Guide. Carol Publishing Group.