I used to joke with my wife that ‘if only you’d lower your expectations I could be the man of your dreams’. Cute right? Not that there aren’t character issues that I need to work on, but according to this article by F. Diane Barth, L.C.S.W., I may have been on to something:
A colleague sent me a copy of a recent study that addresses the question. In it, a group of psychologists from Northwestern University and the University of Chicago say the problem may not be in the relationship, but in our expectations. If you are in a relationship that, like Tony and Wendy’s, looks good from the outside but seems to be crumbling from the inside, your own expectations and your partner’s may be at least partly to blame. Instead of making you feel good about yourself, if your marriage is destroying your self-esteem, these authors suggest again that you look at your own and your partner’s goals for the partnership.
The authors of the study say that the major problem with most marriages today has to do with a shift in what we look for from the person we plan to live with till death do us part.
Whereas in the past marriage was primarily expected to provide for physical care and satisfaction, today couples look to their partners to provide much more. Contemporary spouses are expected to facilitate one another’s psychological, emotional, social, personal and professional growth. A happy marriage, this research tell us, is one in which a couple feel physically and emotionally safe and get their physical and social needs taken care of. But even more important, these authors say, is our need for our life partners to support our life goals. We want to be someone who understands and backs us as we develop into the person we want to be.
Here’s the problem. You and your spouse may genuinely love and respect one another. But whether one or both of you is working full time or whether one of you is home taking care of children, a modern life style does not provide a lot of spare time or energy for carefully making sure you are bot feeling good about yourselves. More likely, when you do see each other, the first thing you think to say is to complain about the things you each feel the other hasn’t gotten done, or hasn’t done right.
Your feelings get hurt and you hurt back in retaliation, when what you both really want is someone to say what a good job you’ve done and how hard you’ve been working. These are what the authors of the study call “high altitude needs” of contemporary relationships; and they say that because most relationships are operating on this higher emotional level while at the same time we are so busy and overwhelmed with all of our life tasks and goals, we feel deprived of the emotional “oxygen,” or support and nurturing, that they both need and expect from a partner.
There is good news, though! First of all, if this is how you are feeling, there is a good chance that your partner is feeling the same way. Hard as it may be to empathize with one another, if you can simply recognize that you both need more nurturing, admiration, and respect, you might find some oxygen spontaneously returning to your relationship.
Talking about your goals and your expectations, your hopes and aspirations – not just in your marriage, but in all aspects of your life—can help. Give each other legitimate (not phony) credit and praise. Be honest about things you admire about one another. Surprisingly, even expressing feelings of envy for something your spouse does better than you can have a positive effect, since that kind of envy is also an expression of admiration.
Make sense to you? Please share your thoughts below…