Romantic relationships are almost never straightforward, and all of them involve some degree of confusion, conflict and compromise. But the most common characteristic of unhappy relationships seems to be the struggle. When you listen to people talk about their relationships, the ones in jeopardy usually include the words struggle, trying, working, as in ‘we’re working on making it better’. And while relationships do take effort and working on them can make them better, the fight for happiness is often futile. Why? It’s not because two people are not destined to be together or because real love doesn’t take any work. It’s because all too often, we’re fighting against each other instead of working together.
Many people unknowingly end up fighting for different goals and against each other because instead of trying to give the relationship what it needs, they are trying to get what they need. If both partners are trying to get what they need, they are going to be fighting against each other and inevitably seeing their partner as the obstacle to their happiness, as the very thing that is stopping them from getting what they want, in other words, the enemy.
Usually this evolves as a subconscious process when partners find their vulnerabilities and needs exposed in an intimate relationship. Whatever issues and needs from their past, including childhood, adolescence and past relationships, have been unresolved, we subconsciously seek to resolve those issues and get our needs met in our intimate relationship. The longer we go without resolving these issues, the more urgent our needs become, to the degree that we can easily end up ignoring the needs and even the well-being of the person we love most. If our partner is doing the same thing, it becomes a struggle for survival.
Many of us are afraid to do this because we are afraid we will be taken for granted, used, and rejected, and never get our own needs met. We feel we need to stand up and fight for what we want. And the reason we are afraid is lack of trust. We are afraid that our partner is not going to give us what we need. For many people, that is because we never got what we needed when we were growing up. But once you recognise and accept that the hurt and fear you feel is a response to the past, not the present, you can respond to your partner as an adult, with calm and rational love and trust. It is a choice. You can choose how you want to respond.
The beauty of giving in a relationship instead of trying to get is that if both of you are participating, you will both not only give to each other but you will both also get what you need. Say, for example, that you end up arguing with your wife because she’s upset that you’re late coming home. The truth is that you’re afraid that she’s going to become controlling, just like your mother was to your father, but your fear causes you to get angry. By focusing on giving, instead of getting, you can avoid arguments, support your partner, and get what you need, whether that’s understanding, respect, space, attention or affection. It takes awareness, love, trust and courage, but it’s the way to build a happier relationship. Here’s how:
1. Become aware of what your needs are. Figure out why you get angry and what you feel you’re missing. Here’s a hint: It probably has nothing to do with your partner. It usually goes back to unmet childhood needs. After all, your parents were probably struggling with their own issues as well.
2. Let yourself be vulnerable. Find a time when you’re both feeling calm and relaxed and then tell your partner what you need. Even though they love you and know you, they can’t read your mind. Admitting that you need to feel admired or that you need to feel safe isn’t easy. But we all need something. We all need love and respect and comforting and security. There’s nothing wrong with that.
3. Give it. Once you both know what the other person needs, don’t judge or criticise. We’re all different and need different things. So now just focus on trying to give your partner what they’ve told you they need. If your wife says she feels abandoned when you don’t call, then call her. If your husband says he feels loved when you appreciate his DIY, pay him a compliment.
4. Trust. This is the hard part. Trust that you don’t have to fight for what you want. You don’t have to get angry or criticise or nag or give someone the silent treatment or getpassive-aggressive or defensive. These tactics are all based on fear. Just trust that your partner will try their best to give you what you need. All you need to do is accept.
5. Show appreciation. When you do get what you need, express your gratitude. Notice when your wife doesn’t say a word about the way you’ve hung the cupboards crooked or when your husband calls you at work to say he misses you. Noticing your partner’s efforts goes a long way to making them feel loved.
A healthy relationship doesn’t involve just giving of course. There needs to be a balance between giving and receiving. If only one of you is giving and the other is doing all the receiving, the relationship is not going to work.
But if your relationship is based on mutual love and trust, you can help to eliminate the frustration, resentment and hostility that drive your compulsion to either give too much or take too much. If you allow yourself to be vulnerable, let your guard down and ask for what you want, you can support each other and both get and give the love you need.