Couples come together because they are individuals. We begin to like one another and seek common experiences, thoughts, feelings, and so on. We look for sharing. The best in intimate relationships provides intimacy and safety.
But then we start building a “we”. Every couple makes their own unique decisions about how that interdependence will work. For some, you’ll want to do everything together. Your individual, separate lives diminish and become less important. For others, you’ll want broader latitude to continue your lives as individuals, and repeat the earlier dynamic of discoveries by coming together as separate individuals and then share and discover each other from that ground.
Wherever you draw the lines, there must be a balance that works for the two of you. There must be some version of safety and intimacy and a version of interdependence. This is the relationship part. Sometimes you prioritize the shared good, rather than the individual good in that moment. Willingness to put aside your individual priorities in balance to the sharedness of the relationship can be helpful.
However, if the relationship requires you to choose between yourself, your partner, or the relationship, all healthy people will eventually choose themselves. Eventually. Always.
In couple’s therapy, I often see that individuals have sacrificed themselves for their partner or their partnered selves. At this crisis point, partners have often given everything they’re willing to give to the other or the relationship and there’s nothing left for understanding and compromise - the hard work of couple’s counseling.
The seeds of the end were planted long long ago. Anyone who takes more than their share in the relationship or who allows their partner to sacrifice too much is laying the groundwork for the end. A healthy partner will eventually choose themselves, as they must.
Partners should have ongoing conversations about how their intimacy and safety are developing. Talk about how “I” and “we” are doing. These conversations are important investments if you want your partnership to go the distance. Ensuring that your partner rarely has to choose between themselves and the relationship is one of the best ways to protect your future.
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