Unbalanced Relationship Some feel they put more of themselves into the relationship than the other. How do they bring back balance? BY DR. SCOTT HALTZMAN
Do you feel like you're doing more in your relationship than your spouse?
Why do I feel Iím doing more for the relationship than my partner is?
The holidays are over, and youíre looking at the mounds of wrapping paper surrounding your mate, then you examine your own paltry ashtray full of tissue paper. "Thatís not fair!" you tell yourself, "Iím tired of being the only one to give in this relationship, when do I get?"
This scenario doesnít just happen over the holidays. If youíre sensing thereís an imbalance between what you give and what you get in the marriage, then itís probably a feeling that is with you all year long. Itís easy for me to explain away this problem by simply saying, "This is because you are so much more loving and thoughtful than your partner, and your mate is much more ignorant and uncaring than you."
Maybe that is the case. But before you jump to conclusions, consider the possibility that your partner sees him or herself as giving plenty to the relationship. He or she may also believe thereís an imbalance, but concludes itís because youíre not pulling your weight!
The Cause of Relationship Imbalance
Two elements contribute to relationship imbalance: keeping score and differences in individual needs.
Letís look first at scorekeeping. Early in your relationship you didnít consciously keep track of who was giving what. Back then, you were so excited that that attractive soul was interested in you that just being together counted for more than any individual act on his or her part. Also, during courting, you tended to give your mate the benefit of the doubt, and every effort to make you happy was appreciated. If he gave you yellow roses (even though you love white) you were happy; if she bought you tickets to a Guns Ní Roses concert even though you preferred Jimmy Buffet, you were thrilled.
During the introductory period, you looked at wrongly-chosen gifts and attention as ways to learn more about your partner, not as an automatic judgment of how well they knew you. By the time your official courting days ended and you decided to tie the knot, your unconscious scorekeeper lead you to the impression that you were getting a lotóand you planned on having it stay that way until "death do us part."
As the relationship proceeds, the scorekeeping becomes more conscious and often appears to be more out of balance. One reason your partner seems to come up short is because once people tie the knot, they do focus less on doing things specifically to please their mate. Itís normal, of course, for some courting behaviors to dip once the wedding bells toll, but thoughtfulness shouldnít disappear off the face of the earth! In fact, in most marriages the giving doesnít stop. So if thereís a fair amount of generosity on both sides, why does it seem like the giving well has dried up?
The reason is because of assumptions about who your partner is and what your partner needs. When you give truckloads of the things you value, you wonder why your partner doesnít appreciate it and doesnít reciprocate. That may be because youíre giving what you would like to have and not what your partner wants or needs. After settling down, if he continues to give her yellow roses on a daily basis, she begins to feel neglected because he should know she likes the white ones; if she arranges for him to go on the road and follow a Guns Ní Roses tour, he feels irritated because itís not meaningful to him.
Each partner makes a gesture, saying to themselves: "I give and giveÖ" and receives by reflecting: "Iím not getting what I want." As couples proceed day in and day out, they start to tally up what is owed to them and see that their partners are coming up woefully short.
The imbalances occur over many more issues than simply roses or rock bands. One partner may spend hours cleaning up the house spotlessly (as a gesture of love) and the other partner may not even notice. Another partner may stay at work and earn extra money for the family (as a gesture of love) and may arrive to a mate whoís annoyed that dinner was delayed. Not only doesnít the extra income "count" as giving to the relationship, itís actually seen as detracting from the marriage.
Solving the Imbalance
The problems can be solved, though, with a few steps to get the scales adjusted.
1. Focus less on keeping score, and more on maintaining the relationship as a partnership. Remember, youíre both on the same team, and the goal is to keep it moving in the right direction.
2. Be open to the things that your partner is giving you as gifts that you may not have appreciated before. Your mate may be making a contribution in ways you may not notice, such as suggesting a better tie to go with that shirt, fixing something around the house, making doctorís appointments for you or just sitting by your side when youíre blue.
3. Look for what your partner wants from you to show love. (Hint: it may be the things he or she does for you.) If you can learn what your mate values, then you have a better chance of knowing what to give. Once you figure it out, donít hold back, even though itís something that you wouldnít value yourself.
4. Donít expect your better half to be able to read your mind. If you want certain thingsólike red roses rather than whiteólet him or her know. Be ready to experience some slip-ups along the way, as old habits are hard to break. But donít be frustrated, and continue to be clear about the things that you value; eventually youíll start getting more of it.
5. When you make a mental list of needs and wants, include the following: "to see my mate happy." That way, even when it seems like your partner is getting all the good presents on the holidays, you can still take some pleasure with his or her joy.
If you struggle with feeling like you get the short end of the stick, in most cases you can work to get things back in balance. Thatís something that both of you want.
Dr. Haltzman is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University. He is also the author of the newly released "The Secrets of Happily Married Women: How to Get More Out of Your Relationship by Doing Less." You can find Dr. Haltzman at www.DrScott.com