How to grow up together.
As someone who has been in a partnership for sixteen years and married for nearly ten, I know the struggles of a long term relationship. When you’re with someone for a long time, you begin to realize that the same things that brought you together won’t necessarily keep you together. This is why it’s important to grow up together in your relationship.
Immature vs. Mature Relationships
Early Stage Relationships
There are two kinds of relationships: immature relationships and mature relationships. Immature or adolescent relationships are primarily self-centered and based on short term gratification. In these relationships, we ask ourselves things like, “How can my partner make me feel good?” more often than, “How can I help my partner?”
This is usually the beginning stage of a relationship, the first six months or so, when we fall in love and our “feel good” chemicals are in high quantities. It’s always easy to be around each other because the relationship is new and feels good. You haven’t had time yet to develop deeper feelings, or look forward to a potential future in which compatibility issues may need to be addressed.
As a relationship continues, the needs of each partner grow with it. Unless both partners are willing to change with the relationship and shift from a “me-focused” to a “partnership-focused” perspective, the relationship will eventually begin to self-destruct.
In the Western world, and even in the personal growth world, there’s a lot of emphasis on the self. For example, the most common personal growth phrases point to our self-focused ideals: self-oriented, self-help, self-protection, self-discovery, self-growth, self-pleasure. The longer I’ve been with my partner, the more I’ve realized that our personal growth tools can’t work for our relationship as long as we remain focused solely on ourselves.
Becoming Partnership-Focused, Not Me-Focused
In order for a relationship to succeed, it’s important to sometimes sacrifice our immediate desires in favour of our relationship’s needs. When both partners feel like the relationship is being treated as a third entity, one that is actively tended to and not being sacrificed for individual whims and predilections, it is an indication that the relationship is moving from the immature stage into the mature stage.
However, I realize it’s not that simple. This is some seriously grey territory. Every couple has to hash this out over time by honestly asking themselves, “Am I taking the relationship, as a whole, into account as I make this decision or take these actions?” You must be willing to hear feedback about actions of yours that were viewed as selfish by your partner.
Let’s flesh this out with an example. It’s been a long day, and you come home dead-set on stepping into your yoga flow. But when you get home, you realize your partner is feeling really sad. You recognize that they need to connect and have a conversation, but you don’t want to give up your own agenda. What do you do?
When you’re only self-focused, it’s easy to dismiss your partner’s needs as less important than your own. But in a healthy partnership, you recognize that there’s a time and place to set aside your needs for the benefit of the relationship. While there’s value in self-care, fitness, and all these other things that prioritize yourself, it’s important to recognize when it’s time for self-care and when it’s time for relationship care.
Developing a Strong Inner Coach
This brings us to the concept of becoming your own inner coach. Taking the time to develop an inner voice who can challenge you and ask you hard questions will help you “grow up” into a healthier relationship.
Imagine your inner coach as someone who will help you take the proactive, vulnerable actions that every relationship needs to thrive. In the above example, your inner coach can challenge you. They can say something like, “You may not feel like listening right now, but you’ll feel better later and your relationship will be stronger because you did.” Remember, you’re in a long term relationship, so you’re playing the long game. Making a decision to sacrifice your short term desires for the benefit of your long term relationship will pay off in the future.
Other things a healthy inner coach can say include:
- Is there anything I did to contribute to this situation?
- What does my partner need at this moment?
- How can I help meet that need?
- I’m a human with blind spots and I can look at them, even when it’s uncomfortable.
- Making time for connection is worth it.
- My partner is worth this time and energy.
- Is there anything I’m avoiding?
These types of questions and reminders help you take a step back, getting out of your own cloud to better focus on your partner. Try to pay close attention to that helpful inner voice – its only goal is to ensure your relationship thrives.
Be Intentional About Connection
Above all else, “growing up” together is about taking the time to prioritize your relationship. Slow down. Make time for connection. Listen, and empathize with your partner. Be brave and communicate your needs, too; allow them to empathize with you.
A partnership is a dance of give-and-take, so as you intentionally prioritize connection and give your complete attention to your partner, your relationship will grow and flourish. You can have a thriving and empowered relationship when you’re committed to growing together. Trust me, the hard work is worth it. You’re in this for the long haul.
If you’d like help with developing a strong inner coach, book a free call.