In her landmark book Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel shares how the history of marriage has changed the canvas of relationships. “Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the concept of romantic love brought together the concepts of marriage and passion together for the first time. Over the past fifty years, social and cultural transformations have been taking place – and now more recently at a record pace. With the advent of post war prosperity and unmatched freedom and a sense of individualism has also created a growing insecurity.” As people are told they can be whomever they want and live where they want, many people began to uproot themselves in a way that took them away from their social support, family and ‘traditional institutions that provided order, meaning, social support and continuity.’ These same systems provided the emotional support they relied on – meaning many people, beyond their partner or spouse, provided the emotional support they needed. However, as people moved away from that, they became the party of ‘we’, creating unachievable and lofty expectations on their relationship.
Yet the paradox of this is a lack of social support and meaning that has also created greater anxiety and insecurity in people. Where once people had a community and support to help them in times of needed, an overly dependence on relationships has evolved. We have started to turn to our partners and spouses to be our ‘soul mates’, our ‘everything’ – we depend on them to a level that is realistically unachievable. We have come to depend on them for our emotional support, to help us feel less alone, and to provide 24/7 companionship – at the very minimum. As Perel states, “It is not that our human insecurity is greater today than in earlier times. In fact, quite the contrary may be true. What is different is that modern life has deprived us of our traditional resources and has created a situation in which we turn to one person for the protection of emotional connections that a multitude of social networks used to provide. Relationships have become a panacea of expectations.”
This is important: the creation of lofty expectations. Who could live up to that? That’s a lot of pressure to put on another person – and, for me, something that I would never be able to live up to.
5 Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship
1.) Cultivate healthy relationships with others outside of your relationship. Spend time with friends, join organizations of interest, or take up a new hobby. Life outside of your relationship provides an opportunity to explore options and a conversation starter when you return home. The relationships you create with other people become important resources that you can turn to in times of need.
2.) Autonomy. Learn how to spend time alone and, even better, learn how to embrace it. Giving yourself solo time provides a sense of calmness and strength knowing you can rely on yourself to figure things out. It’s also during these times that we become resourceful and curious about life. Having a strong sense of self both outside and inside of the relationship creates a healthy balance and helps better the dependency you may have in your relationship.
3.) Remember that independence is sexy. This plays off of #1 in the best way. You are your own person – don’t let being in a relationship change that. What’s not to like about seeing your spouse or partner engaging in activities or spending time with other friends to recognize he/she is a strong person and knows how to take care of herself?
4.) Release the pressure. When a person feels that they are the only source of support, happiness, love, and connection they can quickly feel overwhelmed. It’s enormous pressure. Don’t be afraid to step back and find other sources that can relieve some of the stress you’re putting on your significant other. Talk to friends, family, online communities – there are a number of options that you can use beyond your significant other.
5.) Space and the long haul. It’s not uncommon for people to become attached at the hip in the beginning of love – it’s the honeymoon stage we all know and love. We crave the closeness and certainty to take away our inner angst. However, over time, creating the distance and space is where the relationship really thrives. When we distance ourselves (in a healthy way) from our partner, we create the space that relationships need to survive in the long run. Too much togetherness or enmeshment feels and eventually becomes confining.
Relationships thrive and grow when both people demonstrate intention, attention, and show up – everyday. They also require that each person be their own person in order to strengthen the couple as a whole. Find the balance between expectations and standing alone as an individual.
Original blog posted on Soulspring.org
Related Links: 6 KeyTraits of a Healthy Relationship