In One Way or Another, this Reader Question Has Popped up Several Times in My Work with Clients:
Exactly What Kinds of Behavior Changes are Needed When You Enter a Committed Romantic Relationship?
Do I have to give up my separate bedroom when I finally settle down? I always thought the ideal marriage was one where both spouses respected each other’s need for space….even separate travel, when desired?
What thoughts or care should be taken into account of you when in a relationship that are not when you are single? (Like talking to exes, flirting, making travel plans without considering your spouse, or….?)
Do I have to stay home with the little ones? I assume day care will be the way we raise our kids….I mean my partner wouldn’t want me turning into a bored housewife, right? I was raised in day care and I came out just fine!
How much of a recreational partner can I expect her to be? I always dreamed of a marriage to a real buddy to hike, play tennis, watch the game with…..That’s something we never talked about, but I think she’ll want to give that to me!
You Find Out By Talking about the Emotional Contract!
THE TALKING SKILL IN COUPLE DEVELOPMENT: The real answer to all of these inquiries? You and your partner get to decide….but the point is, you must actively decide, and decide together. Why is this so important? Because if we do not learn the tools to talk though and negotiate (and renegotiate again and again) that emotional contract between us, all we do is carry around a bunch of unchecked expectations (year after year) in the relationship. Without these “talking sessions,” where we make the emotional contract assumptions explicit, and get them out on the table for discussion, we can get stuck in all kinds of “this-shouldn’t-be-this-way;-it-should-be-that-way” pain. That kind of ongoing, un-dealt-with dissatisfaction leads to anxiety-provoking habitual thoughts, connection-crushing emotional reactivity, and destabilizing acting out.
This Talking Skill is Utilized in many of Psychology Today‘s “Top 10 Ways to Have Better Relationships!”
Three of the “Top 10,” according to author, Dr. Nikki Martinez, Psy.D., LCPC
Don’t avoid the tough topics. It is essential that you are willing to tackle the tough topics, especially early on, so that they are cleared up and will not cause issues in the future. There are heavy issues like faith, finances, and family involvement that will erode any relationship if you do not come to an agreement and understanding about how these issues will be dealt with in the relationship.
Do not refuse to compromise. We all have our own sets of beliefs, values, and morals. There is nothing wrong with having strength of our personal choices, but we cannot expect our partner to follow our path exactly. They have their own set of beliefs, values and morals. Sometimes the two are not the same, and the couple needs to find a common or mid-ground that they can each live with.
Do not have unrealistic expectations for your partner. We all have a “perfect” image in our minds of what a partnership is, and usually they is pretty far from reality. Adjust your expectations to be realistic and fair. If you do not take this hard look at yourself, and make this change, you are setting your relationship up for disappointment, and you partner for letting you down when they have done nothing wrong.
Talks About the Emotional Contract Need to Happen at Every Phase of the Relationship!
“MR. & MS. IDEAL,” THE PSYCHIC WALLPAPER WE HAVE HANGING AROUND OUR RELATIONAL EXPECTATIONS: It’s always a good time to make the elements of our emotional contracts more explicit, whether we’re just musing about our future one-&-only, just starting a relationship and only beginning to feel the edges of that emotional contract forming, or we’ve spent years avoiding those discussions about expectations and dreams that that we brought into our current union. It’s clarifying to identify those “Mr. & Ms. Ideal” fantasies we carry into our most important relationship, talk about them, grieve the aspects of them that are unrealistic or dangerous, and celebrate the parts of them that help us find some of the wonders in our significant other! Then these “relationship story lines” in our imagination get integrated into our real choices, in helpful ways. We are clearer about the difference between healthy and unhealthy expectations of our partner.
Here’s an audio clip from THE RELATIONSHIP DOCTOR on THE SIMPLE TRUTH show, where wonderful host, Davietta Washington, forwarded me a listener’s question on this very topic…
Let’s see where her “Mr. Ideal” fantasy needed to be identified, before it started to grow roots in an emotional contract in her future: