If you have ever said anything like, “we always do what you want to do”, or “when was the last time you actually took care of this instead of me” or “how many times have I told you x, y, or z” then you are doing it wrong. On the flip side, if your partner is the one saying things like this then it is time for the two of you to find the right kind of help to get you on the same side instead of working against each other. Couples counseling is a great way to learn new skills that will help you and your partner to get on the same team so that there are fewer arguments and you have a chance to rekindle intimacy that has disappeared.
Relationships are a team sport. It is you and your partner vs. the problem. There is no win-lose or lose-win in a relationship. You either win together by working as a team to communicate and problem solve or you both lose through distrust and miscommunication.
For example, Joe and Jenna are a couple I worked with who were struggling in their relationship because they were constantly blaming each other for problems and could not collaborate on any solutions. They were both working full-time and had divided household responsibilities like taking their two children to daycare during the week and taking care of things around the house on the weekends. They loved each other and were committed to staying together but had had intimacy problems for the past two years and were starting to argue and curse at each other in front of their children, something they swore that they would never do but couldn’t seem to stop.
Joe worked a flexible schedule and did most of the household and childcare work during the week and Jenna worked long hours all week and took over in the house on the weekends. Joe felt that he had earned ‘boy time’ on the weekends and would stay out late drinking with friends before sleeping in on Saturday and Sunday. Jenna got up early all week, worked from home in the evening, and then took care of the kids all weekend. When Jenna would ask Joe to watch the kids for a night so that she could go out with friends he would always agree, begrudgingly, and then anytime she asked for something additional he would say something like, ‘I am always doing extra so that you can have time for yourself’, or ‘but you went out with your friends last weekend’. To this Jenna would usually respond with something like, ‘you were hungover all day yesterday while I ran around with the kids and didn’t have a break’, or ‘you have gone out with your friends every weekend this month and I have only had one night to do things with my friends.’ There was no time set aside just for them to be together as a couple and neither of them really wanted to make that time because they felt resentful and defensive about their role in the household.
The more they argued the more defensive they became in believing they were ‘right’ and the other one was ‘wrong’.
They were confused when session after session I would not take sides and tell them who I thought was right and who was wrong. The answer was in listening to each other’s feelings and working together to collaborate and solve problems. Both Joe and Jenna had valid points and feelings but they were so wrapped up in defensiveness and resentment that neither could hear what the other had to say.
When your partner asks you to do something and your response involves a list of all the other times you have helped (keeping score), you are not proving anything except that you believe your feelings matter more than the other person’s. Instead of keeping score, what is truly needed is to hear the underlying feeling that is being expressed. Is your partner overwhelmed, burned out, anxious, tired, or feeling disconnected? Are your feelings so overwhelming that you do not have room to hear out your partner and find a way to help them?
Relationships, just like any great team, are built on trust, communication, and collaboration. When we commit to being part of a relationship it is critical to recognize what it takes to build success over time. If you are keeping score between you and your partner there will definitely be conflict and resentment.
There is no win-lose or lose-win when you are in a relationship. Either you both win or you both lose. This is something that even the best couples can work on and improve because when one person is trying to ‘keep score’ there is usually a price to pay. It is always you and your partner vs. the PROBLEM and not you against each other. If you find yourself sacrificing your needs to support your partner you better leave some gas in the tank because resentment and anger will negatively impact the relationship just like it did for Joe and Jenna.
When one partner needs to be right all of the time or cares more about themself than the health of the relationship it can lead to big time trouble. When you are in a relationship you not only have to take care of yourself but also the relationship as its own living and breathing self. Oftentimes, partners feel overwhelmed by their relationship responsibilities and start to blame their partner for being ‘needy’ rather than realizing that it is not their partner who is asking for love and attention but the relationship itself. Both Joe and Jenna were strong individuals managing a lot on their own but for a reason they could not understand their relationship was crumbling. They did not need a scorekeeper to tally who was winning or losing. Instead they needed to listen to each other, acknowledge the other person’s feelings, and then come up with a plan to support each other differently so that they both felt more understood and their relationship had an opportunity to heal. When we feel defensive, we withdraw. When we feel safe and listened to, we become more comfortable reaching out to our partner.
So, instead of asking yourself how you can get what you want or need by any means necessary, it is important to recognize how you and your partner can work together to address issues. By working together you lighten the load and build something stronger. It may take more investment to communicate effectively to your partner instead of working solo but that time and energy pays for itself in improved intimacy, burden sharing, and fewer fights and arguments. After all, you picked your partner for a reason, so if they aren’t your teammate then who are they?
Looking forward to working you!