One thing that is crucial to every intimate relationship is maintaining a strong sense of connection. When you’re truly connected with your partner, you feel secure, understood, and as if you could conquer the world together. But how do you maintain that connection in the midst of life’s inevitable stressors? The answer is different than what you may think, as it all comes down to supporting your partner in satisfying their own personal needs. As Tony says, a relationship is not a place you go to get, it’s a place you go to give – and when you focus on your partner’s needs as if they were your own, you’ll experience a level of connection and fulfillment that you have never experienced before.
I have the pleasure of working with couples as a counselor at LIFE Marriage retreats. One couple, Sam and Linda, have two young children. Sam works 12+ hours per day as a physician, and often arrives home tired and hungry. Linda wakes up multiple times a night with their seven-month-old son, and is busy managing their home. The little time they have together at the end of each day is spent bickering about who has done more, and who gets to take a break first. Their personal needs are not being met, and they blame one another for it. Instead of strengthening their connection, they are pushing each other further away at the unfortunate risk of losing their connection completely.
What happens when connection is lost? Unless it is addressed early, a common end-result of feeling disconnected is infidelity. Whether it is physical or emotional, infidelity is devastating and is an issue that we often help couples work through. From each afflicted couple I work with, the story is very much the same: “I felt lonely,” “I felt unwanted,” “I felt scared,” “You didn’t seem to care about me anymore.” While there is no excuse for being unfaithful, it becomes easy for one to justify infidelity when they feel alone, forgotten or neglected in the relationship.
MY NEEDS VERSUS YOUR NEEDS
If you have ever been on a plane, you know that in the event that the cabin pressure drops, you are supposed to put your own oxygen mask on first, and then help others – your children included. However, what would happen to your child if you were ill-prepared to even help yourself? If you’ve fumbled for too long to get your mask on, it may be too late to help. While we should take care of our own needs first, the key as a partner is to be in a constant state of readiness. Otherwise, you’ll both be scrambling simultaneously to meet your own needs and neglect one another’s.
In addition to being in a constant state of readiness, it is also important to make a distinction between wants and needs, as well as immediate and future needs. Just because you want something doesn’t mean that it is a need – and just because you have a need, doesn’t mean it is an immediate need. A great rule of thumb to follow is to make sure your immediate needs are regularly met so you can help to satisfy your partner’s needs as they arise.
HOW TO BE PROACTIVE
Like Sam and Linda, my wife and I have also had times of struggle in our relationship. We have four little boys – and as much as we love them, life only got harder with each new baby. We managed to get by for a while, but after the fourth, we hit a breaking point. We both felt overworked and overtired. The easiest thing to do was to point the finger and blame one another for being too selfish.
Ultimately, we realized that we each needed to be more proactive and take responsibility for our own needs. For instance, choosing to go to bed earlier on a regular basis made a big difference.. An earlier bedtime made it possible to wake up earlier than the kids, which allowed for more personal time to meditate, exercise, and plan for each day. Before long, we were both better rested and better prepared each day to take care of one another.
As Tony says, anticipation is power. That rings true in all areas of life, including your intimate relationships. If you have a plan in place to ensure that your own needs are consistently being met, you’ll be better prepared to tend to your partner’s needs when the connection starts to fade.