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“It’s such hard work. I resent having to always stop and think what my spouse is feeling or thinking. I totally get that whole “ball and chain theory.”
This is from a client (used with permission) who has been married for quite some time and obviously feeling restricted.
It’s common for couples to become out of step with each other due to the balancing act of being a separate person and part of a union at the same time.
Maintaining a sense of being independent, while depending on someone else, and being there for someone else to depend on, can be confounding at times, but is a crucial part of all healthy relationships.
Please note that codependency is an entirely separate topic and beyond the scope of this article.
Difficulties that can inhibit a healthy interdependent/independent balance:
- Perhaps one spouse (or both) had to fight for his or her own wants and needs throughout childhood.
- Perhaps doting parents never taught one spouse (or both) how to think of others, encouraging self-absorption instead.
- Perhaps there was something else in one spouse’s life (or both) that inhibited him/her from learning the balancing dance of interdependence.
When the line between independence and interdependence is unbalanced, it can feel restrictive, unnatural and oppressive. On the other hand, it can feel lonely, dismissive and uncaring depending on where the line has been drawn.
What to do to make sure both partners feel happy?
The bad news is that there is no easy answer.
Each couple needs to find their “sweet spot” where both partners feel equally free, yet equally supported and unified at the same time.
Maintaining this sweet spot is a dynamic dance. It flows differently throughout marriage as diverse events require spouses to learn and unlearn the best ways of being there for each other.
The good news is that this dance can be kept in balance in a way that will keep both partners satisfied.
Issues in finding the sweet spot:
- Perhaps one partner is stuck in the “my way or the highway” mode.
- Perhaps one partner is needier than the other.
- Perhaps “playing well with others” is not something that was a learned skill.
- Perhaps spending time with people who are not supportive of the marriage leaves one spouse feeling torn in different directions.
- Perhaps there have been past issues that have not been worked through – either in or prior to the marriage.
- Perhaps the balance has swung too far in one direction, caused damages, and is not swinging back far enough into the other direction in order to create healing.
This is not a time to point fingers. Rather look at yourself and see if any of these issues are coming up. It’s your partners job to regulate him or herself.
So, what’s the fix?
When problems come up in becoming successfully interdependent, it’s the most helpful to create some space from all the feelings for a moment and begin reflecting on why the two of you are together in the first place.
Reflect on this:
- If today was your last day to spend with each other, what would you do or say differently?
- What decisions wouldn’t matter so much if today was the only time you had to enjoy the person that dedicated his or her life to being your partner through life?
- What experience do you want your partner to have as having you as their spouse? How can you better offer them that experience?
- What are you grateful to each other for?
- Ask yourself if you are approaching your marriage from a point of humility and gratitude?
- Are you truly feeling stifled, or have you slipped into selfishness? Are you taking your spouse for granted?
- Are you putting other people, places or things ahead of your spouse in your list of highest values or priorities?
These questions, when answered from the heart, will help get back to the love you have for each other and clarify what each partner may have to do to put the marriage back in the forefront.
Upon taking some time in reflection, together and alone, you can then gently explore what will be in each other’s best interests and for the marriage, while keeping both spouse’s feelings as being equally important.
There is no right or wrong because you are both right about your own feelings.
Both of you deserve to feel as if you are winning what you need from the other.
It may be something you can work through together, or it might take professional help. This is a very common relationship issue, and exceptionally fixable, so keep hope.
When you and your spouse learn how to stay in step with each other, in a way that respects both interdependence and independence, it will become a joy instead of a burden.
No longer, “the ball and chain” to each other, but beloved life partners – with the key word being “partners”.
*The definition of interdependence from Dictionary.com is people, animals, organizations or things depending on each another, such as the relationship between a manager and his employees.