This entry (part 1 of 2) is about unrealistic expectations we impose on the role our spouses are supposed to play in our relationship.
We all have a fantasized, idealized version of the human being we want to spend the rest of our life with. There is nothing wrong with that, and it is even healthy. We are all entitled to have the image of our perfect partner in all dimensions of life. We all deserve to be happy with them. And as we forge our way through the ups and downs of life, it is perfectly fine for us all to think about what kind of partner we need by our side, to complement and complete us. We should all have some idea of what we want and need in life, and what our standards are. But this can quickly slip into very unrealistic expectations to which we adhere too rigidly, and which we try to impose on ourselves and on them.
In a previous entry, I talked about the importance of trying to find happiness from within first. Your expectations and ideals are also part of your mental world, what you carry within, and it is not always fair to expect others to simply conform to those expectations.
I am not of those people who think that relationships can just work on their own, just because you “click” or because you “found the one,” or whatever else they are feeding the masses in novels and movies. If you want a real relationship, with a deep and strong connection between the two of you, then you are both going to have to work at it, and recalibrate regularly for it to be something close to a “good relationship.”
To a large extent, many of the woes couples face are the result of their social and cultural upbringing and environment which provide a distorted image of the spouse and their role in a relationship. Movies, novels, and even family and friends feed an idealistic image of the perfect spouse who will be the provider of all that is needed in life, in all aspects and dimensions. And sometimes, we are the source of the problem as well, for all sorts of reasons.
For instance, you may have had lacks or issues up to that point in your life, because of the way you were raised. Or because of specific traumatic experiences you may have had in life. Or because you are easily influenced by what those around you tell you about their own lives and views… whatever the reason we end up wanting our partner to make up for all of that was missing and fix all that is broken with us.
The list goes on, but here a few that seem to come back again and again:
religious and spiritual leader
It always astonishes me when people take their spiritual and religious education from people who have not studied these matters formally. It does not matter whether you come from a good religious family or that you perform more acts of worship than the average members of your community. When you talk about any aspect of Islam, you either received some formal education from a recognized authority in the matter or you didn’t. If you didn’t, your opinion is simply that, a personal opinion, and does not represent any formal religious position or teaching. This is true in the community in general, but it is also very true in couples and families, where the man, but sometimes the woman, often starts taking the role of religious guide or spiritual master, simply for being head of the household. Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. I may sound elitist about this, but there are simply too many fabrications and distortions and lies about our religion that are caused by this lack of standards and lack of recognition of the specialization needed to speak on behalf of religion… you spouse is not your source of religious and spiritual guidance simply because they are your spouse.
You have issues. You were bullied by the kids at school; your mother didn’t hug you enough; your father is not proud of you; you have very evil co-workers who are involved in an intergalactic conspiracy with alien species against you, to make you look bad and prevent you from getting the promotions you so well deserve; you had jealous half-sisters who mistreated you and forced you to stay behind with the mice and clean the house while they went to a party to try to marry prince charming… whatever it is, you can certainly talk about it with your life partner and expect them to be interested and engaged and listen actively, attentively, and respectfully, and provide support as they know how to give. But they are not professional therapists, and no everyone knows what it means to be a good listener. Not everyone knows that sometimes, when you talk, you simply want to be heard, and don’t necessarily need a solution. Not everyone knows that the kind of patience and communication skills needed to get you to pour your heart out and feel good at the end of it so that life goes on. This is not a skill that people just acquire simply because they are now in a relationship with someone…
I would certainly hope that you spouse is your best friend. But this is my personal way of viewing a successful relationship between spouses. And to a large degree, this also depends on how you define friendship, and whether you want that kind of relationship with your spouse, and whether your spouse feels the same way about it. What is sure, though, is that this will not happen automatically either.
Whether you should combine personal and professional matters is a good topic for debate, and one that I do not intend to address here. But no one becomes a good business partner because they are now in a relationship with you…
I personally consider this one very important, because of the importance I give to continuous intellectual growth. People who do not grow everyday just go through the motions of life and have nothing to contribute to anything. They work, they shop, they talk, they watch TV, they sleep, they keep themselves busy with some hobby (that is usually intentionally time-consuming, as well money-consuming if they have that luxury)… but none of it really seems to carry any lasting meaning beyond their little bubble. If you happen to be that kind of person, and you happy and content with it, and you happen to be in a relationship with a person who is also like you in this regard, then it ain’t broken, so don’t try to fix it. My experience, however, has been that usually people are more intellectual and cerebral than they show, but they do nothing about it because it is a lot of work and not always rewarding to read Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Amartya Sen, Jurgen Habermas… sometimes they feel the little spark dying and turn to their life partner to blow some life back into it. But that is often a mistake, unless the partner is sharing the same feeling. If you are feeling the need for some intellectual stimulation, then it is you who have to find the effort, the time… the people who will provide it for you. Do not let your partner’s lack of interest in the academic and intellectual approach deter you from pursuing it further yourself. This streak is part of what makes you you; it builds feeds your way of seeing and interpreting the world, and is part of what your partner loves about you. (Just don’t overdo it too suddenly and at the expense of other important things, i.e. If you start spending all the little free time you have alone at the library and away from your spouse, you may creating a new, bigger problem…)
personal life coach
We all have plans, and dreams, and ambitions. And life is tough. And work is tiring, and things get in the way of your plans, and next thing you know, you’re sitting on the sofa for hours every night, surrounded by snacks, staring at TV, instead of progressing in your plans one tiny step at a time. We all need something to keep us disciplined, focused, and motivated. We all need a way to know when it’s time to take a breather and relax, and reassess the situation, and when it’s time to plough through the obstacles like a bulldozer. If you happen to have life partner who can play that role on a regular basis, then good for you. But people don’t just turn into Tony (Anthony) Robbins and start teaching how to Awaken the Giant Within because they are your spouse and must now intuitively know when you need a dose of motivation – and even if they do know, they may be completely useless at it. You have to know what you motivation you need, and find a way to get it. You must own that, and simply can’t rely on your spouse to provide it.
This one is a little more complicated to explain, and I have a lot to say about it. But for the purposes of this entry…: not everyone is going to be romantic, or romantic according to your standards and definition. Some partners are going to be too lazy, too exhausted, too uncomfortable, too incompetent… to show you romanticism like you want it and when you want it. Not everyone will be able to write you poems and say all the right things at the right time (in fact most people will not be able to, and if they can, it may not be sustained, year in year out…). There is no unique definition of what romanticism looks like. It comes in all sorts of degrees, and forms. So as the receiver, teach yourself to actively look for it in every little gesture, every word, every look, every thought, and you will see that it is oftentimes a lot more present in your life than you think. After all, we are all human beings, and we need to express love just like we need to receive. We simply don’t always do it to the same degree and in the same manner…
But in addition, keep in mind that this is a two way street, and that you can certainly trigger some of the spark yourself. And it often doesn’t require too much on your part, and it goes a long way in creating lasting feelings and memories. This is one area where I would insist to keep working at, in your own gentle and loving way, for as long as it takes, so that you two become the exclusive sources of romance in each others’ lives…
see Part 2 of this entry for the second half.