Partnership & Marriage: How Invested are You?

“There’s a light at the end of this tunnel you shout, cuz you’re just as far in as you’ll ever be out.”– Anna Nalick “Breathe”

The appeal of eclecticism is that we can borrow concepts and apply them to completely unrelated disciplines in ways that help us gain a deeper understanding. My wife is an accountant. She taught me how to do a cost/benefit analysis. I learned to consider how much investment is being made and what the potential risks and rewards are. I came away with an ongoing question to ask myself about any new endeavor: what am I willing to put into it and what do I expect to get from it?

We tend to be very mindful of how we invest our money and resources. Less so with our time, our support, and the work we put into maintaining connection with others. All of us want reciprocity and mutual needs fulfillment. Our downfall is in all that remains unspoken.

Our greatest investments are the ones that tend to have the least amount of clarity. We enter partnerships and marriages with romantic notions and unspoken expectations. We are intuitive people. We sense the needs and desires of those we love and fulfill them without being asked. Our frustration is that they do not respond in kind. We fear asking for what we want and need and so we wait with growing frustration for them to figure it (us) out.

What we truly want is to be shown love in exactly the ways that we show love. In this way we make love conditional.  If you truly love me, then you would… There was a time when I saw such reasoning as a set of ideals to strive toward. Today I see it as the very essence of codependency.

I’m convinced that 90% of all relational problems would disappear immediately if we each had a willingness to simply and directly say to each other what we want, need, and feel. That much vulnerability may be terrifying but it’s a great investment. Miscommunication would largely become a thing of the past.

But instead of opening ourselves up we hint, allude, and becoming increasingly resentful that they don’t get us.  It’s simple – we want to be understood while we hide who we really are.

There’s a critical juncture in a romantic relationship in which we stop trying to change each other. This is either a point of acceptance of a point of resignation. Maybe we didn’t even realize that we were trying to change each other. Maybe we had very good intentions. It just didn’t work.

This is where we choose – settle for how things are, separate, or choose to reinvest. Most of us get hung up on how much we’ve already invested and how displeased we are with the results. Staying stuck in that means our choices get made by default.

It’s like buying stock. You buy it because it seems like a good investment, but instead of going up in value it goes down. It’s disappointing but you tell yourself it’ll get better. Then it doesn’t. The day comes when you’re really unhappy with how low it’s gone but you tell yourself, “I can’t sell it now, I’d be taking too much of a loss!”

Except it’s an illusion – you’ve experienced a loss whether you sell it or not. Maybe it comes back, maybe it goes further down. Ultimately it’s always easiest to do nothing and hope it comes back. Just like love, the “spark” and good sex.

Some of us go to couples counseling or a weekend retreat. Some of us complain and commiserate with friends over a little too much wine. Some of us have affairs, episodes or depression, and/or a midlife crisis.  Most of us just become progressively distant and wonder silently, “Is this all there is? Is there nothing more?”

Science fiction great Robert Heinlein speculated in one of his stories that marriage licenses ought to expire every five years. Instead of making a commitment once and for all; he felt that it should be a conscious decision that we continue to choose each other. I concur.

I’m a dreamer. Over 25 years ago I married a pragmatist. Ask my wife how to have the partnership you want and she’ll tell you, “Relationships are work. Do the work.” The work is most often attaining a deeper understanding of the person each of us is becoming and finding ways to be more fully supportive of each other.

23 years ago she asked me, “Why the hell can’t you just ask me for what you want?” Smart lady. Solid advice. So I do. You can too.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in assisting people in recovery (whether from drugs, alcohol, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles and improve their quality of life.