The vast majority of romantic relationships are transactional. Consider the most traditional marital “transaction.” The male is the sole breadwinner. He provides financially for the family, keeps everyone physically safe and protects the family from the stresses “out there.” In turn, the female addresses challenges closer to home, the “in here” stresses. She provides child care, a nurturing home environment and sexual intimacy for her partner. It’s an exchange of services. Nothing wrong with that–except love is more than a service.
Most couples begin counseling because they experience an imbalance in their relationship. Maybe he provides for the family, but works long hours, so she wants him to spend more “quality time” with the kids. Or maybe she’s a fantastic mother and homemaker, but isn’t as “fun and spontaneous” as was before they had kids. So he works on “quality time,” she works on “fun and spontaneous.” Ideally, the couple gets to a place both feel is fair, where each sees the other as doing his/her part for the family. This is what most people think of as a satisfying romantic relationship. Without a doubt, a balanced relationship works better than an imbalanced one. You’re still bartering and negotiating with your partner, but at least you feel the “deal” works equally for both of you. Even so . . .
A good business deal, it’s said, leaves both parties feeling a little uncomfortable. This may be true for business, but is this what you want in a romantic bond? You don’t want your partner taking you on vacation because that’s “fair.” You don’t want your wife having sex with you because that’s her “job.” Things done out of obligation tend to build resentment over time. It’s fine if your accountant does your taxes but “isn’t really that into it.” But vacationing with a partner who “isn’t really that into it” can be miserable. So what’s the way out?
What if the husband works on vacationing more–not to please his wife–but because he feels he’ll be a better, more relaxed person for it? What if the wife works on connecting sexually–not to please her husband–but because she feels physical intimacy teaches her to be more comfortable with vulnerability? Then the relationship becomes a vehicle for self-growth. You’re no longer trying to train someone to better meet your needs, nor or you always feeling guilty/resentful because you’re not meeting someone else’s needs. You get closer to your partner because you want to better understand yourself. You want to grow. Nothing you take on from a genuine desire to learn more about yourself can fail. Whether your relationship ultimately works out, you use it to dig deeper beneath your idea of you into the actual moment to moment experience of you.
About the Author: James Robbins is a licensed professional counselor, published author and co-owner of Dallas Whole Life Counseling. He has over 15 years of experience helping people in various life stages that come from a wide variety of cultural, economic and family backgrounds. Learn more about his background by clicking here.