GIVING MEANS GETTING IN RELATIONSHIPS
by Joyce Parker Ph.D.
The article in the L.A. Times which summarized the findings of a study on happy marriages by concluding that if men allow themselves to be influenced by their wives the marriage is more likely to be successful may have caused some resentment in men who subscribe to the Ralph Kramden, "Im king and youre nothing", view of relationships. As a psychotherapist who works with couples, I watch partners struggle with how much they are willing to give in their relationship all the time. There is a difficult balance to be had between retaining "self" and taking the partners needs into consideration. Men have somewhat more difficulty with this than women, who usually have the opposite problem, that of giving up too much of themselves for the partner. The article in the Times did not really make clear that women usually already are much more likely to allow their partners to influence them. Men, take heart, what is really being said is that there needs to be a more even exchange of influence so that the wife does not feel she is the only one giving of herself all the time. I usually put it this way to my couples; in a marriage you can win the battle but youll lose the war. Not that marriage should be seen as a war. It is more like a delicate negotiation with both partners taking the others needs and desires into consideration. The most satisfactory outcome of any difference or conflict is to come to some sort of a consensus. It has to be OK for each partner. Sometimes this can be achieved simultaneously. But a lot of times one partner will have to have enough faith in the other to give for now. There has to be sufficient trust in each other so that if you give this time, you can anticipate that you will be given to the next time or maybe the time after that. For example, say the husband wants to save for a down payment on a house and develops a budget that puts 25% of combined income in savings. This leaves no money at all for vacations. The wife feels overworked and stressed. She wants a vacation to rest and also to spend time with her husband whom she doesnt see very much because of their schedules. The couple who can take each others' needs into consideration and come up with a plan that respects each partners feelings, builds trust, defuses conflict and promotes marital satisfaction. Perhaps they can decide to go on a camping vacation to keep expenses down. Or maybe the wife can agree to give up a vacation if the husband agrees to devote Sundays to doing something his wife would like or is willing to pitch in to help her more with chores or both. It really doesnt matter what is agreed upon as long as it is acceptable to both of them and both feel as if they have shared in the giving and getting. So take heed men and women both, if you want your way at the expense of the other person, you may wind up being king, or queen, over nothing.
Dr. Parker is in private practice in Torrance. She is a member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network.
The author of this article, and founder of the Therapyinla.com website, Joyce Parker, passed away in 2011. To honor her we are keeping her articles posted at this website.
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