“I can’t believe the big day is here! I am so happy and don’t want the feeling to end!” said almost every bride and every groom in nearly every romantic comedy movie out there on their wedding day. Admittedly, on my wedding day, I was happy. It was an overwhelming feeling thinking about how many people showed up for us. They showed up to witness our union, to cheer the happy couple, and to celebrate the concept of long-lasting love.
I knew differently as did my husband.
The theme of the speeches at our wedding was our unique pairing. As my father-in-law said, “One of you wants to conquer the world, while the other wants to save it.” As a Licensed Marriage and Family therapist married to an ADHD entrepreneur, our love story had an interesting beginning.
Create Balance in Your Relationships
Ask any therapist you know, particularly a Marriage and Family therapist, if their relationship is perfect and I can guarantee the answer will be no. Despite my training, I also have difficulty applying a lot of what I know to my relationship. For me what makes it worse is that I know how I “should” handle the arguments, but my emotions take over leaving the same pattern to play out over and over again.
Early on in our dating relationship, we struggled to find balance. We worked on seeing each other but also giving each other space to pursue our then blossoming careers. We had issues with power in our relationship as most strong, independent people do when trying to “have it all.” Looking back, what we really were forming was an interdependent relationship, which is something I work on with my clients.
Dr. Barton Goldsmith, in his article, “Interdependence Day(s)- How to create a balanced relationship,” describes the idea of interdependence: “The healthiest way we can interact with those close to us is by being truly interdependent. This is where two people, both strong individuals, are involved with each other, but without sacrificing themselves or compromising their values.”1
Address Trust Issues
Interdependence is what I as a therapist strive to help my clients achieve. The idea of interdependence is amazing, but the execution can be very tricky. If we think about what is underneath interdependence, trust inevitably comes up. In the cases I have where one partner is very clingy, or where one partner checks the other’s phone because they do not believe their partner is really at work, trust issues are everywhere. Through therapy, we work through any underlying traumas that have occurred in the relationship – or any past relationships – to help heal and move forward without resentment.
Signs of Interdependence in Relationships
Aside from therapy, how can you work on interdependence? According to Goldsmith (1), a great way to start is to assess where you are currently in your relationship. Things you may want to consider are:
- Current levels of trust
- How supportive you perceive yourself to be as a partner
- How supported you feel by your partner from day to day.
Consider what would happen if the relationship ended tomorrow. Would you be okay? Although you may be heartbroken, could you move forward? Signs of interdependence include the ability to stand on your own and not to be defined by your relationship role. If you feel as though you are more stuck in your relationship than you wish, I recommend seeking help from a professional to process some of your thoughts and feelings.
So, you may be asking yourself, is interdependence the “secret sauce?” While it may be an essential ingredient, it does not make up the entire recipe. The other important component is choice.
When I have couples sitting in front of me questioning their relationship, I tell them each the same thing, “This relationship is a choice. Every day you choose to either be in this relationship or not be in this relationship.” The reality is whether you have been together for five days or 50 years, every single day you choose to be in the relationship. Acknowledging this decision helps each partner to remain accountable for their role in the relationship.
I am sure you have heard people say that marriage is work. While this is true; it is not the type of work most people think. While marriage does require daily effort, it should be a relatively painless process. The most important thing is to prioritize your relationship. This is achieved through daily effort, regular check-ins, frequent discussions, and intentional affection. This will do so many good things for your relationship. Even more, your trust will start to grow exponentially.
The Power of Love Maps
Being a Marriage and Family therapist, I am most familiar with the question “How?” How do you choose your relationship daily? It can start with small things. I recommend to my clients to do a “love map” exercise from the one and only John Gottman (the “godfather” of couple’s therapy). Love maps are an excellent exercise to tune into your partner’s daily issues, big life goals, and their emotions. My husband and I do a love map exercise every few months just to check in with each other. The point of them is not to be right or wrong, but rather to facilitate a conversation. Here is one from Gottman’s site2:
Love Map Exercise:
- Name my two closest friends.
- What was I wearing when we first met?
- Name one of my hobbies.
- What stresses am I facing right now?
- Describe in detail what I did today or yesterday.
- What is my fondest unrealized dream?
- What is one of my greatest fears or disaster scenarios?
- Name my favorite way to spend an evening.
- What is one of my favorite ways to be soothed?
- What is my favorite getaway place?
- Are there important events coming up in my life?
- How do I feel about them?
- What are some of my favorite ways to work out?
- Name one of my major rivals or “enemies.”
- What would I consider my ideal job?
- What medical problems do I worry about?
- Describe my most embarrassing moment.
- Name one of my favorite novels/movies.
- What is my favorite restaurant?
Relationships are challenging even for the most seasoned couples. There is a lot that goes into them and a lot we can learn from them. For romantic relationships, it is important to know the main ingredients of the “secret sauce,” which are interdependence and choice. By choosing every day to be the best partner you can be, addressing your partner’s needs, clearly stating your needs, and by giving your relationship, yourself, and your partner room to grow, you will inevitably build a foundationally sound relationship. Not to mention, living a happier and less stressful life.