It might seem absurd or counterintuitive to think of a two-person relationship as consisting of three parts. So why would someone suggest you consider it?
As a couple’s specialist, I believe that both people must be able to stand firmly alone and in the relationship. Think of your relationship like a three-legged table, where each leg must be strong: you, your partner, and your relationship with each other. To bloom a truly happy partnership with lasting strength, each piece is an integral part of the equation. If one person absorbs too much energy, the other gets left out. If not enough attention is paid to the relationship itself, your partnership suffers. Take away one piece, neglect one part, and you have a wobbly table.
Meeting Each Others’ Needs
Many people believe that the only thing they can work on in their relationship is their partner’s happiness. The problem with looking at relationships this way is that the person trying to make sure their mate is doing well runs the risk of neglecting him- or herself. This person may be sacrificing what he or she wants or needs in the relationship so their partner will feel good.
That might work for a while, but eventually the person doing all the giving can run out of energy and feel exhausted and depleted. If the pattern continues, those feelings can turn into anger and resentment. If one partner feels like they are the giver and don’t receive anything in return, he or she can end up feeling used and alone.
The receiver of this energy doesn’t get his or her needs met either. He or she may be happy for a while, but this constant state of receiving can become tiresome, too. There is no room for real bonding between the two because their positions are not equal. There is imbalance in the relationship.
Meeting Your Own Needs
I recommend that each person learn about themselves as individuals as an important part of improving their relationship. Part of self-knowledge is understanding what makes you happy. Do you know what makes you feel happy and fulfilled? If you think that being loved by your partner is all you need, that is not the answer I’m looking for. Your answer though, could be something like this: “I love to spend time working in the garden, and I like to volunteer my time with the humane society.” These are endeavors that could make a person feel whole and worthwhile. What about your job? Some people find their happiness through their profession—maybe this is your source of enrichment. By working to understand yourself as an individual, you will learn what you need to make your leg of the table strong.
When we as individuals have attained knowledge about ourselves, we are in a better position to stay in balance. Knowing what makes you happy is the best contribution you can make to your relationship. When you understand yourself and you know how to keep yourself in a good state, you will be a contributing member to the relationship. Without this knowledge, you may depend on your partner to provide you your happiness—and that can lead to problems. When both people know themselves, they can spend time understanding their partners. When we learn what our mate loves, likes, wishes for, and enjoys, we become more adept at providing it to them.
Meeting the Needs of Your Relationship
Building the relationship together is like solidifying the last leg of the table. What are your combined values, goals and dreams? What do the two of you as a unit stand for? What is your “mission statement?”
You have a chance to create something unique to the two of you. Understanding all the pieces of your three-legged table gives you the best opportunity to build a healthy, lasting relationship.
© Copyright 2010 by Linda Nusbaum, MA, MFT, therapist in Long Beach, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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