Take what you have learned about “compromise” and “putting your partner first” and chuck it out the window. Sometimes, we need to re-evaluate things from other perspectives, especially in the face of conflicts. The media, society and many relationship experts often push the idea that selflessness is the best way to achieve a happy relationship and marriage. By striving to ensure your partner feels safe, loved and important we are creating the perfect relationship and would surely get the same in return, right? Not quite.
People love differently, as popularized by the book The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. By understanding the ways in which our partners feel loved or special (through words of affirmation, affection, gifts, quality time and acts of service) we are able to build a strong relationship whereby we give our partner what they need and again expect the same in return.
I agree that understanding your personality differences is key to a healthy relationship – but then what? Conflicts arise, you use the appropriate “I feel so and so” words, agree on a compromise as per the relationship experts advice and still wonder why you feel so much resentment at the end of the day. That’s because compromise is sacrifice, but not in the good way. You sacrifice 50% of your happiness for 50% of your partner’s happiness 100% of the time.
Abraham Maslow developed a psychological theory in 1943 which is being well used today when it comes to individualistic development but not enough with regards to relationship growth. Basically, the hierarchy of needs is as follows:
The bottom part is our physiological needs such as food, air and warmth. Then there is our need for safety. This can be financial safety, personal safety and the need to not be mentally or physically abused. Third, we have a need for love and belonging and to be in intimate relationships and friendships. Our second need is that of esteem, which is our desire to feel respected and have self respect.
The top of the hierarchy is self actualization, which Maslow described as a person’s desire to reach their full potential and gain a sense of mastery over their lives. Self actualization is becoming who we want to be and by having our other needs met are then able to focus on doing what it is we really want – such as becoming a great parent (by our own interpretation) or a top singer or athlete. These needs of course vary through cultures and history but generally share the same thing in common – we are healthier individuals when our needs are met. But whose responsibility is it to meet those needs?
And, you are not responsible for meeting your partner’s needs either. In fact, how are you going to become ‘self actualized’ or feel as you have reached your full potential by putting your partner’s needs first? That is the quickest way to build resentment and turn what started as a loving relationship into one where a partner is unsatisfied and lonely. When you fill up another’s cup you are emptying your own.
Healthy individuals in relationships should always be able to lean on each other for support, but should try to avoid climbing into each other’s pyramids to help meet their needs while neglecting their own. A wife who continuously sacrifices her basic need for rest and replenishment after having a new baby and does not communicate with her husband that he should be helping at night too, is a wife whose body and mind is exhausted and unable to cope. A husband who does not communicate his needs to visit friends a few times a month, is a husband who feels resentment towards his wife for taking away his desire for belonging to a social group.
This is not to say that relationships will function if both parties continuously put their needs first. That is not a sustainable relationship. This is where we need to know ourselves, our desires and the places where we are willing to 100% let the partner fulfil their need but without giving up a fundamental one of our own. This is possible through self exploration, reflection and spending a little time thinking about what it is that you want and a lot of time telling your partner what it is that you need.
Share your pyramid with your partner. Tell them what it is you need to reach your full potential. How relatable are your goals? How do you differ? How can you make it work without leaving gaps in the foundations of the layers of your own pyramid?
Relationships do not just happen. It is a decision, it is effort, it is planning and takes understanding. But it should never be about sacrificing the basics of what makes you feel fulfilled. At the beginning of the day you were your own person and at the end of the day you should still be your own person.