We often use the word partner in a marital context when referring to our significant other but what does the construct of partnership truly mean? By simple definition, a partner participates in an undertaking with another, and in marriage, that undertaking is life. However, partnerships are complex unions usually comprising some degree of both the “me”, where two individuals are coping with their own individual vulnerabilities, dreams, fears, wounds and goals, and the “we” which represents the collective team approach two people can take to navigate, celebrate or manage the highs and lows that generally pepper all our lives.
However, partnerships are complex unions usually comprising some degree of both the “me” and the “we”
Research tells us that couples who talk, think and act in terms of “we” do better than those who behave through the “me” lens. A University of California study of middle-aged and older couples http://news.berkeley.edu/2010/01/27/couple_we_ness/ found that couples who think in terms of “we”, “our” and “us”, behave more positively towards each other and experience less stress. Furthermore, US relationship expert John Gottman purports the importance of the “The Story of Us Switch” which detects the accumulative distrust, betrayal and hurt quotient in a relationship based on how either partner thinks about their shared past in the present.
Humans tend to reorganise memories based on their meaning to us in the present, therefore later experiences influence and can even change what we remember from the past. A person who feels frustrated and agitated towards their partner today, will shift their memories from the past to more negative reflections to match their current viewpoint and beliefs. But the same is true in reverse. If our switch is on positive today, our memories and associations are positive and help buffer against irritability and emotional distance when times are tough.
Some couples flick their switch to negative but stay together living independent or “me” focused lives. They tend to overlook the negative impact on the couple and focus on the negative impact on the self only. If this sounds familiar, or we feel we are losing or have lost a sense of partnership, what then?
No two people think or act in the same way. I often joke that couples I have seen for relationship counselling sometimes express the sentiment that if only their partner was more like them, the marriage would work oh so much better! But while cloning your partner to mirror yourself ain’t the answer, focusing on the commonalities and similarities you share can go a long way in strengthening a couple’s sense of unity, support and strength as a team, which has the power to contribute to a more harmonious and peaceful family environment.
Start by changing your vocab and talk and think about yourselves as a “we” unit.
While the Smug Married couples drove Bridget Jones and her singleton mates to despair, thinking in terms of “we” creates a powerful shift that you’re in it together. Another simple strategy to help reset the switch is to reflect and share what it was you first fell in love with. Of all the people on the planet you chose this person to be your partner, and chances are it was not because they thought and behaved exactly like you.
Early in a relationship we tend to shine a light on all the things we think are fab in our partner. We finish each other’s sentences and often exclaim we have so much in common! During the honeymoon phase, they can do no wrong, however it’s actually our view of them that creates this aura of perfection, rather than the reality. Our task as the years and decades role on, is to practice wearing these honeymoon glasses every day that encourage us to focus on what we have in common and our shared vision rather than fixate over our differences. Our partner is not perfect, but today’s priority is to see this man or woman as your treasured team-mate who is by your side to help you work, love, parent, and create a life of meaning and purpose. Then make a choice to be a partner who does the same.