It’s easy to lose perspective when you have doubts about your relationship. But sometimes a temporary setback can be mitigated by asking yourself one question: “Does my relationship/marriage make my life better than it otherwise would be?” In other words, what are you getting out of your involvement with that person; what psychological cost (if any) is involved, and is it worth it?
This little exercise won’t be easy if you’re at all conflicted about your relationship. For one thing, as a child, you were probably brainwashed that it’s “bad” to be “selfish.” And it’s certainly a “selfish” act to think seriously about whether you’re getting what you want out of your relationship. But that kind of selfishness might be the only thing that can save your relationship. So forget about all the childhood malarkey: Do it anyway: Be selfish. Why? Because your mental stability, which is certainly in you AND your partner’s best interests, depends upon it.
We analyze our financial and career lives, but we often minimize our personal lives as if we’re supposed to run on automatic. If you’re a man, you’ve probably been led to believe that women are basically irrational and incapable of reason; therefore, why bother to aim higher and seek out a more reasonable woman, or dare to hold her to a more rational standard? Many guys are taught that if they’re not getting what they want, they can indulge in online fantasies or maybe even an extramarital affair. Or, if that’s not your moral or psychological style, you can simply throw yourself into work or time with your male friends. It’s amazing how often I see this mindset.
Women aren’t immune to this misdirection, either. And many have been taught not to expect very much out of men. In the past and even to some degree today, many women were told by their mothers to marry a man for security, not satisfaction. “So long as he brings home a paycheck and does not abuse you too much, what’s the problem?” Women are constantly encouraged to think that all men are exploitative jerks; never to be trusted. For men and women, this is a socially sanctioned form of prejudice. No wonder over 50 percent of marriages fail, and why many people cry “selfish!” when I suggest that you can and should expect something of your partner. In fact, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect from another person whatever you’d expect of yourself. The happiest relationships and marriages I see are those where the parties respect and admire one another.
If you’re unhappy with your relationship, ask yourself: “What would life be like if, beginning tonight, my spouse never came home again? What would I feel at first? And what would I feel after a month? Six months? A year?” Focus not only on what your emotions, but also on what the objective, factual reality of your circumstances might be.
None of this is meant to be morbid or cruel. But part of my job both in my office and in this column is to provide perspective and to help people make sure that they’re not taking their relationships for granted. And it’s eminently healthy to know exactly why and how you value your current romantic relationship.
Most of the people who do this exercise come to the realization that their marriage is more important to them than they realize. As a consequence, they appreciate it more. They start to treat their spouses better, and their spouses respond in turn. And conversely, some of the people who do this exercise realize that they, in fact, would be happier without their spouse in their lives. At that point, some difficult decisions need to be made.
No matter what the outcome, it’s still better to be psychologically aware of where you stand – with yourself and with your partner – than to live in evasion and denial while quietly wondering what could have been.
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