In Managing Conflict with Your Partner you discovered that conflict is necessary to keep the relationship strong and flexible. In the same way, exercise keeps your body strong and flexible. The additional point I am making here is that the exercise, or contribution, cannot be one-sided.
Some partners take to household chores, financial responsibility and organising the social calendar, and this is often the partner who over-functions. They often over-function in other areas of life too. They also tend to enjoy taking control.
Some people are inclined to overdo exercise. They are at the gym every day, and throw in a bike-ride and game of golf on the weekends. Likewise, some people overdo chores or other contributions to the relationship. They muscle up to the challenges of housework, gardening and household maintenance and take more than enough responsibility or action. Clearly, this partner is the mover and shaker of the relationship, the one who is over-functioning.
So what about the other partner, who just can’t get themselves off the sofa? Of off their devices? By contrast, this is the one who is sitting back waiting for something to happen. Or maybe she is hoping that nothing will happen! Perhaps he is waiting to be forced! Or he is content to “get away with it”! Or are they just happy with the status quo? How can we know? Often this partner says nothing, does not communicate. This partner is often extremely conflict-avoidant.
They want peace at all costs.
They don’t want to rock the boat and don’t want to confront. Or be confronted. Clearly, this is the one who under- functions in your relationship.
The discrepancy between levels of functioning creates a specific kind of relationship conflict that inevitably breeds resentment on both sides. The position of each is putting a strain on the other, and on the relationship.
In order to improve the relationship dynamic, each of these partners has very different tasks, different changes to make. Change is required from both for the relationship to grow.
Can the partner who is pushing things along hold back?
Conversely, can the partner who is holding back be more actively involved in the relationship?
Joseph Campbell asked a question about this kind of situation:
“What serves the relationship?”
This is a very penetrating question. In other words, do you dig your heels in and say you won’t do something for the other person? As if you would lose autonomy or be a doormat? However, Joseph Campbell says you are not doing it to please the other person, you do it for the relationship. Because the relationship serves the best interests of both of you.
So, what would you do if you took Campbell’s wisdom to heart?
The partner who is pushing too hard, doing too much or asking too much must learn to hold back.
In this case, holding back serves the health of the relationship. Therefore, each can grow in the area they need it most. The over-functioning partner often feels like a parent, or that they are being parentified by the other person. So, holding back allows for this pattern to change, and for the under-functioning partner to mature and develop skills.
And what about the partner who is offering too little, being reticent, not putting effort into house-hold chores, or monetary contribution? Maybe you are not speaking up in conflict-areas?
If you are the reticent partner, you must take courage and overcome emotional inertia and put yourself forward, because such stepping up also serves the health of the relationship and the growth and development of each.
The partner who is under-functioning often appears as if they are in an earlier stage of psychological development, usually adolescence. As a result, they can feel as if their over-functioning partner is bossing them around. Furthermore, the over-functioning partner will often think their partner is passive-aggressive. Thus the under-functioning partner really needs to take more responsibility and be more accountable.
Moving towards a more reciprocal balance in contributions in a relationship can take time and negotiation, and the developing of new patterns. In other Insights, I present more on the Developmental Model of relationships, which in my experience is the most useful model because it is about growth. This model is not about laying blame or making one partner wrong.
To be sure you don’t misunderstand my intention, this is not about keeping score of who does what chores, or makes exactly what financial contribution, although, to be honest, that can often be very helpful. Rather, bring the best of yourself to the relationship as part of reciprocity. For example, if you are a fine chef and this is your pleasure, that is your great gift to your relationship. You would not expect your partner to go 50/50 with the cooking. Your contribution serves the relationship.
On the other hand, you might be a talented gardener, and that is your contribution. Your contribution serves the relationship.
So, do you over-function or under-function in your relationship?
Or do you have the balance just right!
Although I am framing these tips as useful for couples, they also apply to work relationships, siblings, children, parents – ANY relationships.
Copyright © Kaye Gersch 2017