Your Partner Can Be Many Things But They Cannot Be Everything
Updated: Nov 15, 2021
For many, there is a grandiose expectation when entering a long term relationship that your partner is going to be your everything. We hear phrases such as ‘I’ve found my better half’, ‘He’s my soulmate’, ‘She completes me.’ While seemingly innocuous in nature, or maybe even romantic, there can be potential harm in the internalized beliefs that come along with this type of messaging. As a licensed marriage and family therapist, one of the things that comes up often when I work with new couples, is a strong sense of disappointment or even deeper than that, a feeling of something must be wrong, when one partner (or both) are not meeting all the needs of the other.
Now for the hard truth - it is unfair, burdensome, but perhaps most importantly- pretty impossible, for one person to meet every single need of another. Think of the various roles a person can take on: best friend, confidant, shoulder to lean on, tennis partner, sous chef, lover, roommate and the list can keep going. How likely is it for one person to possess the ability and desire to hold every single role? I’m thinking not very probable.
As humans, we have many unique interests and layers. In choosing a long term partner there are going to be many common interests that attract you to your partner but there will likely also be many ways in which you two differ vastly. You may not see eye to eye on specific matters or one partner may simply not have the capacity to fulfill a specific need.
So how do we navigate this? Let’s break it down into four steps:
Step 1- Acceptance. Making peace with the idea that your partner will not fulfill every need and that is 100% okay. This does not mean your partner is not right for you, that you made a mistake in choosing this person, or that your relationship is doomed for failure.
Step 2- Appreciation. As humans, our minds tend to automatically default into highlighting things that are wrong over things that are right. And this is especially relevant when it comes to our intimate relationships. One way in which to shift from a mindset of constantly feeling disappointed and let down is being able to recognize and feel appreciative of the needs your partner is meeting or trying to meet. This can be done by verbally stating to your partner what you appreciate or even just thinking it to yourself. This may feel surprising, but there is a lot of power that comes from just thinking and feeling gratitude.
Step 3- Identifying Your Unmet Needs. It would be helpful to identify specifically the needs that are currently going unmet as well as why those needs feel important to you.
Step 4- Finding Ways to Get Them Met. When it comes to this last part I find that it is most effective to use a blend of doing your own internal work to meet some needs as well as being able to reach out to social supports. Forming and maintaining some type of social network can be super useful in helping specific needs get met.
I’ll wrap this up with a personal example to highlight the message I am hoping to convey.
I love reading. I love books. I love the smell of books. I love buying books. I love reading multiple books at one time. In my dream home there is a dedicated library with floor to ceiling shelves lined with books. My spouse does not like books. He does not like reading. He could not care less about the latest book I’ve read or what’s on my to-read list. Acceptance – that is totally okay, I can still love this hobby and interest and my spouse does not have to feel the same. Appreciation – while my husband does not care for reading we have similar interests in TV shows and make an effort every few months to start one together. Identifying Unmet Need – my love for books and wanting to share that. It is important to me because it is something I value strongly and feel passionate about. Finding Ways to Get It Met – firstly, on my own, I make an effort to prioritize time for reading. I enjoy and value that time and love treating myself to new books. Socially, I created a Goodreads account where I can interact with other users in discussing our favorite books. I also found some podcasts that discuss books and take an interest in that. And at one point I even joined a neighborhood book club.
Adjusting expectations leads to less disappointment. This creates more space to work on tangible ways to get needs met as well as focus energy on appreciating the things your partner is currently able to provide for you.