For marriages or other long-term romantic relationships to thrive, it is important to understand the concept that there are numerous partnerships within the relationship. Even if you don’t use the term “partner” in reference to your long-term romantic relationship, successful relationships require navigating several different partnerships simultaneously.
From the perspective of a couples therapist, let me explain what I mean. Early in romantic relationships, we already have several partnerships. We might be romantic partners, friends, and lovers. Each of these partnerships entail different ways of relating and call for different sets of skills. If we ignore one of these partnerships, the relationship will most likely begin to deteriorate and lead to a breakup.
Different partnerships, different ways to connect
Consider the ways you engage in and nurture your romantic partnership. Now consider how you might nurture the friendship differently. For example, going out on a date or having dinner together is one way you might engage in the romantic aspect of the relationship, while nurturing the friendship might involve listening to the reason they feel sad, or taking time out to help with a task.
While there is inevitably overlap and nurturing the friendship will almost certainly help the romantic relationship progress and stay healthy, maintaining and developing the friendship requires a different approach and intentionally devoting time and energy toward being friends. Ignoring the friendship can cause the romantic and sexual aspects of the relationship to suffer.
In most romantic relationships, as things progress, we begin to take on additional partnerships within the relationship. At some point partners usually move in together. Now you take on the role of “roommate”. Let’s be honest, it is not always easy to live with another human being, so being roommates requires a different approach to be effective in this role. For example, you might need to mutually agree on how to divide household chores or share space and other resources.
Many long-term partners decide to share expenses or sign legal documents together; now you are business partners.
If you raise children together, you become parenting partners.
You also serve as life partners to each other through the ups and downs and changes across the life span.
Again, while there is certainly overlap, each of these partnerships require a different set of skills and approaches.
And, perhaps more importantly, we must devote time and energy to each partnership within the relationship.
Simple, not necessarily easy
Devoting time and energy to these various partnerships might sound simple, but it isn’t always easy. Most of us will enjoy engaging in certain aspects of the relationship more than others.
If I’m being honest, the business/financial is not the most enjoyable partnership of my marriage. I would much rather go see a concert together with my girlfriend or share a laugh with my best friend. However, neglecting the financial aspect of our relationship could not only lead to a negative financial outcome, it could also lead to strife, discord, or resentment within our relationship. So, I must accept that devoting time and energy into the business partnership of my marriage is important and worthwhile.
Neglected partnerships can drift apart
As a therapist, I observe firsthand that unresolved disagreements about finances surface frequently during couples counseling. Sometimes the financial discord is enough to fracture the relationship. Other times, it is one of many unresolved issues creating strain. Nurturing the financial partnership might involve scheduling monthly reviews of the budget with your partner or being sure to discuss large purchases before they happen.
While your relationship might involve different specific partnerships, each partnership calls for devotion of some time and energy.
For many couples, as long-term relationships develop the romantic partnership and friendship can take a back seat to the demands of life. I see many clients in couples therapy who have lost the spark, fallen out of love, or grown apart as human beings.
Much of this ‘relationship drifting’ can be prevented or corrected by devoting time and energy into the partnerships that were most prominent in the beginning – romantic, sexual, and friendship.
For example, Friday nights for me are date nights. A dedicated time to focus on the friendship, romantic, and perhaps sexual partnerships of my marriage. After what might be a moment of horror, confusion, or questioning my moral character when I tell a friend or colleague that I’m going out with my girlfriend on Friday, they usually realize that my girlfriend and wife are the same person.
Yes, I see my wife frequently throughout the week as we navigate the roles of roommates, parenting partners, financial partners, and life partners, and I know that at the very least, each Friday is a chance to focus on the other, foundational partnerships. Taking this time to connect with my wife in a different way than I do during the rest of the hours of the week helps the friendship grow. Going out with my girlfriend and treating her as such, helps the romantic partnership grow. While we may or may not actually go dancing on Friday night, we are taking time to dance together as romantic partners. The relationship, as a whole, becomes a dance where we balance, together, the various roles and partnerships we have taken on in relationship to each other.
So, I invite you to join a dance; a dance with your partner, where you intentionally work together to balance the various partnerships that make up your relationship. Perhaps understanding the concept of numerous partnerships within the relationship will give you plenty of ideas of steps you can take within the dance. If you find that you need help developing communication skills, learning how to listen more effectively, or identifying and implementing strategies to nurture the various partnerships within your relationship, schedule a free consultation and see how I can help you with that at INC Therapy.
Dr. Mike Ghali, owner of Individual and Couples Therapy, has been practicing therapy for over 20 years. He is licensed as a psychologist in Colorado and Florida. While physically located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he holds in-person sessions, you can also schedule telehealth sessions with Dr. Mike from anywhere in Colorado or Florida.
If you’d like to schedule a free 15-minute consultation call with Dr. Mike at Individual and Couples Therapy, please visit www.inctherapy.org/contact-5, click on Schedule, and choose the available time that works best for you and your partner. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact Dr. Mike at email@example.com. Please do not include sensitive clinical information in emails.