Trends are suggesting that contemporary Americans are increasingly relying on their spouses to fulfill more of their overall needs. What I'm about to highlight is likely information you already know. You're smart; you've studied history, this will be a quick review. So marriage hasn't always been the way it is now, meaning now Western culture favors romantic love matches. Not so long ago, marriage was an economic proposition, to solidify one's place in society, to provide the necessary labor to work the land, to make a connection with another family that would be advantageous. Marriage was about practicality and marrying for love was often perceived as frivolous.
Cut to 2018, the expectations of marriage have changed. Marriage is a means to not only secure a partner in life, family, and domestic economics but someone to be best friends with, lovers, to reach personal fulfillment, to become a better version of ourselves as you grow together. We turn to our sweetie for emotional support, fun, and companionship. If we are honest, often we expect our partner to be our everything (we even say that). Whew, that's a lot for one person!
It's important to realize having these broad, diverse expectations of one person often leads to disappointment. In the context of the history of marriage, these expectations are new, the latest iteration of marriage, the modern marriage. And it might be too much to ask of anyone.
So what, I'm asking you to lower your standards? To not strive for the relationship of your dreams? No, I'm wondering if you are realistic. Maybe your spouse can't meet all of your emotional, physical, monetary, and companionship needs. Maybe you need more intellectual stimulation and your partner has a penchant for adventure or sport. We used to outsource to meet our needs, with larger communities of people who cared for us. So often now, people are transient, away from family, busy, disconnected from community. But it doesn't have to be so. Some of your needs can be met by other people or endeavors, taking some of the pressure off of your spouse to be "your everything". He/she might not have the temperament, ambition, or aspiration to meet all the needs you have. Does that make him/her a bad spouse? Nope. Does that mean you shouldn't pursue your goals and aspirations? Nope. It just means you need to broaden your options beyond one person, diversify your social portfolio if you will. In fact, the research supports this idea of spreading your emotional needs among various people. People with diversified social portfolios, who build larger social ties, are found to have higher well-being. What are your strengths? What are your partner's strengths? Is your sister great at cheering you up when you're sad? Is your best friend a total bibliophile like you, or a travel enthusiast, or a movie buff? Expanding and diversifying your portfolio of people to those who can meet various needs, allows you to focus on what works well in the marriage, rather than forcing the marriage to attend to all the aspects of life.
If you're interested in reading more about this concept, check out The All or Nothing-Marriage by Eli Finkel or the sociological viewpoint offered in Stephanie Coontz's The Way We Never Were. Having realistic expectations is a good step to avoiding disappointment and feeling like your relationship or sweetie is falling short.
About the author: Melissa Hudson, Ph.D.(c) is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Plano, Texas specializing in couples and marriage therapy, anxiety disorders, and depression. She also works with adults and families on a full spectrum of concerns. Have questions? Want to create an epic relationship? Reach out today! firstname.lastname@example.org | 214-235-8175 | www.counselingsolutionstexas.com