What is in it for Me?

Many a times we ask the question above in relation to a venture or a cause before we commit ourselves to it. This is because we want to be sure that it will be worth our while or our investment in the long run.

We also ask this question at an unconscious level at the point when we are deciding on whether or not to date or marry someone and throughout the lifetime of our relationships. However when we fall in love, we may be tempted to think that all we care about is pleasing the other person, rather than seeking to please ourselves in the process.

Regardless of how we may have felt at the beginning of our relationships, at the core of every human being is a need for fulfillment. We therefore journey through life unconsciously gravitating towards those we think can enable us achieve that fulfillment or towards those who can help us escape certain unpleasant experiences.

Without verbalizing it to our boyfriends, girlfriends, or spouses, we introduce a “need and supply” dynamics into our relationships inadvertently. For example, if my need was to escape from an abusive parent who mishandled me and who did not fully love me, I may wander through relationships looking for someone different to that parent and who could offer me an experience unlike my earlier one.

Once I find that person, I may come to believe that everything will be perfect from that moment on and commit to loving them forever, so long as they continued to make me feel safe and cared for.

Supposing, my spouse also had a need for validation and worth, he may have chosen me if he felt somehow that I represented those very things he was looking for. Therefore we successfully create a perfect equilibrium for meeting both of our needs. The problem with this though, is that most people hardly and sincerely articulate what they are short of or looking for in a relationship.

They may do so at a superficial level but not at a deep one at the beginning of their relationship. Perhaps because they are in love, and therefore blinded to reality, don’t want to seem needy or simply do not know. Some however do, and set expectations around why they are together, which in my view is a great start point.

Nevertheless, this doesn’t seem to stop conflicts from arising when an imbalance in that arrangement occurs. Something that was once a psychological or unconscious contract now comes to the fore demanding for the contract to be honoured. It usually begins with one party feeling a shortage in the supply of their needs or gradually increasing their demands and you begin to notice a tension if the other person doesn’t quickly catch on.

Before you realise it, occasional arguments become deep-seated dissatisfaction within the relationship and eventually may lead to separation and maybe divorce. “The same thing that drew the couple together now becomes the very thing separating them.”

The question to ask is, is there anything wrong in expecting your spouse to fulfill your needs? Obviously not, however, to avoid disappointment, it is important to have realistic expectations and to share them with your spouse. I have discovered that one of the things that go wrong in situations like above isn’t ‘what’ is in it for one person but ‘why’.

While there’s nothing wrong in having expectations of your spouse, but the reason for those expectations must be from a whole and healthy mindset, otherwise abuse may be inevitable. One party or both parties may be using the other person to fulfill the ache in their hearts or their ambitions. And should they be in a position where their needs go unmet, they may become resentful and eventually withdraw their supply from the other person, which may ultimately cause the other person to feel cheated.

In relationships, and marriages especially, what causes friction at times, is the failure of one or both people in the marriage to acknowledge the legitimacy of their unconscious needs, be truthful about them and to do their best to supply their spouse’s needs where possible.

The truth is there are times when it may be impossible to fulfill someone’s innate needs such as where they have unrealistic expectations of their spouse; looking for someone to make them happy ‘24’ hours a day, or if they are not whole in themselves, there’s not much you can do to make them complete. This situation often leads to a strain in relationships and couples may blame each other for something over which they have no control.

If you find yourself or your spouse struggling due to unmet needs in your relationship, here are a few things for you to consider that may help take your relationship from crisis to calm:

1. Have you considered your ‘what’ i.e. what is in it for you both at a deeper level than
what you may have previously shared

2. Have you considered ‘why’ i.e. why is that thing you want out of the relationship
important to you? This ‘why’ question will help you get beneath all the façade that you
are both putting up and will help you consider the driving forces behind your unconscious
contract or relationship.

It will also help you discover where more work may be needed to
transform yourself or relationship. Caution: this will require honesty and transparency.

3. Have you acknowledged the legitimacy of your spouse’s need or have you considered it
irrelevant or petty? If something is important to someone, then it is important, even if
it’s not to you.

4. Are you willing to compromise with your spouse in a mutually understanding way or is it
more important for you to have your needs alone met?

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, the degree, to which you are honestly able to answer these questions, is the degree to which you and your spouse will be able to form a stronger alliance.