Relationship AdviceTips from Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
Have you ever wanted to say “no” to your partner when they wanted to go away on a trip with friends or family but didn’t because you wanted to feel unselfish?
Then you have experienced the tension of conflicting motives, just like twenty-six year old Dianne did when her husband Neil had to leave her and take care of family business. She faced a tug of war between her secret wish for him to pick her over everyone else, and her overt desire to put his needs before her own by appearing supportive and encouraging.
The day photographer Neil arrived back home after helping his widowed mother recover from hip replacement surgery, Dianne came down with Bronchitis. During his absence Dianne had worked and taken care of herself, trying to support Neil as he cared for his mother. But Dianne also felt alone, relegated to the bottom of Neil’s list, and fearful that they would be parted more often as Neil’s loyalties to his mother took precedence over his commitment to their two year old rocky marriage. Dianne hid her anxieties and anger when they communicated during the week he was away. She welcomed him back eagerly trying to be the understanding and sympathetic wife, but all the while feeling increasing anger and resentment that her husband could choose his mother over his wife, leaving her alone and uncared for.
Neil tried to by sympathetic and attentive to Dianne as she went through her course of treatment. But it was wearing him down. Having been his mother’s caretaker for the past week he was hoping to get some nurturing from his wife, but instead he had another sick woman to care for. He couldn’t understand why Dianne was so irritable and snappy and why she kept making snide comments about him viewing her as a burden but taking on the role of dutiful son with relish.
Dianne nursed her grouses from her sick bed, while Neil wrestled with disappointment and anger that he took care of his loved ones but no one took care of him. He kept that a secret because he wanted to be a good concerned and caring husband.
Neither of them communicated their true feelings up front. Both Dianne and Neil had conflicting motives that prevented them from being open and honest. They grew apart as a wall of resentment and bitterness obscured their love and attachment for each other.
What are the chances of that wall leading the couple to split up?
Research reported in the Journal of Personality, 2012 indicates that couples have the greatest relationship satisfaction and stability when their inner and outer motives towards each other are congruent. Couples whose motives towards one another are incongruent do not enjoy their connections, feel bad, experience poor health, and are at great risk of splitting up within a year.
Dianne’s inner motive to get Neil to stay with her rather than go take care of his mother didn’t match her outer motive to seem unselfish. She ended up getting sick in order to get the care she wanted when he came back, causing tension and resentment. Neil’s implicit motive was to get some care himself on his return home, but it wasn’t congruent with his explicit motive to be attentive and caring towards his wife. He didn’t feel good about himself or the relationship.
Dianne and Neil were at heightened risk of splitting up because they couldn’t manage their conflicting motives, until they sought couples counseling that untangled the mess and helped them find confidence and faith in their true wishes so that they didn’t have to struggle with their conflicting needs and motives.
What was the biggest obstacle preventing Neil and Dianne from having their implicit and explicit motives match?
The answer is shame. Dianne was ashamed of the part of her that wanted Neil all to herself. She was ashamed that she couldn’t let Neil take care of his mother for just a week without feeling jilted. Neil was ashamed that he needed some pampering after coming home to his wife. He was ashamed that he couldn’t be a man, step up to the plate and take care of the women in his life like he was supposed to do.
Shame was the enemy of openness, honesty and conflict free interactions in Neil and Dianne’s marriage. Marriage counseling helped Neil and Dianne feel comfortable with their motives of wanting care and to be number one. Once the shame was gone, their inner and outer motives were in harmony and they were able to be there for one another in ways that created a sense of well-being, security and stability. They didn’t need to get sick or test each other out in order to get those shameful implicit motives attended to.
You too can create the foundation for a stable and satisfying relationship when you stop feeling ashamed of your true needs. Engaging in relationship advice psychotherapy is one way to begin that challenging process.
Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
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Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educative purposes only. There is no liability on the part of Dr. Raymond for any reactions you may have while reading the article or implementing the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Raymond