The notion that great marriages are not about comfort and security isn’t news to those of us who have been married for a while or anyone who has ever been in a stagnant relationship. While the idea that formalizing a commitment to a shred partnership may be news to those who haven’t experienced the reality of long term matrimony, if you are in that group of veterans who have learned that this isn’t necessarily the case you might be raising your eyebrows right about now or shaking your head. Still you might want to continue reading. You might learn something new.
And that is precisely what it is about making predictability security, comfort and stability your marriage’s main priority. While wanting to minimize risks by co-creating a supportive structure that will shield us both from threats and dangers that we would face without a partner is a legitimate and worthwhile desire, too much of a good thing can result in undesirable and unwanted consequences, such as boredom, restlessness, resentment, depression, acting out (as in affairs) and flat-lining of genuine intimacy.
This is not to say that the desire for physical, financial or emotional security is inherently dangerous or misguided, far from it. But the devil is, in this case, in the detail, particularly the detail that has to do with the place on the priority list that the commitment to security is placed.
Identifying this can be a tricky process since many of the agreements that couples make are implicit, unspoken and even unrecognized. We all have our won “set points” for what we find to be comfortable levels of risk and security in our lives and our relationships. It’s not uncommon for a person with a lower threshold for risk to be in a relationship with someone with a relatively higher one. The dynamic tension of such a match can be as source of distress to the couple, depending upon how different each partner’s comfort levels are and their respective skill levels in dealing with differences.
Yet regardless of the differences in their respective comfort levels, all couples have an (unspoken) agreed upon level of comfort hat they negotiate on an on-going basis, each partner offering balance in the security risk continuum, or to sue another metaphor the roots and wings.
When the relationship system is unbalanced (excessive ballast keeping the risk so low that there’s insufficient challenge, play, change or spontaneity) or insufficient grounding which exposes the couple to extreme financial, emotional, physical, or material risks, the system will be disrupted with potentially highly damaging consequences. The challenge in cases where there is any type of a relational imbalance is not to look for an either/or, “my way or the highway” solution, but rather to identify the needs of the relationship as opposed to focusing on the accommodation of either partner.
The word “compromise” is applicable here, not in the sense of a requirement for each partner to give in or give up their preferences to the other, but rather to see the big picture and recognize that there will be times that the higher risk person will have to bend in the lower risk person’s direction, and vice versa. The operative word here isn’t necessarily “fair” or “equal” but balanced. And it’s the relational system itself hat is the identified client, not either individual.
When both partners are able to acknowledge the need for all relationship to have a balance set point that is healthy for that relationship and acceptable to each of them, the adjustments that all relationship periodically require become much easier and quicker to recognize and implement.
As we become more attuned to and aware of the need for on-going monitoring of the well being of the relationship by taking the temperature of the balance continuum, we begin to make more frequent but also more subtle and minimally invasive “micro-corrections” to the system, rather than the larger and more invasive macro-adjustments that are required when the system has become destabilized due to a failure to adequately monitor and address the balance needs of the relationship.
All relationships require roots AND wings. Sometimes each partner is sufficiently balanced internally and can recognize and respond to whatever the needs of the day happen to be. More often than not, we are in relationship with someone whose personal set point in regard to the continuum is skewed in one direction or the other. And they of course also have a partner with their own (usually complementary) bias. The challenge in these situations is to resist the temptation, strong as it might be, to view ourselves as having the “correct” perspective and our partner as needing to conform to our point of view.
It can make it a little easier to detach from this view when we think about how things might be if we both were operating from the same biased view. Recognizing our own tendency (towards greater risk or greater security) can be very helpful in enabling us to let go of the notion that we are right and they are wrong. It goes without saying that this is easier said than done. This however possible and from our won experience well worth the investment of time energy, and effort that it requires to develop the inner flexibility and openness that such shifts entail.
When this degree of fluidity and flexibility is present in the relationship and embodied by each partner, the set point and tolerance level will actually change and rise to a higher level as a result of the feeling of trust, support and mutual understanding that has grown through the process of reciprocal appreciation of our differences.
Don’t wait until the potentially damaging symptoms of an imbalance in the risk/security continuum manifest themselves. Both excessive risk s well as insufficient challenge and stimulation can be relationship-killers. Get on top of things and stay on top of them by looking at how things are going for you, your partner, and your relationship. Identify and negotiate the changes that are needed and take actions that you both feel will readjust the balance. Then get in the habit of doing that on an on going basis. You’ll be amazed what a difference this will make. We guarantee it!
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Last reviewed: 27 Aug 2014