INDIVIDUAL PREFERENCES IN MARRIAGE

Simultanous Perspective in MarriageYou bring to your marital relationship the things you want or prefer to happen that allow you to flourish in life.  Much of marital advice, in contrast, is based on a view that we bring our needs to our relationship. This idea is captured very well in this quote.

Your have a right to ask for the things you need in a relationship.  In fact you have a responsibility to yourself and your partner to be clear about your needs (emphasis added). (www.theartofmanliness.com)

One of the most common ideas about how intimate relationships should work is that partners fulfill each other’s “needs”.  The idea of “needs-that-must-be-fulfilled” promotes a self-centered approach to relationships.  This view, widely accepted in our current culture, is an expression of the more general idea that we are all motivated primarily (or only) by self-interest.

A better way to begin a relationship is to know that you and your spouse are capable of being concerned about one another.   The schematic at the top left of the post represents the way in which you can be interested in yourself and your spouse simultaneously in marriage.

This schematic demonstrates the idea that you can each simultaneously see yourself as an individual with individual wants and desires and see your spouse as having individual wants and desires.  If either person sees him/herself only (primarily) as an individual (self-centered), the marital interaction will be distorted.  At the same, if either spouse is only (primarily) concerned and interested in the other (dependency), the marital interaction will be distorted.

Maintaining this simultaneous perspective in your marriage is basic to being willing and able to negotiate with each other the things that are important to both of you in order to flourish in life.  The schematic below on the right depicts the process of negotiation of individual wants and desires from the perspective of you both.SCHEMATIC NEGOTIATING COLLAB

  • Negotiating in marriage is first and foremost based on the ability to be interested in your spouse’s wants and desires in the same way that you are interested in your own desires.
  • Each of you describes your wants and desires and can provide a reason for why you prefer this or that (i.e. explore and understand the why’s of each other’s preferences)
  • Neither of you wants the other to do something that is too unattractive or violates some strongly held principle
  • Try out different ideas that reflect both your preferences so you can find a win-win solution
  • Or, if you choose one partner’s preference over the other’s, it is because you have decided it together thereby enhancing the relationship even if one partner does not get what he/she wants.
  • See how Jesse and Sara negotiated where she was to park the car

The ability to negotiate collaboratively in this manner assumes the following:

  • You have the capacity (including the courage) to identify and describe what you want
  • You can self-reflectively understand and describe the reasons and motives for you wants and preferences
  • You have the capacity to be empathic, i.e. you can understand that you spouse has wants and desires in the same way that you do
  • You can understand and value your spouse’s wants, even if they are different from your own

To have a want or preference is an expression of oneself, an expression of what you believe is important to living well.  As an expression of self, your wants and preferences must be acknowledge as standing on their own.  At the same time, they are not demands that must be catered to (they are not “needs”).  Wants and preferences are no more than an expression of self but they are no less than the expression of self.

 

 

 

MY VIEWS ON MARRIAGE

MY VIEW MARRIAGEHow you interact with your spouse will determine the felt quality of your relationship.  That is, how you go about achieving the things you both want in life is more important to the felt quality of your relationship than having the specific things you want.

Marital Interaction is about the process going on interpersonally between you and your spouse as you talk about the everyday events, happenings, and activities in your life together.  For example, a wife approaches her husband to ask him to go to the movies with her one evening.  Interaction or process refers to how she approaches him (insecurely, demandingly, asserting a preference, etc.) and how he responds to the request (dismissively, with hostility, saying he prefers another night, etc.).

Here is the “short version” of how to achieve a good marital interaction or process:

  • You will bring all your “insecurities” into your marriage.
  • Your “insecurities” show up as defensiveness and overreactions to each other.
  • It is up to each of you to know and manage these insecurities through self-awareness and self-reflection.
  • Marriage will be affected by “doing gender”, i.e. carrying out socially prescribed roles of husband and wife because they are associated with feeling “masculine” and “feminine”.
  • How you manage these gender prescriptions will significantly affect whether or not and how you accomplish the “things” in life that you want.
  • Successful marital interaction between self-aware, self-reflective people is based on negotiating collaborative the ins and outs of the relationship.
  • Negotiating collaborative in marriage is an art that can be learned.MARITAL INTERACTION NEGOTIATION

The “long version” of my views is described in the posts in this blog, “a millennial marriage”.   I focus on the interpersonal interactions, which are the day-to-day encounters between you and your spouse.  I look at these interactions from both the perspective of you and your spouse as individuals and from the perspective of you as a pair.

Individually you both have to be aware of your own personal motives when you are interacting with each other.  This will require some effort on both your parts.  In addition, you will have to pay attention to how old ideas about gender can shape your interactions, often without your being aware of this influence.

My approach to marital interaction in marriage is different from what I often see in blogs offering marital advice.  Here are a few of my thoughts about these approaches.

  • Too often they are based the idea that there are inherent, biological differences between men and women (e.g. men are from Mars, women are from Venus).
    • This is too general an approach, we are each individuals, not categories of people.
    • This approach often assumes that we each have biologically-based “needs” which your partner must provide (e.g. men “need” sex).
    • You can’t negotiate needs, you can only bargain over them, i.e. do a “tit for tat”.
    • These ideas keep the status quo.
  • Marital advice that is religiously based often relies on establishing the husband as the head of the household and leader, to whom his wife must defer.
  • Marital interaction is primarily seen as a quid-pro-quo,  i.e., you provide what I “need” and I will in turn give you what you “need.” Historically in marital therapy that has come down to exchanging sex (male biological need) for conversation (female biological need for connection)

What all these approaches try to do is “prescribe” how you two should interact with each other according to some theorized principle.

The basic principles of my approach that are described in this blog are:

  • You wish to be together because of a strong felt love and affiliation toward each other.
  • You are both individual people with your own views on how to flourish in life.
  • You can learn to negotiate (rather than have prescribed) the activities, events, wishes, wants, etc. in your relationship in a collaborative manner.
  • It takes willingness to be self-aware and self-reflective to learn how to do this.
  • You will want to examine your old ideas about gender roles in marriage.

 

 

 

 

 

“NEEDS” VERSUS WANTS

NEEDS VERSUS WANTSOne of the most common ideas about how marriage should work is that partners fulfill each other’s “needs”.  The idea that “needs-that-must-be-fulfilled” is what we bring to our relationships promotes a self-centered approach to relationships.  The concept of need became popular in psychology during the middle of the 20th century as an expression of the more general idea that we are all motivated primarily (or only) by self-interest.  The view that human beings act from self-interest and only from self-interest is not new.  It has been the dominant view in psychology and in much of Western thought in general.

The view that human nature is motivated ultimately by self-interest applied to intimate relationships translates into the idea that we must fulfill our partner’s self-identified individual needs. 

The toxic effects of this position are:

  • Needs are demands that must be fulfilled. A need is something we are entitled to have fulfilled. ID-100277147
  • They can be exchanged (tit for tat, quid pro quo) but not truly negotiated because they are entitlements.
  • To not have a need fulfilled is an injustice that will breed resentment.
  • The value of my partner gets defined by the degree to which he “fulfills” my “needs”, satisfies my self-interest. In other words, he has no intrinsic value or worth to me independent of the degree to which he fulfills my self-identified needs, and vice versa, my value to him is  based on how well I fulfill his needs.
  • There is no end to the list of things I need. All wants, preferences, and desires can be identified as needs.
  • I do not have to be concerned about the impact on my partner of fulfilling my self-identified needs.
  • People who promote this view tend to adopt the idea that men and women have biologically-determined, inherent and enduring different needs (men are from Mars and women are from Venus). In this view, husbands and wives must fulfill each other’s biologically-based gender needs.

If marriage is to work in the 21st century, it cannot be built around the idea that if we fulfill each other’s self-identified, gendered needs we will live happily ever after.

The idea of partners as having things they want, and the related notion of “preference”, in order to flourish in life is a better way to promote good intimate relationships.   A want (or preference) is something that can be negotiated in your relationships; a need demands fulfillment.

To have a want or preference is an expression of oneself; it is an expression of what one believes important to living well, to having a good life.  As an expression of oneself, one’s wants and preferences must be acknowledged as standing on their own.  At the same time, they are not demands that must be catered to.  Wants and preferences are no more than an expression of oneself but they are no less than the expression of oneself. In fact, from my perspective wants (and associated preferences) are the best expression of who I am.  My wants derive from my values, my desire to flourish, my gender, and my experience in life.  And wants and desires can be negotiated.

The way to create a committed relationship in which each of your wants and preferences are respected and honored in your relationship is through collaborative negotiation. Collaboration is the ultimate form of working together; a synergistic process of shared creationCollaborating partners operate as a team to achieve a common purpose, which is larger than anything than either could achieve on his/her own.  Negotiation collaboratively is the ultimate form of jointly weighing how things are to work out between the two of you. True collaborators are always equals and each partner accepts full responsibility for his/her part in the process of negotiation.

Differences between the sexes, to the degree that we actually know what these are, may be important in determining the individual wants of men and women.  As wants or preferences, they can be negotiated, avoiding the risk of having gender differences create the opportunity for an unequal relationship by “privileging” male over female “needs” or vice versa.

Note:  To read more about the theoretical and philosophical bases for the concept  of “need” as a motivational concept in psychology, I recommend two books by Drs. Mike and Lisa Wallach, both profs of mine at Duke University: (1) Psychology’s Sanction for Selfishness: The Error of Egoism in Theory and Therapy and (2) Rethinking Goodness.  Both are brilliant thinkers.

Click on the thumbnails below for more info, fun, and provocative ideas about millennial marriages…

Needs versus wants 1 Needs versus wants 2 Needs versus wants 3