Why Your Relationships Aren't as Balanced As You Think

February 9 2022 | Written by Rhea Kumar (She/Her)

Valentine's Day, for better or for worse, brings up feelings of appreciation for our existing romantic relationships, (or perhaps brings up feelings of wanting that romantic relationship).

But have you taken stock of the other relationships in your life? In our lexicon we often say, “I’m in a relationship,” when we’ve committed to a partner. But aren’t we always in a relationship? Haven’t we been in relationships since the day we were born? It appears that we’ve placed the romantic relationship at the highest peak of our love hierarchy- and this isn’t always so ideal.

The Problem With Finding ‘The One’ 

This pressure to achieve a singular, ‘all in one’ relationship costs us the attention we need to place in all of our other relationships. This phenomenon often happens in the honeymoon stages of a relationship, when everything is a flurry of happiness, low expectations and naivety. 

But the issue is, can one person really be the centre of your universe? Do they have the capacity to hold such an important role in your life? Most experts say no. Psychotherapist Esther Perel says that when we find our chosen partner, we expect them to offer, stability, safety, predictability, and dependability. And we want that very same person to supply awe, mystery, adventure, and risk.”

two hands holding each other's pinkies

“We want to ‘marry our best friend,’ our confidant on all matters, someone to whom we should be able to tell everything. And, for that matter, they should not only be a stellar co-parent, they should also be a savvy co-decorator, a skilled sous chef, a financial whiz, a motivated jogging partner, and a devilishly funny gossip- depending on what we need that day.”

The Relationship Portfolio 

Let’s look at our relationships like our finances just for a brief second, don’t worry, I’m not about to lecture you about index funds, but hear me out. Why is it that we maintain our finances into a workable portfolio, yet when it comes to our relationships with friends, parents and siblings, we subscribe to passive acceptance? Just hoping that the distances, the gaps and the miscommunications will work themselves out? 

Does your relationship portfolio need diversifying? Perhaps you’re not paying enough attention to it. Perel says that as we grow older, we pay less attention to the long term relationships we’ve cultivated, and prioritize just a few- primarily in the pursuit of finding or maintaining romantic relationships.

Professor of social psychology at Northwestern University, Eli Finkel talks about marriage. A lot. While many of us might not be there as yet, his work presents valuable considerations to anyone who is in a long-term relationship, or plans to be in one. 

a silhouette of two individuals looking into the sunset

Finkel says the biggest change he’s observed about marriages over the past century is how much more expectation is placed on the other person. 

“The main change has been that we’ve added, on top of the expectation that we’re going to love and cherish our spouse, the expectation that our spouse will help us grow, help us become a better version of ourselves, a more authentic version of ourselves,” says Finkel. 

What to Do When Things Get Tough 

But what happens when your primary relationship is hitting a road-block, or there’s a bout of high stress? Who is it that you reach out to when you need help? This is when it’s time to take stock of your relationship portfolio. 

Some good questions to ask yourself are: 

  • Do I have a tendency to reach out to friends with only the things you feel you can’t talk to your partner about? If so, why?
  • What are the skills, traditions, or wisdom that I would like a friend to come to me with? Have I offered these to my friend?
  • Do I bring all of my challenges to my partner, or do I seek out advice from the person in my life who has the most knowledge or experience with the problem? 

Be Intentional 

While she may not be a scientific expert, two-time Oscar winning actress and activist Jane Fonda has lived many lifetimes in her 84 years. Plus, she’s a badass who is really good at articulating her feelings. 

Therefore, once in a while, I hold her words to scientific esteem. She recently spoke about friendship on CBS Sunday Morning, and shared some valuable insights. 

Fonda says that as she got older, she became more intentional about her friendships. Almost like making a conscious effort to pursue someone we’re sexually or physically attracted to, Fonda suggests we shouldn’t be afraid to pursue people we want to be friends with. 

It’s easier than you think. Fonda says you should actively seek out the people you enjoy being around. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m intentionally wanting to be your friend.” Odds are, it’ll work. When people hear that they’re actively being sought after for meaningful friendship, they stick around.

There’s a reason why the terms best friend and partner are not synonymous with one another. That’s another thing Perel warns against. Never call your spouse your best friend. Why try to merge two special roles into one? 

How to Evaluate Your Relationship Portfolio 

So, back to this relationship portfolio…don’t know where to start? Try mapping out all of the important relationships in your life, be it with your partner, yourself, close friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and of course, family (chosen family included). 

Take a close look at what expectations you place on each person. What do you seek out the most when you spend time with them? Why do you confide in them? Are you returning the effort? If you give yourself enough room to evaluate, you might just find some opportunities to shift around some of these expectations, and perhaps improve these relationships.