Relationships are hard – and they’re meant to be.

We typically have a list of characteristics that we’d like to see in a partner.  We want them to share our values, have a good job, have similar likes and dislikes and to be sexually compatible.  Online dating services devise various profile questions so that we can select a perspective partner with care and optimize a match.  Frequently, physical attraction (or lack of it) overrides our response to a written profile.  Or, we meet someone in the ordinary course of life – at work, on the street or at a club.  It’s love at first sight or we gradually fall in love with a person over time.  In cultures where marriages are arranged, wedding first, love later.

 

Relationships are a Healthy Challenge

We now happily find ourselves in a relationship.  Over time, though, difficulties and incompatibilities, large or small, become more apparent.  Our partners don’t understand us or we have different approaches to life.  We have the fantasy of finding someone just like us, who sees things in a similar way, someone who really “gets” us and shares the same interests like our friends do. But relationships typically don’t work that way. And, psychologically, they’re not supposed to.  In a sense, relationships are supposed to be hard. It doesn’t mean that we don’t love our partners or really enjoy being with them or that it’s a bad match. It just means that there are difficulties inherent in intimate relationships that challenge us to expand who we are.

In a sense, relationships are supposed to be hard.

 

Our Inner Other

Each of us has an unconscious template of sorts, an inner other, that represents a model of who we’re attracted to. When we meet someone that matches that inner other, there’s an attraction, what we typically think of as chemistry, like a plug that fits into an outlet.  That’s the glue that initially holds us together and enables us to tolerate the differences that begin to emerge.  Contractual arrangements such as marriage do the same thing. But this inner other (what C.G. Jung termed the anima/animus) typically represents what is least developed in us. For example, one person may approach the world primarily through thinking. That is, they tend to be governed by logic, rational thought and the world of facts and place great value on what is fair and just.  Think of Mr. Spock from Star Trek or an economist.  On the other hand, a feeling type places relationship over fact, heart over head, focusing on the emotional needs of others and themselves rather than the facts.  In some ways, Bill Clinton and Oprah, in their ability to connect to people and be empathic, are good examples of feeling types.  In a criminal case, a thinking type might focus on the law that was broken while a feeling type may be more concerned with understanding how the defendant’s upbringing influenced their action. Thinking versus feeling is just one category of difference that is common in relationships and in reality, the division is rarely so pure.

 

Thinkers vs Feelers

In life, we tend to focus on what we’re good at and ignore what we’re not.  Right handed people, for example, typically have difficulty using their left hands so they never work to develop them.  It’s the same with thinking and feeling and our other psychological functions.  For thinking types, thinking is habitual and dominant and they tend to apply it to all situations, even in situations that call for a more nuanced feeling response.

Being in relationship – all types – mean having to give up what we know is right in order to incorporate another person into our lives. In doing so, we expand who we are as individuals as we grow towards experiencing more of a sense of wholeness in our lives. This is the purpose of relationship and why they are so hard.

The converse is true for feeling types. The opposite of what we are is less developed in us and we tend to devalue and dislike it in others. It makes no sense to us. You’ve been forced to work late every night this week and your partner is upset that you’ve not been home.  Explanation (a thinking approach) does not work and you get upset that your partner is being so irrational. What does work is tending to your partner’s feelings (which might seem unwarranted) and for your partner to have to rationally understand your situation.

For each of you, being with the other forces you to have to develop within you what’s less dominant in order to make the relationship work.  Being in relationship – all types – means having to give up what we know is right in order to incorporate another person into our lives. In doing so, we expand who we are as individuals as we grow towards experiencing more of a sense of wholeness in our lives. This is the purpose of relationship and why they are so hard.

compromises

About the Author

Michael Marsman is an Licensed Therapist (LCSW) at Well Clinic in San Francisco. In his words, “My approach is to work with you in a way that is collaborative and geared to who you are.”

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