This question might strike you as the epitome of selfishness. You might just chalk it up to our narcissistic culture. “What’s in it for me?” certainly lacks any sense of poetry, romance or selflessness. Yet in couples counseling this question comes up all the time.
Is there a righteous place for this line of inquiry in modern relationships?
I think the answer is yes. A committed relationship is a contract. Two people agree to be together and in the process develop a framework of give and take. These contracts are often implicit and include unspoken trade-offs. If you do this for me, I will do that for you. You cook and I will clean up. You keep the calendar; I’ll maintain the cars.You go to work and I will manage the home. If you come to my family reunion, I’ll go to your cousin’s graduation. You’ve got the idea, right? Each party contributes and strives toward the betterment of their coupled existence.
But what happens when one party feels the contract is unfair? Or one partner is not living up to his/her part of the bargain? What happens when one partner feels that they give, give, and give some more and get nothing back in return? The obvious answer is trouble. No matter how generous or loving an individual may be, at some point the feeling of unfairness and disillusionment will lead to turmoil in the relationship. No one wants to feel used.
Almost all relationships face this conundrum at some point in time since roles and responsibilities are rarely perfectly balanced. It is natural for folks to feel that they got the short end of the stick: that their job is more stressful, that they do more chores around the house, that they carry a larger portion of the financial burden. Inevitably, this results in resentment, conflict or withdrawal–all poison for relationship health.
When one partner finds a situation intolerable, it places the relationship at risk. This occurs when half of a couple feels that he/she is living on a one way street: all give and no take–and–it’s precisely when the disgruntled giver asks: what’s in it for me? At that juncture a couple is wise to to honestly and objectively reevaluate their contract and re-appraise all the elements of the relationship.
In the re-evaluative process sometimes the disgruntled giver may recognize that he/she did not fully appreciate the nature or level of their mates contribution. Some givers are programmed to give, no matter what, even if the partner doesn’t want what they are giving. Sometimes in an odd way it’s more about the giver.
Feeling overwhelmed (and not talking about it) can sometimes promote unnecessary isolation and resentment. Other couples may discover that the arrangement they had developed is no longer viable and requires significant modifications.
One needn’t wait for a crisis to do a reassessment of your relationship contract. The most vibrant relationships are those with clear, explicit, and mutually accepted expectations. Those in which couples share thoughts and feelings as they emerge, before they harden into resentment and a full-blown grievance. Talk about what’s happening. If communication is a problem, consider a couples counseling telephone session to get the ball rolling. Don’t let barriers form in the first place. Dismantling them is much harder.
Our unique model of two-on-two couples counseling retreat provide unique insight and deep understanding of how couples work and the steps needed to meet their needs. Whether your relationship or marriage is fairly new or you’ve been together for a number of years, married for over ten years (or longer!), our private couples therapy retreats might be just the tune-up your relationship needs to stay on track. -Dr. Jerry Duberstein
Dr. Jerry Duberstein has counseled individuals and couples for 40 years. He received his Ph.D. in Psychology at Saybrook Institute in San Francisco in 1986 and a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology at Antioch New England University in 1976. Dr. Duberstein’s book , Relationship Transformation: Have Your Cake and Eat It Too-A Practical Guide for Couples Who Want To Be Free and Connected is available in paper copy and ebook formats. He lives on the coast of New Hampshire with his wife, Mary Ellen Goggin. Learn more about their work by visiting their website at free & connected.
Mary Ellen Goggin
Mary Ellen Goggin has worked with individuals and businesses for 35 years as a lawyer, mediator, personal coach and educator. She received her J.D. at University of New Hampshire Law School and a Master’s Degree at Harvard University. Ms .Goggin is the co-author of Relationship Transformation: Have Your Cake and Eat It Too-A Practical Guide for Couples Who Want To Be Free and Connected . She lives on the coast of New Hampshire with her husband, Jerry Duberstein. Learn more about their work by visiting their website at free & connected.