Do you sometimes feel like you are the only one participating in maintaining and improving your relationship? Do you try over and over again to get your partner to get involved in things you think might benefit you both, just to be met with disinterest or indifference? Have you taken over the role of caretaker for your entire relationship? If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. This is a very common problem for couples in long-term relationships.
The pattern of asking your partner to take the lead and the resulting lack of response causes most people to believe that the less engaged partner simply doesn’t care. Most of the time, that’s not the case. So, why haven’t any of your attempts worked? There are many possible reasons, but the most common are ineffective communication, different goals, or the disengaged partner has given up because of a perception of having failed with previous attempts. All of these are fixable if both partners are willing to acknowledge their part in creating the problem as well as their role in fixing it. You may be thinking at this point: “I have been the only one making an effort for years. Why do I have to put in more effort to fix it?” The best answer is because both people in a relationship participate in creating problems; either by what they do or don’t do. By trying some of the suggestions below, you can bring some balance back into the relationship and it will result in less effort on your part over the long-term.
The most common reason, ineffective communication, is luckily the easiest to fix. Simply put, your attempts to get your partners attention just aren’t coming across clearly. You may be trying to be subtle with the hope that your partner should pick up on what you want without you having to ask. You may be making requests at ineffective times. You may be clearly asking for what you want, but the way you are asking is not effective for your partner. In long-term relationships we often make the mistake that we know everything about each other, but many times our assumptions are incorrect. Try planning a discussion about communication styles and preferences. Don’t make accusations. Don’t bring up examples of times when you were disappointed about the lack of communication. Simply ask what your partner’s preferences are and clearly state your own. Ask about the best time and way of approaching each other when either of you have something important to discuss. Some people like to plan important discussions in advance rather than it being spontaneous. Some people like to be able to write down their thoughts and points so they don’t get distracted or off- topic. For some people, there’s a particular time of day when they are most receptive. Think of all of the things that do and don’t work for you when communicating important information. A discussion about your relationship should not be casually thrown out at any point in the same way you would talk about who is going to do the dishes. If you have something important to say, find out how you can talk about it in a way that will work for you both.
Have you noticed that there’s a disconnect in what you both want from the relationship? Does it seem like you have different goals? That may or may not be true; try not to make assumptions. Couples can approach relationship goals the same way they approach goals at work or in other areas. Most people have never had a discussion with their partner about their goals for the relationship, even though it can be really beneficial. If you are planning a lifetime together, why not find out if you are working towards the same endpoint? A word of caution, this is not the kind of conversation to spring upon your partner randomly; it’s going to take some soul searching for you both. Let your partner know that this is something you want to talk about and decide to give each other a reasonable amount of time to come up with relationship goals. Determine what you like about your relationship now that you want to keep. Maybe there are things that you use to do together that you want to start up again. What do you want your future to look like? How much togetherness vs. independence do you both want? Are there rituals that you want to create? Are there things that you have always wanted to do together? Make sure you both know what you want before trying to compare goals. If there are incompatible goals, take some time to determine how you feel about those items. Is it something you can accept? Is there a possible compromise? Is it a deal-breaker? Should you talk to someone who can mediate or clarify things better for you? Exhaust all possibilities before making any major decisions. You don’t want to accept something you don’t want if there’s a better solution, and you don’t want to give up on someone unless there’s no better alternative to fix the problem.
Another really common component of the imbalance in effort towards the relationship is that people often shut down or stop trying if they feel like they can’t succeed. Perhaps your partner made more of an effort before, but stopped after a few negative outcomes. Maybe their lack of confidence in relationship building came from a previous relationship or other area of their life. No matter the cause, neither of you can begin to fix it until you talk about what you both need. Try stating that you feel like you are the only one tending to the relationship and ask what you could do differently to allow for more balance. You may be surprised at the answer you get. Again, don’t pressure your partner for an answer, or get upset by a lack of response. Remember, this is something that has been on your mind, and may not have been on your partner’s radar. Allow time and space to process. Often times, you may find out that your partner feels that they are putting in effort, and you didn’t realize because it didn’t look the way you expected.
If you feel like you are the sole caretaker of your relationship and are tired of it, take the time to figure out why. It could even be as simple as it unintentionally became a pattern in your relationship, and your partner would be happy to take on some of the responsibility if asked and given the opportunity. Maybe it’s a bit more complex and will take effort to change. Whatever the cause, wouldn’t it be better to start trying to fix it now before the resentment builds? It can be scary to try different approaches. All of these suggestions open you up to being vulnerable and discovering new things. Do it anyways. Make the decision today that you and your relationship are worth it.