So you promised your partner you’d stop spending money on stupid shit. But you really, really want (need) this rubbery-ass $916 life-size figurine of Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator.
Decisions, decisions, decisions…
We all have to decide stuff like this from time to time, sometimes even about important matters — the times when we have to choose between what we want and what we’ve discussed with our partner is best for the good of both of you. But is there ever really a right choice, and does the fact that you even considered buying that Schwarzenegger-ine mean your relationship is less than adequate? According to couples therapist Jeanette Raymond, the answers are yes and yes.
“If you’re in a position where you have to make a decision to do something behind your partner’s back, that suggests the relationship hasn’t developed into a sufficiently mature unit — one where both individuals do what they need to do without threatening the ‘couple’ part of the relationship,” Raymond explains. “In technical terms, we refer to this as struggling with the separation-individuation developmental phase — when couples either merge (or yank) apart because the relationship is suffocating or they live as roommates.”
In a good relationship, Raymond says both partners should encourage each other to do what they need to do for their individual well-being. “The ‘couple’ part of the relationship has to tolerate that [these lone decisions] won’t dent the unit — that requires great emotional security,” she explains.
But then, what if your partner really wants you to stop spending recklessly, and you really want that Goddamn Terminator doll? How do you decide who gets their way? As with everything in a relationship — even (perhaps especially) playing with balls — the answer is communication. “You have to negotiate,” says couples therapist Brooke Sprowl. “Two people have to decide how strongly they both feel, and if they’re continuously coming across things where they both feel strongly in opposite directions, then there’s a compatibility issue. Or if they come to an agreement, and then they break that agreement, there’s a trust issue.”
Similar to Raymond, Sprowl emphasizes that a good partner should understand and support your endeavors, no matter how silly they might be. “If you really need something, help your partner understand that,” she suggests.
Before having that conversation, though, Sprowl recommends revisiting your own values and asking yourself whether the thing you have your eyes set on — the one that your partner doesn’t want anything to do with — is more important than your relationship. Naturally, some decisions can have a bigger impact than others (say, accepting a promotion that requires you to move cities), so consider that as well.
Sadly, there may come a time when you and your partner can never come to an agreement, and your needs might trump the needs of your relationship. “When people’s values aren’t enough in alignment, that’s a sign of incompatibility,” Sprowl explains.
This, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that your relationship is forever doomed. After all, nobody agrees on absolutely everything, so when these instances come up, you have to negotiate. Relationships are oftentimes about making sacrifices, even if that means giving up on your love for Arnold Schwarzenegger so you and your partner can go on vacation (or buy groceries) instead.
Either that, or — and you know I had to do this — it’s hasta la vista, baby.