All couples long to experience a sense of emotional safety in their marriage/relationship—the sense that stability exists between you and your partner, knowledge that you’ll be there for each other when needed. As one husband recently said at a couples workshop, “For the last fifteen years I’ve known that Cheryl has had my back, and that has made all the difference in our relationship. We’re not always perfect, but I guess perfection isn’t necessary…”
Believing and feeling that your partner is there for you when you need him/her is emotionally grounding, and can instill you with a sense of hope, connection and comfort that transcends time and location.
But this sense of security doesn’t just arise out of thin air. As you just heard, Javier knows that his wife Cheryl is committed and emotionally available to him because she has demonstrated this more often than not throughout their fifteen-year marriage.
Don’t Expect Perfection, But Don’t Abandon Expectations Either…
Here’s what you should expect:
Is Cheryl always able to meet Javier’s needs? Of course not, and if Javier expected perfection, sooner or later there would be mounting tensions, mutual frustrations and marriage problems would likely result from his unrealistic expectations.
Emotional Intimacy Requires Consistency, Not Perfection
A constant is something that is always present. A constant doesn’t vary. When you expect perfection, you’re demanding a constant—for instance, that your partner constantly meet your needs. But as anyone in a long-term relationship will tell you, life just doesn’t work that way—no matter how much we’d like it to.
Expecting your spouse/partner to constantly give you the attention, responsiveness, love, compassion, caring, follow-through, etc., you’d like sets the relationship bar out of reach. And while you should set the relationship bar high (we become better people through being challenged), setting it beyond your partner’s reach is just a recipe for frustration and a lack of fulfillment.
Relationship Help: What’s the Alternative?
Expect consistency. Ask for it. Emphasize it. Let it be known that you need your spouse/partner to be as consistent as possible in being responsive to you—tell him/her that consistency makes you feel safe and deepens emotional intimacy. And show your partner consistency in return…one of the most effective ways to get your needs met is to show your partner what you mean through your own actions. Discussion is great, but demonstration is even better.
The expectation of consistency (rather than constancy, which implies perfection) allows for wiggle room; it gives space for those inevitable times when you and your partner fail to meet each other’s needs—it allows for the imperfections of living while expecting more and believing in one another.
Expecting consistency lets your spouse/partner know that s/he cannot just mindlessly coast through the relationship day after day, month after month, year after year; it also sends the message that you’re not unrealistic or a tyrant, yet you do require that s/he steps up to the relationship plate and gives it his/her all.
How will you and your spouse/partner make consistency the norm in your relationship while creating space for the imperfection that being human requires?
Dr. Rich Nicastro