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Pro-Relationship vs Pro-Self: Why Working Towards Mutuality Creates Safety & Security as a Couple.

It is not uncommon for couples to think that taking care of themselves as individuals will be good for the relationship. The focus is often on thinking only about yourself, your feelings, your needs, and your desires.

It is important to do what we can do to be in the best health physically, emotionally and spiritually so that we can “be there” for our partners as much as possible. But being Pro-Self usually means that our needs, our desires, and our priorities come first. If that’s so, how can we start creating safety and security as a couple? The answer is simple. The relationship must come first.

What does that mean? It means that you can put aside some of your own desires and wishes because you know that what’s best for the two of you is best for both of you. You are motivated by thinking that what is good for both of you is what’s good for each of you.

When you take a pro-relationship stance, it doesn’t mean giving up on yourself. But it makes you ask yourself, when you make a choice to say or do something, “is this good for my partner and is it also good for me?” You don’t move forward until both of you are okay with whatever decision you’ve made.

If it is not good for your partner, in the long run, it won’t be good for you. Stop and find out why, and together try to find a way that will work for both of you.

Let’s say that you really thrive on cuddling and other ways of showing affection. You are touchy feely by nature. That’s what it was like in your family when you grew up. But your partner is less inclined to express herself that way. You need to take the time to find out what she is feeling at that moment. If she feels pressured to give you a warm hug every time you walk into the room, do you know what this pressure is all about for her? Do you take the time to find out, or do you just take it personally and feel rejected?

To be pro-self would be to interpret what appears to be dismissive or cold behaviour, and then to be resentful or angry as a response. You might feel she doesn’t find you attractive anymore. You might storm out of the room if you get very frustrated, because this has happened so many times before. Maybe your reaction would be to leave the house altogether and go work out, or not to talk to her, as a form of punishment. Whatever it is, the road to security, as difficult as it may be, is to learn how she responds to life, and what you can do to help her feel safe enough to engage with you in a way that makes you feel good.

And you do that together. Both of you are responsible for making it work.

Do you see where we are going with this? It may be up to you to demonstrate to her that you are there with her emotionally and that therefore it is safe for her to respond to you.

And she would have to play some part in it too. She would see you trying, and she would know that she has to make it easier for you — acknowledge your attempt to reach her. In this framework, she could more easily reciprocate in some way. She might apologize for seemingly ignoring you. She might acknowledge that she wasn’t been considering your feelings. She might say, “I am just so tired from work. Let’s cuddle later”. She might just give you a reassuring look or a sincere hug. It wouldn’t have to be long, but it would send a message to you that she knows you are there, and knows what you need. The look in her eyes and softness in her face will be telling, and it may be all that you need.

When you are in a pro-relationship mode, you work towards a win-win situation. The stability of the relationship is more important than the desires of each individual on a moment-to-moment basis. That may sound very self-sacrificing, but, truly, the process works for you, not against you, because you know that your partner is acting in good faith, and is thinking of you, taking you into account. It is easier to take a position that makes both of you feel less alone. You will know that somewhere in the future your partner will be aware of your feelings and take care of you as well. You will know in your gut that your partner has your best interests at heart, and is not just ignoring you. Her difficulty in responding to you is not “just to get her way”.

There is a sense of equality in this kind of relationship. You both count. You both have equal value. You both get what you need, if not at the same moment, at some future date.

Being reciprocal doesn’t mean you have to give back in the same way. You can give back in different ways. It is not that “you give me”, therefore I have to give you….”

It is more like, “you are attentive to me, and you know that I will reciprocate in some way”. You feel your partner’s desire to respond to you, and you both do your best to show that you are there for each other, and aware of each other, by your daily actions. You have created a framework for taking care of each other through life. And you practice it, not just through words, but by what you do – whether through a touch or an embrace or a good listening ear.

A mutually secure-functioning relationship is a win-win for both of you.


This article was originally written by Louise Dorfman and David Rubinstein for the Banff Couples Conference website. Copyright © Couple Enrichment Inc. 2014-2018. All Rights Reserved. If you wish to reprint this article, please contact us for permission.

For more information on the Conference: Banff 2015 Couples Conference Facilitators.


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