Consider your relationship (or your most recent one): have you ever stopped to ask yourself if your relationship is equal? And if it’s not, how much that matters to you? Though there are many layers to the fabric of emotional intimacy, when two partners decide to share their heart, their bed and sometimes a name, there’s a natural push-and-pull in power that psychologists say is healthy, but can be massaged to be more balanced. Especially in terms of household responsibilities, emotional support and decision-making, putting in the extra effort to discuss what will make each of you feel happier and maybe more importantly – heard – can bring you closer and strengthen your bond.
“It makes people feel more like true partners, that they are valued, and that they are a respected half of the relationship. The equality makes people feel more respected, understood, and that they have equal say and contributions in a relationship,” psychologist and love expert, Dr. Nikki Martinez Psy.D., LCPC says. “This creates more harmony, more willingness to express their thoughts and opinions, but also more willing to hear the other persons in return, as they know that each person’s thoughts and contributions will be of equal weight.”
Here’s how to know if your relationship is unbalanced – and how to meet in the middle in a way that is comfortable (and likely, refreshing) for both you and your partner:
Is your relationship unbalanced?
Think about your day-to-day dynamic again. Do you make the majority of the choices? From what you eat for dinner to how you spend your weekend (or ahem, how often you have sex), if you’re the only one making actionable decisions, you may need your partner to step up, while you take a back seat. As licensed clinical psychologist, Sarah Schewitz, Psy.D, says, “While some couples do agree upon a head of the household who makes most of the decisions, this can often leave the follower feeling unimportant or misrepresented. It can also lead to the follower becoming dependent on the leader and losing confidence in his or her ability to make decisions on their own.”
Dating coach and CEO of Blush Online Life Coaching, Kali Rogers adds that what’s most pivotal in determining the balance in your relationship is that it’s a dynamic that both you and your partner agree upon. The friction typically comes when one partner feels like what they say, think and feel doesn’t matter, while another partner doesn’t take time to listen and understand their frustrations. Whatever give-and-take works for your couplehood, make sure to communicate calmly and effectively about what balance looks like and means to you.
…so talk about your expectations.
The easiest way to figure out if your significant other is satisfied and feels like your partner, and not just someone who is along for the ride or bossing you around? Schewitz says it’s simple: discuss what you need. “When couples first come to therapy with me, I often have them create a relationship vision together so they can get clear on what each of them wants in an ideal relationship,” she says. “Making sure that each of you have equal amounts of what you are looking for in a relationship is a great way to find a balance.”
Separate the issue from the person during disagreements.
One way that a relationship might lean heavily toward a particular person is in the heat of an argument. But Dr. Martinez says this is when you need to tread lightly and remember that what you’re upset about is the specific incident and maybe not the person you’re dating. “This means not resorting to personal attacks, being an active listener, and being willing to hear the other person out. This makes each person feel heard, respected, and that each of your thoughts and opinions hold equal weight in the relationship,” she says.
Do an audit every few months.
Do you remember what you were wearing on your 21st birthday? Or maybe what you wore on your first day to high school? It’s probably pretty safe to say that your style preference have matured and transformed in the past decade (and some change). Your relationship will go through many stages too, and while you might be able to successfully avoid a goth period (let’s hope, anyway), Schewitz says it’s a smart idea to take a breather every few months or so to figure out if you and your partner are still happily chugging along.
“It’s so easy to get into a daily routine that sometimes we don’t stop to think about whether it’s actually working for us. Plan a night or a weekend getaway every couple of months where you both get to share how you feel the relationship is going and anything you’d like to work on or change,” she advises. “Review all areas of your relationship; intimacy, emotional connection, finances, parenting, division of household chores, and decision-making.”
Make sure you’re both getting the self-care and me-time that you need.
Did your mama ever told you that nothing can grow in shade? She’s right (like she is about most things) – and if you’re always lingering over one another, spending all of your free-time wrapped up in the ‘I don’t know, what do you want to do?’ puzzle, then you’re not getting the personal fulfillment that you both deserve, and let’s face it – crave. “If you are not taking care of yourself, you won’t have much to offer to your relationship. Self-care is a requirement of a healthy, balanced relationship,” Rogers says. “Whatever you need to recharge, whether that’s painting, time with friends, movie night, yoga, or eating right – do it. Without it, you won’t have the energy to be your best self and pull your weight in your relationship, and balance will not be achievable.”
Allow gender roles to be fluid.
Especially now, when the majority of households need two incomes to make ends meet (and to go on a vacation once a year), pigeonholing either parties into traditional roles is silly. As Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., says: “ Nowadays, men and women can more freely choose the kinds of lifestyles and jobs they want without these being gender-bound. For example, women can take on jobs once predominantly reserved for men, while men can engage in more domestic activities like cooking, and also spend more time with their children. Let each other be who you are so that each partner feels empowered to be themselves and, consequently, feeling more empowered with equality in your relationship as well.”
Remember that equality looks different to everyone.
You can’t keep up with the Joneses (or the Smiths or the Carters or anyone) – and comparing yourself to other couples will never benefit the relationship you’re in. In fact, it could make it worse. While you should invest in the extra effort to communicate and find a medium that make you both feel respected, Schewitz says you should also realize that nothing will ever be perfect, and to kindly ride the ebbs-and-flows of your relationship.
“No relationship is ever fully balanced. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses and it often makes sense to have the person who is stronger in a certain area take on those responsibilities. Or perhaps one person prefers taking the lead and the other prefers following. If it works for your particular situation, that is great,” she explains. “Relationships are also unbalanced in the sense that there is usually somebody pursuing for closeness and somebody pulling away. These interactions can be very subtle but they occur in most relationships, especially if you have been together for a long time.”