The Career Within You

Finding the perfect job for your personality

How’s Your Relationship Brain?

Independence is an important ingredient in healthy relationships.

Couple working separately
Drawing by Elizabeth Wagele
Elizabeth Wagele

My friend tells me we have many brains.

We have brains for remembering facts, brains for figuring things out, brains that tell us about our bodies, emotional brains, automatic brains, and other kinds of brains.

Most of us could do a better job educating our relationship brains. We should have learned by now that healthy romantic relationships depend on two people having an adequate amount of independence. Nobody wants to feel overly burdened by someone else—it subtracts from the enjoyment of the relationship. So I feel uneasy when I see a woman repeatedly waiting on her partner (I’m not including spontaneously loving gestures or when someone is sick). I recall the 1960s when men would order us women to make them coffee, even when we were involved in doing something important to us and they were just sitting around. It usually didn’t occur to us to refuse. Women have gotten smarter but not smart enough.

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I like hearing about unusual relationships that work. Here is an example of extreme independence: I met an Observer/Questioner couple who have been married quite a few years and live separately in cities about seven miles apart. They never have spent a whole night together. But they have healthy relationship brains so they have put together a successful, loving marriage that works for them.

At the other extreme, sometimes women take care of males they don’t love in order to have someone to support them. There was a young man who did a version of this in my town a few years ago. He married a rather famous old woman who had an expensive home. When she died she left it to him instead of to her children. They sued him but he got to keep it. Are you thinking maybe it’s worth it to be with someone who doesn’t love you if you’re lonely enough? I think it would hurt terribly to live with someone who is trying to fool you by telling you they love you when they don’t. I think you would sense their phoniness.

I actually overheard men state this principle: “I buy my girl friend expensive clothes and jewelry and I pretend to go along with everything she wants. It’s worth it because in return she doesn’t give me any trouble and she feels obligated to have sex with me.” Anyone wanting a real relationship would run the other direction from phony men like these.

I enjoy seeing healthy male-female or gay relationships, where neither one is threatened by being apart for a few days or by going on a vacation the other isn’t interested in. They each support the other—one isn’t always doing all the giving and the other doing all the taking.

If you want to have a healthy relationship brain, try to rid yourself of any bullying or wimping out tendencies and make sure you co-operate in the shared areas of your life, such as household tasks and child rearing. It‘s ideal for everyone in a family to be able to switch around and do any job when needed.

(I wonder how I would do if I were to take an exam on how healthy my relationship brain is?)


Elizabeth Wagele is the co-author with Ingrid Stabb of The Career Within You: How to Find the Perfect Job for Your Personality.


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