Come on!  Just do it my way!

We've all been here, at least metaphorically.  Getting along with partners on many or even most things is just not good enough.  We have a dream of ubercompatibility - fantasy of a partner who mirrors our esoteric worldview, level of sex drive, and complete set of values and interests, a relationship that keeps running smoothly.  

"Oh, I'm not naive," you may say.  "I know better than to expect perfection."  Okay.  Then what's all the fuss about?  When every incompatibility feels like a relationship crisis, the dream of ubercompatibility may be lurking in your psyche.

The ideal of ubercompatibility and the disenchantment associated with incompatibility are frequent psychotherapy topics.  Last week, a new client, who feels that she has been used and taken for granted by a string of boyfriends, told me that in the future she plans to "demand better treatment from men."  Like many others (women and men), she has partly figured out what needs to happen.  It has become clear to her that in order for relationship satisfaction to improve, her behavior must change.  It is not clear, however, exactly what behavior changes will get the improvement she's looking for. Though understandable, her decision to demand better treatment needs tweaking. 

Ignore conventional wisdom

First, examine expectations.  Relationship satisfaction is improbable unless we ignore ubercompatibility-expecting conventional wisdom.  Get realistic.

Conventional wisdom v. Realistic expectations

  • Romantic love is the most special relationship of all.  (Occasionally feels that way.)
  • Find your soul mate and marry him or her.  (Rarely happens, if ever.)  
  • Spouses are supposed to fulfill each other's wants and needs.  (Occasionally happens.)  
  • If you love me, you will change.  (Never.)
  • Love is selfless.  (Rarely.)
  • It takes years to train a husband or wife.  (Spouses are not trick ponies.)

Expecting to be carried around on a pillow as in the days of infatuation is sure to foster a sense of grave incompatibilities.  See previous posts: Walking the Path Alone: Self-responsible Spouse, Beat the Odds Against Marital Success. 

Demand emotional maturity 

Next, if demands must be made, demand emotional maturity of yourself.  The greater your own emotional maturity, the more likely you are to choose wisely.  If the choice has already been made and a partner's faults are stealing focus, demand restraint and integrity of yourself. 

Whether incompatibility arises around household chores, money management, or sexual intimacy, making demands of partners may yield temporary concessions but will always fail to bring about lasting behavior change.  Also, as everyone knows, demands annoy spouses and inspire counter-demands.  Instead, focus on learning to reality-test expectations and to practice emotionally mature reactions to incompatibility.  See previous posts: The Four Keys to Responding Constructively and Not Giving In, Disgruntled Partners Defend "Honey-do" Lists. 

Take command.  

Finally, rather than making demands of a spouse, take command of your own negative reactions to their behavior.  When we hold unrealistic expectations, it is natural to feel frustration and disappointment.  Taking command of our natural reactivity is the behavior change that keeps relationships running smoothly.  See previous posts: How to Train Your Dragon, This is Your Brain on Disenchantment.

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About the Author

Christine Meinecke, Ph.D.

Christine Meinecke, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and author of Everybody Marries the Wrong Person.

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