Do You Take Your Relationship for Granted? Congratulations!
Why calmness and trust are a couple's greatest achievements.
Posted Oct 07, 2014
"In all affairs, it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted." —Bertrand Russell
"Being taken for granted can be a compliment. It means that you've become a comfortable, trusted element in another person's life." —Joyce Brothers
One popular piece of advice given by marriage counselors is not to take your partner for granted. In order to fan the flagging flames of romance, the argument goes, it's helpful to introduce changes and uncertainty into the relationship. Taking your partner for granted, on the other hand, is typically associated with stability and confidence in the status quo, which can lead to the assumption that no further effort or resources need to be invested.
I propose that although this advice is adequate with regard to some aspects of some relationships, it is basically incorrect when a couple's love is profound, and trust prevails. In such circumstances, taking the partner for granted in a deep sense is the most natural and optimal attitude.
"Do not take anything for granted—not one smile or one person or one rainbow or one breath, or one night in your cozy bed." —Terri Guillemets
The many dictionary definitions of being "taken for granted" include "to fail to appreciate the value" and "to treat someone in a careless or indifferent manner." These definitions are independent, and the presence of one does not necessarily imply the presence of the others. You can take for granted either negative or positive assumptions about your partner, but the definitions generally carry a negative connotation, and presumes underestimation and/or inconsiderate behavior.
And yet these definitions are not adequate when describing taking a partner for granted in profound love. In such love, the definitions are associated with trust and related to promoting the partner's flourishing. To clarify, let me first discuss the distinction between romantic intensity and profundity.
From Intense to Profound
"We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity. Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony." —Thomas Merton
Profound activities are essential for our development and flourishing; superficial activities have a more limited impact on us. Profound activities have a lingering influence on our life and may also shape our personality. Superficial activities affect only the surface—they are more limited in their scope and immediate impact, although their impact can become significant if we engage in them frequently.
Romantic intensity is like a snapshot of a given moment, but in romantic profundity, the temporal dimension of love has greater significance. Romantic intensity expresses the superficial, momentary measure of passionate, often sexual, desire. Romantic profundity embodies frequent acute occurrences of intense love over long periods of time, along with romantic experiences that meaningfully resonate in all dimensions of life, helping individuals flourish and thrive. Time is a crucial aspect of romantic profundity, but hardly relevant (and potentially destructive) for romantic intensity. The major concern of profound love is the long-term flourishing of each partner and of their relationship, while the activities associated with romantic intensity are primarily focused on short-term excitement.
The Role of Change
"Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before." —Mae West
We generate emotions when we perceive significant positive or negative changes in our personal situation or the situations of those close to us. Like burglar alarms going off when an intruder appears, our emotions signal that something needs attention. We respond, in other words, to the unusual.
But a change, by definition, cannot persist for an extended period of time—after a while, the system construes it as our new normal state, and it no longer excites us. From an evolutionary point of view, it's advantageous to focus attention and resources on changes rather than on stable stimuli whose nature we can take for granted. Changes indicate that our situation is unstable, and our awareness of this is important for our survival. But once we have become accustomed to the change, mental activity decreases, as there is no sense in wasting energy on something to which we have already adapted and about which no new information need be generated.
These considerations are relevant to romantic intensity, whose presence typically requires changes from us. They are less relevant for romantic profundity, whose presence involves building upon familiar and similar shared activities. Change is indeed highly significant in generating sexual desire. Thus, the frequency of sexual activity with one's partner typically declines steadily as the relationship lengthens. Changes are crucial to more superficial activities whose value depends to a large extent upon novel stimuli—their function, after all, is to prevent boredom. In profound love, however, familiarity and stability are of greater value. While the value of romantic intensity is in preventing boredom (or other negative experiences), the value of romantic profundity is in promoting flourishing.
Although both aspects are important, in profound love, promoting is of greater value.
Profoundly Taken for Granted
"A skeptic is a person who would ask God for his ID card." —Edgar A. Shoaff
In relationships in which romantic intensity and changes are essential, the lover must always be on the alert, seeking more and more novel external stimuli to fan the sexual flame. In relationships of romantic profundity, promoting the flourishing of each partner and their togetherness is the essence of the relationship, and trust in the partner—and shared supportive activities—are essential.
Engaging in a constant search for verification and novel stimuli is likely to ruin the relationship. Taking a partner for granted in profound love, on the other hand, does not imply being insensitive—it just excludes being worried all the time about how to prevent the partner from leaving you. The trust underlying profound love is not oblivious to risks, but the default attitude is not constant suspicion.
Taking your partner for granted does not imply doing repetitive, boring activities. When love is profound, romantic activities are calm yet still very dynamic. The calmness stems from the trust in the beloved and the relationship, not merely for the present but in the future as well. The dynamic nature is due to the ongoing activities that the lovers constantly share.
A Note on Trust
"You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment unless you trust enough." —Frank Crane
Trust is one of the most frequent attributes associated with the experience of “being in love.” My view concerning taking the partner for granted is based upon the essential role of trust in profound love. Trust does come with risk—the risk of betrayal—but still typically involves a positive attitude toward the partner and optimism concerning his or her trustworthiness. Trust does not mean ignoring risk, just not constantly worrying about it. Constant suspicion is incompatible with trust and can ruin a relationship. In profound love, we are not continually on guard. Calmness and feeling comfortable are core characteristics of profound love; being on guard is the opposite of this.
In profound love, taking the partner for granted in the deeper sense—that is, being relaxed about the partner's activities—is compatible with trust. Just as trust does not mean ignoring the risk, taking a partner for granted also does not mean ignoring the need to fan the romantic flames. But the essence remains trust and calmness.