Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships
How do you express Care towards your partner? In what can seem obvious to many can also be seen as a skill to be developed. What level of care do you want in your relationship? What level of care do you offer? Is it balanced? We look forward to hearing your responses to this writing.
“Care is love in action,” Doc Childre, founder of Institute of HeartMath
“There is greatness in doing something you hate for the sake of someone you love.” ― Shmuley Boteach
It seems obvious that partners will care for each other in a relationship. If you don’t care about each other, why would you be in the relationship? Making the hidden obvious is one of the ways that long lasting relationships are created. This issue is connected to the aspects of connection and intimacy and could be a part of either or both of those relationship concerns. Remember that generative, long lasting relationships almost never happens by accident. They happen by design. Are you being cared for the way you most desire? This is not the conversation of either partner having to “take care” of the other. This falls into the realm of assumptions.
For example, protection. One of the social norms we live in is that the man should “take care” of the woman. Mae West said, “Every man I meet wants to protect me. I can’t figure out what from.” Here we are talking about assumptions again. Our historical shaping will move us to act unconsciously, so better to know what our partner wants.
Research at the Institute of HeartMath finds that, “sincere and positive heart-focused feeling states, like care, boost the immune system, while negative emotions may suppress the immune response for up to six hours following the emotional experience.”
Care comes in many forms. There is having attention to a partner’s needs, like, “Can I bring that to you?” or, “Can I help you with that?” And there is the care that comes from necessity, like being ill or incapacitated in some way. Times like these can put one partner into a caretaker’s role, and can be expected to bounce back and forth between partners over time. There are also acts of care that go beyond these things. It is more like extending care when our partner needs it the most, the hard times, when our partner is struggling. They fall down and we stick with then and help them get back up. And on the more positive side, we allow our partner to be themselves and support their needs for growth and change.
When care goes bad, it can look like over care and controlling. Again from Heartmath, “The draining cycle of over care begins as we over-identify with a situation, an issue, or a person we care about. In other words, we identify too much. We begin to over care and want to see things go a certain way. We get over attached to how we want things to turn out.” In other words, we care more than our partner does.
Also be on the lookout for when caring turns into controlling. This can show up in things like one partner makes decisions for the other person, making it difficult to disagree with them, it’s never their fault, or when relationship rules are one-sided.
Caring and receiving care comes from knowing what care means to you. Know what and how you want to receive care, and make sure your partner knows it, too.
Know what care means to you and your partner and put it into practice. It will be useful for each partner to know how each other wants to be cared for. What does care mean to you and how would you like to see care happen in the relationship, both for you and for your partner? Notice if your individual care conversation has elements of, “They need to (have to) do this for me.” It will be most useful to be organizing around your wants and being choiceful rather than your historical needs.
Have each partner pick one way you want to have care extended to you, and one way you want to extend care to your partner. Make an agreement together about how this would look. The more specific you are about what you are looking for the more likely you will be receiving it. Be sensitive to what is easy and what is hard for each partner. There are many people who, from their historical patterns, have a difficult time asking for what they want. There can also be a pattern of difficulty in receiving. What you see here is where you work is.
If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.