Are you bringing your “leftovers” home?
Do you ever come home at the end of a long day and feel like you have no energy left for your partner? Or if you’ve got energy, you feel more compelled to give it to your children than your partner? If you’ve had a hard day, you may be justifiably tired and just want to relax and catch up on emails or social media. Perhaps you ignore your partner, not out of malice, but simply benign neglect. It’s not intentional. But over time, this can spell disaster for your sex and romantic life if it becomes the norm. According to sex therapist Esther Perel, we often bring the best version of ourselves to our friends and our clients at work, and bring the worst parts of ourselves or the “leftovers” home. Unfortunately, it is a pervasive fallacy about marriage that we are entitled to bring our worst selves or unconscious selves home to the people who ostensibly love us the most
Where does this notion come from? It has its roots in an out-dated and patriarchal sense of duty, obligation and sacrifice that married couples should tolerate each other through thick and thin. Historically though, women in unhappy marriages were confined to making more of those personal sacrifices because there were few alternatives for them. But the women’s movement completely changed the cultural landscape. Marriage is no longer exclusively about survival and children. It’s about choice. Marriage in the West is elective, and it now includes love, sex and romance while honoring the needs of the individual, which are very modern conceptions of love. As Perel wrote in her book “Mating in Captivity,” the modern expectations we collectively have of marriage are impossible to meet.
Yet here we are.
How do we show up in them with more awareness and sensitivity? How do we privilege our primary relationship without feeling like it’s a chore?
If we give all of our focus, our attention and our presence to others and have nothing left for our partners except our irritable, tired selves, we begin to poison the well or drain the well of love, affection and connection.
We can slowly erode the bond that we rely on when things get tough—but it’s also a naive assumption that our partners will simply agree to be there for us tomorrow no matter how badly we behave. Often times the first thing to evaporate is romantic and sexual intimacy. Your partner may stop desiring the person who criticizes and ignores her. You may begin to fight more or go for long stretches of stoney silence as bids for connection go unmet.
While all relationships require some degree of sacrifice and compromise, our sense of entitlement to our individual fulfillment can turn relationships into a zero sum game: a “me” versus “we” mentality. Many of us fear the idea of being subsumed into some kind of co-dependent dynamic in which we could lose our identity and healthy boundaries. But it doesn’t have to be. Any relationship or aspect of our life that we want to thrive requires attention and intention.
Here are 5 ways to counter our “leftovers” habit.
Take a few moments to decompress before walking in the door. Set the intention to bring your better self home. If you need time to collect yourself, ask for 20 minutes or take a walk around the block so you can clear your mind to be present with your partner.
Take care of your relationship in small ways. Do you know their love languages? What do they like? What brings them delight? Whether it’s a daily ritual of bringing coffee to each other, picking up your partner’s favorite take out, taking a walk at night together. But make sure your gestures are landing.
Comings and Goings: Hellos and Goodbyes and Goodnights.There are many natural points during the day to either hug or kiss your partner in a moment of affection before they leave or return. Hellos and goodbyes are good windows in which you can connect briefly, and let your partner know they matter.
Make Eye Contact. Look up from your phone when they are trying to get your attention. Look at your partner when you speak. Face your partner. This is so basic and yet we’re losing this skill. So much unnecessary conflict arises when we multi-task with our partners and can’t give them the time of day.
Make a point of having new experiences together. Inject some imagination into your relationship.Injecting some imagination, fun, play, mystery, novelty, courtship, adventure—at least twice a month. It could be sex, it could be going dancing or go to a concert, it could be a culinary adventure, or a hike. Challenge yourself to do something unusual, out of your comfort zone, if spontaneity is not an option.
Couples that privilege their relationship in these small but consistent ways are stronger on every front, and studies show that their children are more secure as well. Challenge yourself to leave your “leftovers” in the car for one week and observe what happens.