I spend a great deal of time talking about what a healthy relationship looks like and how we can get the partnership(s) that we desire. I’m not going to lie, the list of qualities that I believe are a part of meaningful relationships (even friendships) is lengthy: trust, kindness, generosity, respect, and so on. But if I had to pick one quality that I truly believe no partnership can be without? Balance.
Yes, relationships have to be balanced. There is – or at least should be – equity in partnerships. There is give and take. There is a constant shift between having your own needs met and meeting someone else’s needs. When you have a chronic illness, this may be hard to imagine. You may perceive your list of needs to be far longer than your partner’s, and that can be stressful. You may feel guilty or simply unsatisfied because you don’t want your needs to overshadow your partner’s. All of this makes perfect sense on the surface, but the larger problem is that we rarely give any thought to what our/our partner’s needs really, really, are.
Most of us make assumptions about our partners – and that means our partners also make assumptions about us. We think (especially if we’ve been together for a long time) that we know everything about one another. But – as you know if you’re someone who lives with a relatively unpredictable condition like arthritis – people evolve and their needs do, too!
We see issues and experiences through our own unique lens; there is no guarantee that a partner will see things the same way. It is really in our best interest to acknowledge that being human, and making assumptions, is human and natural, but there is definitely a better way to communicate. Magical thinking just doesn’t cut it in a relationship. We have to be willing to express what we need in order to receive it.
"But if I had to pick one quality that I truly believe no partnership can be without? Balance."
I have always believed in the importance of acknowledging the awkwardness of relationship talk. Own the discomfort. “Honey, this is hard for me to say, but I never want you to feel like your needs aren’t being met. Can we talk about what you want and how I can help you get it?” Whether you use that as a direct script or come up with your own version, think about what that implicitly says to a partner. You are concerned about them. You respect them. You are aware of your own needs/issues but still find time to think about someone else. You’ve opened the door to the possibility (likelihood?!) that your partner will ask you the same question. You’ve created the opportunity to discuss both of your needs. And guess what: you can do this as often as you want! If your pain level from arthritis tends to fluctuate – you can use a conversation like this to address that.
Try to speak from the heart. Use “I” statements to address what you are feeling. Don’t be afraid to be honest, and be a good listener, too.
Sometimes we get wrapped up in what we think a relationship should look like. We use others as our models. But we never really know what goes on in someone’s partnership. Besides, satisfaction does not have one singular definition. Who cares if your relationship is different from the relationship your friend or neighbor has? All that matters is that your relationship is meaningful for you and your partner. If you’re not ready to sit down and have the conversation about needs yet, I encourage you to take a small step today by considering what makes your relationship(s) meaningful to you. If you feel like taking a step further, share these considerations with your partners and friends! I bet some of you will be surprised that the “needs” conversation can sometimes flow naturally from there!