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Equal partnerships, communal motivation

February 9, 2016
Melissa Marote , MOV Parent

It still boggles my mind that around 50 percent of all marriages will end in divorce. Being on my second marriage, I can understand how these things happen. Finding a loving life partner that is an equal partner, especially in areas like running a household and raising children, isn't easy. I've read statistics that indicate divorce rates increase with the number of children. This, too, is easy to comprehend if one partner feels the relationship is badly imbalanced in terms of childcare, household responsibilities and finances.

In a recent article in "Psychology Today," Jennifer Bleyer introduced the reader to the concept of communal motivation as being the key to a happy marriage. It refers to one's inclination to satisfy a partner's needs even when they conflict with one's own, without keeping a tally of who is doing more (or less.) It is basically about compromising. We consider our partner's needs and work towards meeting their needs without concerning ourselves with getting something in return. It was noted that people who are more communal feel better about making concessions for their partner and also feel more positive. But one first must know what the partner's needs are before the needs can be fulfilled. It is also important to consider the other's perspective. For example, if a request is made, and you're thinking, "That sounds like a drag. I don't want to visit her parents!" It might make her feel very loved to have you come along for an hour or two. In a committed relationship, there needs to be some collaboration in meeting each other's needs. Ideally, this is the mindset of each partner, so each works daily on trying to keep the other happy and fulfilled.

I knew my first marriage was going to fail when my husband refused to do the homework assignments our marriage counselor gave us. It was a simple assignment: "Do something every day to show the other you care. Surprise them!"

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It could be as easy as sending a sweet text message, or calling to see how the day is going, or buying flowers. He never did anything, and after several weeks of counseling, I finally realized I couldn't fix our marriage alone. If he was unwilling to show his caring even in a small way, what hope had I to ever feel appreciated or loved?

As a counselor, I have noticed couples typically don't come to marriage counseling until there have been so many years of resentment and anger that it is really divorce counseling. The problems almost always involved an injustice one felt over the other in regards to household duties or childcare. And unfortunately, it was usually the woman complaining of having an "adult child" in her husband because she had to clean up his mess every day. It is important to work on open communication and expressing our needs and expectations in productive ways before there is too much unhappiness to make positive change difficult.

I recently finished reading a book by Marian Wright Edelman, "The Measure of Our Success: A Letter To My Children And Yours." In it she states, "Remember that your wife is not your mother or your maid, but your partner and friend." She goes on to discuss the importance of having a shared partnership with one's spouse "without having to be asked or even asking her if she'd like you to. Just do it!" The idea is to treat your spouse the way you would like to be treated, not expecting there are certain responsibilities that are hers alone, based on her sex. Men too can clean toilets or children's vomit, make dinner and change diapers. Many years ago, a book by Arlie Hochschild, "The Second Shift," discussed how women typically work a full-time job, and then return home to their "second shift" to complete all childcare and household duties. She explored more egalitarian partnerships that successfully balanced all these responsibilities as well.

Equal partnerships in which both people practice communal motivation are likely to result in long-lasting and satisfying marriages. If you feel less than satisfied in your current marriage, give marital counseling a chance. If your partner is not interested in counseling, sometimes it helps to seek a counselor who is the same sex as your partner. Hopefully with the help of the counselor, you can remember what brought you two together, including the work you put into making each other happy and meeting each other's needs. I've been with my second husband for 7 1/2 years now, and every day we show each other appreciation and work on fulfilling each other's needs. We work on never forgetting how good we have it with each other, and my hope is that all you out there find that kind of love and devotion too. We are all deserving of love and respect. We just have to believe it.

Melissa Marote is a licensed professional clinical counselor and received her doctorate in counselor education from Ohio University.



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