Too much familiarity can banish respect and kill commitment
IT is indeed a good thing to know your partner like the back of your hand, as it were. It’s great to know his favourite colour shirt or tie, and how she likes her eggs done. Familiarity is an asset in marriage, but beware the danger of over-familiarity.
The danger of over-familiarity is when you think you are close enough to your partner to excuse you for doing things that are obnoxious, while not allowing those things to be done to you. You might call the flip side of familiarity a type of entitlement, when you believe you have earned a free pass and therefore have the right to do certain things because you know what’s best for the other.
As a couple, we ourselves once only realised we were in this trouble when we were already knee-deep.
Our interaction was characterised by howling, criticising, ignoring, teasing, irritability, being crude, moody, nagging . . . the list just goes on.
We also meet a lot of unhappy partners that often complain, “I wish my husband or wife would act the way he or she did while we were dating.”
It is not so much the dating and courtship season that is being missed, but the presence of respect. A respect that diminishes with increased familiarity and erodes when over-familiarity sets in.
Some of the most obnoxious behaviours are displayed when you’re over-familiar to one another. It’s not cleaning up after yourself, not saying “thank you” because you think your gratitude should be a given, not verbalising “I love you” because she should know by now, or “I’m sorry, please forgive me”.
These acts of over-familiarity disappoint and draw anger because for one partner they symbolise a lack of respect, while for the other they merely represent the comfort and perceived lack of need to stand on ceremony.
Unhealthy familiarity is a cancer that eventually sucks the life out of an otherwise healthy relationship. It is said that living together for a long time eventually leads to greater liking of each other. This may be true in cases where you make an effort to understand one another better and therefore grow in love. In many cases however, the more familiar couples become with one another, the more they start to take each other for granted. And therein lies rut.
It’s a lot easier to choose a safe behaviour in a relationship than a behaviour that challenges us to grow. Why? Because security is sweet. As partners, you are comfortable knowing what to expect and are able to handle whatever situations may evolve in your relationship.
When we ask couples why they choose security over the challenge of seeking ways to keep their relationship fresh, they generally tell us they appreciate the closeness and the lessened energy it requires. They are less anxious when they do not have to be constantly on their toes.
As Mo and Phindi, we used to believe that boredom is a type of suffering we must endure to go through married life together. How wrong we were! Because marriage boredom results from the lack of creativity and imagination, and is not dependent on one’s environment. It’s when we choose the deceiving cushion of familiarity and won’t put in the work into the relationship that we experience boredom in our marriages.
Marriage can’t take care of itself. It is constant work. It consists of deliberate relationship-building activities, search and discoveries. It’s a relationship you shouldn’t allow yourself to get used to.
There’s a difference between liking being married and committing to actually doing the tough work to preserve a relationship.
Commitment is not a very “sexy” concept. But it probably is the single most sustaining power that guides marriage through “for better or for worse”.
It isn’t just about reciting marriage vows or having a piece of paper that reads “Marriage Certificate”.
Commitment is important because we act differently when we know that our futures are tied together. You may avoid a prickly conversation if you know the other person will not be around your life for long. You may even move on to another “relationship” if your current one has a debilitating accident or simply starts to rub you the wrong way. Commitment means you’ve promised to stay and work it through, not just today but till death.
Commitment is a choice to give up choices. Although this might at first sound limiting, it actually brings great freedom and depth. No longer does the committed person need to weigh which person or way of life will bring more happiness. Once committed, all one’s energy goes into making this commitment work. No longer are other possibilities a distraction.
Not only are you committed when you make the commitment, but you’re also committed when you keep the commitment. And this is perhaps why the concept of commitment isn’t very sexy. It involves work. And it’s that very work that maintains freshness.
If you get bored with the person you married for love, there’s something wrong with you, not with that person.