Without extensive research, one might assume that both partners in a romantic relationship would have similar opinions and levels of satisfaction.
This is a myth.
Over 5 million individuals in a committed relationship have confirmed that each romantic partner has their own unique view of the marriage or relationship. Research by Prepare-Enrich has revealed that a romantic partner only has a 25% chance of predicting their partner’s level of satisfaction and opinion of the quality of the relationship.1
The reason this happens is that each partner has their own metrics by which to assess their level of satisfaction in a relationship.
Here’s a potentially fun activity.
- Write down what you think gives your partner the greatest satisfaction in the relationship. Do not share this with your partner (yet).
- Ask your partner, “What is one thing we do that gives you the most satisfaction in our relationship?”
- Compare their answer to the guess you wrote down.
If you find that you are spot on, bravo.
If you find that you are off, congrats! You learned something new about your partner and can do more things that support your partner’s satisfaction in their relationship with you.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I had no idea that was important to you.” Even from couples who had been married for decades.
Romantic partners are often unaware of how important a given issue is for their lover, because from their perspective it’s not a big issue, even if their lover has complained about it over and over again.
As the authors of the book The Couple Checkup highlight, sometimes the levels of disconnection and satisfaction printed on The Couple Checkup assessment finally connect the dots on how important something is.
Here’s an example:
From Tom’s perspective, his relationship is great. He feels connected and close to Jake. Throughout their four years of marriage, Jake has complained about the lack of time spent together. Tom thought the time spent together was perfect.
Growing up Tom spent a lot of time playing by himself and had the freedom to do things he wanted when he wanted. Furthermore, his mother never complained to his father about how much time his dad spent working in the shop or out golfing. In Tom’s family culture, there was a lot more me-time than we-time.
So when Jake brought this issue up, Tom didn’t think it was a big deal. After all, it had never been a problem in past relationships.
But for Jake, time together signified love and importance. So, when that time together continued to be limited, Jake felt neglected and like he didn’t matter to Tom.
When Jake was able to reveal these hidden emotions and Tom was able to actually listen, Tom was shocked. He had no idea how important this was to Jake.
Putting Your Partner’s Satisfaction On Par With Yours
One of the key differences between happy and unhappy couples is the attitude of a two-person system as defined by Stan Tatkin, PsyD.
“A couple’s ability to operate as a co-regulatory team determines the success or failure of that relationship and is fundamental to relationship safety, security, and longevity.” – Stan Tatkin, We Do
This means that if your partner is hurting, the relationship is hurting and, as a result, so are you.
This means recognizing that your partner has a different perspective and experience of the relationship and you have to check in with them and make corrections so the relationship will work for them and you.
Just as we might see in a three-legged race, you can’t win at the expense of your partner.
This is part of being a member of a multi-person team.
You must remember that what satisfies you may not be what satisfies your partner(s). But if you collaboratively work together you can satisfy the team.
In Tom and Jake’s experience, they learned to honor their unique preferences for me-time and we-time by intentionally conversing about how they would spend their time together and how they could make that time more meaningful.
During their weekly State of the Union meeting, Tom checks in with Jake about the quality of their time together by asking what Jake liked about the past week, and then asks how this week might look. During this conversation, Jake asks Tom about his alone time and ways they can, as a team, make adjustments to meet both partners’ needs.
Ironically, just having this topic brought up by Tom on a weekly basis has significantly made Jake feel loved and important, even on the weeks when there is the same amount of time together as there was before Tom caught on.
Because Tom makes a conscientious effort to show that Jake’s satisfaction is just as important as his. This is demonstrated by bringing up the question each week.
When you take the time to communicate, truly listen to each other, and team up to make changes in your relationship, you can get closer to having a similar level of satisfaction in the relationship—one that is happy, connected, and meaningful.
- This research is cited in The Couple Checkup by David Olson, Amy Olson-Sigg, and Peter Larson (p. 8). Furthermore, research indicates that a couple spending more time together does not make their assessment of each other’s relationship satisfaction more accurate. Rather, it gives them the illusion that they are more accurate. Source: Swann, W. B. J., Gill, M. J. (1997). Confidence and accuracy in person perception: Do we know what we think we know about our relationship partners? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 747–757. ↩
- This is a paraphrased quote from The Couple Checkup (p. 8) ↩