"We live pretty far away from our old friends and both of our families. I’m more social than my partner is, and I feel guilty for wanting to go out and develop a new “community” for us while s/he sits at home. I’m starting to feel suffocated.
What should we do to make this work?"
Whether you are in a relationship where you grew up, went to school, or hundreds of miles away from friends and family, it is a great idea to step back and take a look at the level of support you have around you as a couple. This is slightly different from assessing the level of personal support you may have. Ask yourself, “who can I turn to about my relationship?” or “are there other couples that both of us feel comfortable hanging out with?” If you find yourself in a situation where you haven’t found anyone that both you and your partner mutually feel comfortable with, then it’s easier for you to fall into the “home away from home trap”. When support is minimal due to the fact that you are both not originally from the area where you’re currently living and only have limited opportunities to connect with some of your closest friends and family members you can create some specific challenges. Let’s take a look:
Many couples I’ve counseled identified that their semi-isolated situation causes them to lean on the relationship a lot for support, entertainment, and fulfillment. If you genuinely like to be around each other and have similar desires to spend time relaxing at home or taking each other out when you feel like being social, then this may not be a problem…yet. Some couples with limited outside friends and family try to lean into their relationship too much and actually damage the relationship because:
1. They burn the relationship out. One or both partners try to make each other meet all of their needs for companionship, which is usually too much for one person to bear. You need outside friends and interests if for no other reason than to keep from getting on your partner’s nerves. This doesn’t mean you can’t be together a lot, but it does mean that “the chase is really not over” after you’ve initially caught each other. You’ve got to keep yourself interesting and keep the relationship interesting by stepping away from it periodically so you can be missed. Sometimes absence does make the heart grow fonder.
2. They find out that their partner doesn’t always want to do what they want to do, which causes them to question whether or not they are really compatible. Guess what? It’s normal for your partner to not want to go shopping with you or to see that “chick-flick” you would normally see with your best friend who lives in another state. It’s normal for your partner to not want to watch every single game that comes on every Sunday. And lastly, it’s normal that your partner does not want to be the only sounding board you have for sharing every intimate detail of your life with. Some people confuse having someone to share their life with, with having a life-long captive audience. If you are getting signs that your partner is beginning to tune you out or check out, you may need to spread the responsibility for meeting your needs across multiple people.
If you truly make your partner your only friend and best friend then who do you go to when you have a fight with them? All couples disagree about something eventually, and though you can try to wait it out, you will find out very quickly that it’s a lonely life when you are on an island with your partner. It also takes longer to recover from fights when you don’t have a trusted person to give you objective feedback after an argument. People tend to get stuck in their feelings about what happened and can obsess over how they were wronged. It takes a lot of maturity to focus only on your partner’s feelings after the two of you have fought. Having another person remind you of the big picture can help you overcome pride and stubbornness and get you back in the relationship saddle more quickly.
The important things to remember are that having a new friend or two can help keep your relationship on track when you’re living away from the people you love and trust the most. “No new friends” can lead to an unhappy or suffocated partner. You can be a homebody (sometimes), but don’t force your partner to be one if they are feeling a need for community. For those of you who are concerned about your partner being too social, stay tuned for my future post on rules to being social without testing the boundaries of your relationship!