The Third ‘Person’ in Your Relationship
My wife had a friend over recently. In the midst of chit-chat (you know how much I like that), I probed for more meaningful conversation. I asked, “How are you and John doing? How’s your marriage? She replied, “It’s OK, I guess.” “You guess?” I asked. “How could you not know for sure?”
She responded with an oh-too familiar scenario…
She explained, “Well, we are both doing our part. I am taking care of the kids, the house and my elder parents, and he is working long hours providing for the family. He shows up for dinner and soccer games, so I think we are doing fine.” I responded, “Sounds like you are both performing your roles as domestic partners, but what about your relationship? How is that going?” “Well, life is so busy I think we are doing the best we can,” she said.
“That’s dangerous,” I warned. “What do you mean?” she asked.
Then I drew out this diagram on a napkin. “There are three ‘people’ in your marriage. One is you, the other is him and the third is the relationship.” (see figure.)
“Here is what happens if you don’t realize there is a third ‘person’ that needs to be cared for. Both of you are doing your part and you do it for 10, 20 or more years. You are living together, raising a family, ‘doing your part’ just fine, but this third entity is never (or rarely) cared for, fed, nurtured or nourished. It gets weak and in many cases withers and dies. You wake up 20 years later. While you are good roommates and you might genuinely care for each other, your romantic relationship has starved… to death. All the while you thought you were ‘doing fine.’ ”
I explained further, “Yes, you have to take care of the kids. You have to take care of making money, running a household, and caring for other family members. But equally important (if not more), you have to proactively and regularly take care of, contribute to and nurture ‘the relationship’ with your spouse. So, separate what you are doing for the kids, the house, your career and your other family members and look only at what you are contributing to make the relationship special, deeper, more connected…. How is your relationship doing?”
“Wow, I never looked at it that way,” she said. “In that case, I would say we have a very malnourished relationship. No wonder I have been feeling unhappy and discontented, but I didn’t know why because it ‘looks’ like we are doing just fine. Individually, yes, but as a separate relationship, not so much.”
“You’ve heard the saying”, I added, “ ‘And the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one.’ It’s not that you aren’t two individuals, but that together you create a ‘third person’ and that is ‘the relationship’ and it has to be fed, cared for, contributed, protected and nurtured just like any other living entity.”
Now, this is easier said than done, I know. Every day I am challenged with the same question, what am I doing to care and feed the relationship? And I certainly don’t bat 1,000 (no one does). As I outlined in The Compound Effect, to ensure a better batting average, I had to create a scheduled plan to make a routine of how I would continually be prompted to contribute and nourish the relationship. In the book you can read what my yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily plan looks like. I suggest building one of your own. You don’t want to wake up after 3, 5, 10 years or more to realize you have inadvertently starved and killed your ‘one flesh’ relationship.
What do you do to regularly contribute to your relationship? What do you do to keep the magic, love and intimate connection alive? Share what you do (or will do) in the comments below.