I was talking to a buddy recently, and he told me that there was something he wanted to buy for himself. It was around a $500 item (not cheap, but not crazy expensive), so he asked his wife if she minded if he bought it. She said yes she was fine with it, so he went out and bought the item.
When he told me this I asked him what he would have done if she had said no.
After thinking about it a bit, he responded that he really didn’t know. Thankfully, that hadn’t come up.
I didn’t ask the question to be a jerk, and I don’t think there’s really a right or wrong answer. But the scenario illustrates to me one of the most difficult aspects of a relationship; the balance between “we” and “me”.
We are all individuals first and foremost, with our own needs and wants. When we become part of a couple though, we become something more. That’s not to say that you cease to be an individual when you become part of a couple. But it does raise the question of how these two identities co-exist.
Where does the individual end and the couple begin?
Doing What You Want
To me that is at once the biggest change and biggest sacrifice in a relationship. You are building your life with another person, so you can no longer act like you are single.
You can’t just “do what you want” anymore. Yet at the same time, what you want still matters.
That’s not a problem when your needs and wants line up with your partners. But in any relationship there will be times that they don’t.
This can present a conundrum, and it’s not easy to find the balance between independence and inter-dependence.
To anyone who says they can do whatever they want in their relationship, I say you are either kidding yourself or you are selfish. And if you’re being selfish? Well, that goes against one of my 3 rules/guidelines for a successful relationship; and when you act that way over an extended period of time I believe your relationship will suffer for it. So it’s probably not a formula for long term success.
I suppose it may feel like you can do whatever you want if your wants happen to always line up with that are beneficial to the couple; but I doubt that ever happens all the time.
You shouldn’t feel constantly restricted in your relationship, and if you do it’s probably not a healthy relationship for you. But I think it’s safe to say that in a relationship there will always be times when you need to sacrifice what you want for the benefit of the couple.
Going back to my buddy’s scenario, did he really need to get her permission? If it’s something he wanted, should he have had to ask her to buy something for himself, or should he have just gone out and done it? And if he really wanted it, what should he have done if she had said no?
I’ve seen different opinions on this kind of thing before. Sometimes I see people get angry at the thought of having to “ask for permission”. Taking the approach that it’s their money and they can and should be able to do with it what they want.
Others belittle someone for “asking for permission”, as if it’s a sign of weakness. Sadly this is normally men, making macho statements and questioning the “manhood” of someone who asks for permission from their wife.
Here’s my stance:
Did he need to ask her permission? No, of course not. He’s an individual who is capable of making his own decisions. However asking her, or at least saying something like “hey, I’m thinking of doing this – any concerns?” is a way of being respectful and including her in the decision making process. And in a relationship, that’s pretty damned important.
Should someone have to include their partner in every decision? Of course not. Some decisions yes, and it’s really a judgement call as to which decisions warrant some level of discussion vs. which ones you just do on your own.
For example, you probably wouldn’t even think about mentioning to your partner that you are meeting a buddy for lunch. You may mention it in passing, but if so you probably are not looking for their input. However it’s *probably* best to get input before you do something like come home with a new car.
It really comes down to whether or not your decision impacts the other person, and how much.
I recently wrote a post about the idea that what affects one person often affects both. In it I used sex as an example of something that affects both people, but the post was never really about sex. It was about relationships, and how you really need to take the other person into account and consider how your decisions and actions impact them.
When you are in a committed relationship, life isn’t just you anymore. So for the health of your relationship you probably shouldn’t act like it is. One person should never dictate the terms of the relationship.
Unfortunately we often misjudge and underestimate how our choices can impact our partners. That’s probably one of the biggest problems that leads to hurt and resentment in relationships. People make decisions they think only impacts them (and therefore shouldn’t be a big deal); when the other person feels they should have been involved. When you don’t feel involved, you don’t feel valued. And it can breakdown closeness and connection between a couple.
I think it’s always important to consider your partner when making choices. If you don’t think your decision will impact them, go ahead and do it. But if you know it will, or even if you aren’t sure, then discuss it with them first.
Yes, it lessens your autonomy. Really, that’s the trade off in a relationship – you aren’t just you anymore. And for those questioning the manhood of someone who involves their partner in decisions, I fail to see how trying to be respectful and inclusive makes someone any less of a man (or woman).
When You Can’t Agree
Now what if you really want something, and when you discuss it with your partner they say no?
In that case, I think it really depends on the reason given.
Are they saying no because it will impact other things and goals you are working towards? If so, is it really “no”, or is it a case where now isn’t a good time? Or are they saying no because they don’t like the idea, or they feel it’s frivolous?
In relationships I think one of our primary roles is to be each other’s cheerleaders. To support each other and help each other grow. Just because you don’t understand why something is important to the other person doesn’t mean it isn’t. So saying no because you feel something is frivolous isn’t very supportive.
On the other hand, saying no because it’s frivolous AND you need a new car and you are saving for braces for little Johnny or little Sally is a bit more understandable. Although it’s great to be your partners cheerleader, sometimes we also need to be their conscience when they aren’t seeing the bigger picture.
Of course, if it’s something that’s truly important to you even in spite of those things, you should be able to explain that and make a case why and do it anyway. It may cause some conflict for a while, but if it really is important to one person the other person should be able to understand.
So I guess my take on this is, yes you should be able to do what you want. But at the same time what you want should definitely be influenced by your consideration and caring for your partner and how your choices impact them.