Moodsurfing has often focused on improving the quality of intimate relationships, in a therapy session today I explored with a young woman the difference between checking up on her partner and building a more intimate and connected relationship.
Early in a relationship it is pretty common to have anxiety about the other person. Are they really committed to the relationship, are the trustworthy, etc. In fact, not having thoughts can be a significant problem as we have often had to work with people who ended up entangled in relationships with partners who are manipulative and dishonest.
But when is this behavior excessive? Isn’t it always good to share anxieties with a partner? Isn’t that what honesty in a relationship is about?
The young woman told us about a situation that came up in her relationship where her partner, who she’s been dating for more than a year and who she feels is basically trustworthy, wanted to go out with friends on a Friday night, after they had been separated by work travel for almost an entire week. She said she really didn’t want to get in the way of her partner having friendships and didn’t want to be a clingy woman. On the other hand, after she said it would be fine, she found herself at home alone thinking about wanting to check up on what her partner was doing and worrying that he might be enjoying his time with others more than he would enjoy his time with her.
I took this as an opportunity to explore the difference between communication that builds intimacy and communication that potentially destroys it.
In the first case, had she sent a text message that, although disguised, was really about finding out what her partner was doing and whether he was enjoying himself and whether he missed her, she would have been checking up on him and he would have noticed and however he responded the quality of their relationship would be diminished.
The on the other hand, if she sent a text message saying she was hoping that he was enjoying himself and looking forward very much to catching up with him and, in that context said something about how much she valued him as a partner she would’ve been conveying somewhat similar sentiments in a way that would build the relationship. And, in that context, if she mentioned the fact that it had been difficult going an entire week without seeing him she could’ve also conveyed some of her own vulnerability in a way that would increase intimacy.
The distinction is often difficult to see in the moment but it is an important one keep in mind.