Relationships and Priorities

Writing in The Atlantic, Olga Khazan presents an interview with social psychologist Eli Finkel, author of the book, “The All-or-Nothing Marriage”. The key exchange in the article seems to be,

Olga Khazan: How has what we expect from our marriages changed since, say, 100 years ago?

Eli Finkel: The main change has been that we’ve added, on top of the expectation that we’re going to love and cherish our spouse, the expectation that our spouse will help us grow, help us become a better version of ourselves, a more authentic version of ourselves.

The article the descends into a discussion of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The argument descends into “how do you make someone feel safe and good about them selves without being complacent?” That in turn leads to goofy and overtly manipulative statements like,

“For example, you might try to provide support that sounds more like this: “I’m just so proud of everything you’ve achieved, and I’m so proud that you’re never fully satisfied with it, and you’re just so impressive in how you constantly and relentlessly work toward improving yourself.” That can convey a sense that I approve of you, but I recognize what your aspirations are. Right?

Eli Finkel

Frankly, I’ve seen a lot of good articles appear in The Atlantic over the last couple of years and know someone whose son is a writer there. However, this isn’t one of the good ones.

Finkel points to the social revolution of the 1960s as the turning point at which perception of marital roles changed, and disappointment started to take off. As someone whose aunt was a Rosie-the-Riveter during WWII and a union organizer after the war, his characterization of the 60s is a gross oversimplification. Frankly, I see what happened very differently. Of course, I was actually around for the 1960s. I saw it first hand, without a filter of drugs.

The rebellion of the 1960s (talking hippies, not Civil Rights) to a large extent was an act of selfishness. The children of the generation that survived WWII and achieved financial success in the 1950s had little in the way of financial stress and a lot in the way of entitlement. They felt they could do whatever. “Free love” was sex without commitment or responsibility. Those coming of age in the 60s became the parents of the “greed is good” generation a couple of decades later. The common theme of greed explains the transition from free love to worshiping money.

The common theme from the 1960s through the 1990s is selfishness. We still see that today, since our elderly politicians came of age in that era. That was the golden age for the king of pedophiles, Jeffrey Epstein. You can still find pictures of Prince Andrew and Donald Trump posing with Epstein at some of the parties.

However, selfishness makes for lousy relationships, both in the home and in business. Complacency and cheating become issues when you don’t really care about your partner.

The thing is, when you expect too much of someone else, often that’s because you don’t expect enough from yourself.

Using game theory as an analytic tool, you and your partner have a choice. Each of you can prioritize your partner’s needs or your needs. Think about the positive outcomes:

Another name for “Win-Win” is why would either of you want to be anywhere else? If you will give you partner anything you can, and they will do that for you, where can you possibly find anything better? You can’t.

There are numerous and often compelling stories about how relationships have changed and become re-energized simply by each partner committing the the happiness of the other. The article (4) has some great tips for how to put your partner first. Little things count.

We don’t need to over-analyze or over complicate relationships. They’ve been baked into the human psyche through thousands of years. We just need to remember why we want to be with our partner. If we do.

If your partner can’t put you first, then its time to move on.

However, if your needs always have to come first, understand that the next relationship is likely to fail, and the one after that as well. Maybe being alone is the thing for you.

If you’re placing a child’s need ahead of the partner’s, please understand that doesn’t work. The child won’t be happy if the parents aren’t, regardless of what you do for the child.(2,6)

“Why don’t you and dad ever hug?” my daughter asked. “I love it when I get to watch you hug in the kitchen and give each other kisses. It makes me smile when I see you hold hands. It gives me comfort to know that we will always be a family.”(2)

We don’t need Maslow to understand this.



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