Why Most of Us Need to Be in a Relationship

This posting looks at some of the reasons "it is not good for man to be alone" (Genesis 2:8)

What is behind our drive to be in a permanent relationship? Why do we spend so much time seeking out our life's partner, and why do so many of us not feel complete until we've found him/her?

This is a big topic, and I want to divide it up into a few segments. In today's entry, I'd like at why we want to live with another human being in a long term relationship, usually a marriage. Next week I'll take a look at the truth behind the cliche of why "opposites attract."

So let's deal with the biological piece first: I think it's reasonable to assume that a major reason we seek to find long term mates is so that we can reproduce and guarantee the continuation of the species. Raising young children certainly is easier when two parents are living together and working together to do it.

That's good as far as it goes, but what about people who don't have children, or who want to stay together after the children are out of the house, or who look for a new partner if they lose the one with whom they raised the children? Clearly there's something more than the strictly biological going on. Already in Genesis 2:8 we are told: "It is not good for man (Adam) to be alone." I will be dealing with the continuation of this passage next week when discussing why opposites attract, but if we consider that this biblical passage might be a statement of a universal truth, why is it not good for us to be alone?

Though we may often forget it, we are social beings, and we need each other to become whole. There is, I believe, no one else on the planet who can help us become whole like our spouse. Children are great at helping us become whole too, but if we do our jobs right they grow up and leave us. Also, with children there is always a certain power imbalance in our favor, so we are not challenged in quite the same way we are as when dealing with another adult.

Our partners help us become whole through the ways they support us: loving us even when we misbehave, believing in us even when we don't believe in ourselves, cleaning up after all the physical and emotional messes we leave behind. And they help us in the ways they challenge us: forcing us to shed our adaptive survival suits which may work fine in the outer world but which limit us in our abilities to be vulnerable with each other.

Our partners see the facade we present to the outer world and really want no part of it. They fell in love with our true nature and nothing but our true nature will sustain a long term relationship. How often have you heard a man bemoan the fact that his employees love him, why doesn't his wife? Or a woman wonder why all her friends think she's wonderful but her husband ignores her? Rather than look at this through a negative lens: our partners are never happy with us while other people are, I propose this is the good news of the challenge of a long term relationship. Our partners only want the real us, not the roles we may know how to play successfully in the outer world. Would you really want anything less from your spouse?

Do you have a relationship question for Josh? Let him know in the comments below.

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David Mills June 15, 2012 at 08:26 PM
I always tell younger people the most important decision they make in their life is who they choose to be their partner... so choose wisely. Thanks for the interesting and insightful column here
Josh Gressel, Ph.D. June 17, 2012 at 12:20 PM
Hi David: You are indeed wise in your counsel to young people, because it is probably the most important choice of our lives. What I would like to add, however, is that it is not only choosing the right person, but being the right person. That is, we need to take responsibility to be the right partner to our spouses as well as be careful in who we choose. The first is a one-time decision; the second is a decision which must be renewed daily.
David Mills June 17, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Well said, Josh


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