The principle seems to make sense: find someone with whom you share interests or hobbies and you’ll be happy together. It’s also one of the tritest pieces of relationship and dating advice out there.
Reva Seth, First Comes Marriage
In this chapter Seth makes the important point that shared values are far more important than shared interests when it comes to marriage. I would say that shared interests often form the foundation of friendships, and there’s nothing wrong with spouses being “best friends.” The problem is when a person begins to believe that he or she must be with the wrong person if his or her spouse is not also that best friend. My observation is that frustration around a lack of shared interests is a fertile seedbed for resentment. But please understand that such resentment will only take root if you’ve allowed your mind to believe that shared interests are critical to a good marriage.
One way of thinking about this dilemma is through what I call the Abandonment/Fusion continuum. Here’s the handout I use with my clients:
- We all have a need for both independence and closeness.
- We all have a range in between independence and closeness in which we are comfortable.
- No one’s range is identical to anyone else’s.
- This range will effect the sorts of things we enjoy doing together and independently.
- We all do well to work at expanding that range.
This plays out in such wonderfully frustrating ways in marriage! For instance, imagine that all Susan needs to feel close to Bob is to simply be in the same room with him. Imagine that for Bob to feel close to Susan he wants her to be sitting in his lap, staring deeply into eyes. Susan is psychologically oriented toward independence. Bob is more oriented towards connection. As Bob moves to get comfortably close to Susan, she begins to feel suffocated. As Susan seeks a bit more comfortable distance, Bob feels more and more isolated. Throw in a lack of self-awareness and poor communication skills, and the fireworks unfold:“Gawd! Do we always have to be holding hands?” “Why are you so terrified of intimacy?” “I’m NOT terrified of intimacy! I’d just like to be left in peace to read my damn book sometimes!” “You always want to read your damn book! You never want to take a walk with me!” “It’s freakin’ 104 degrees outside! REALLY?!” “You are SO just like your mother! No wonder your Dad stepped out!” “You’re gonna go there? Because I want to read my book without you pawing at me?”
Sadly, many of you know that this fictional conversation is not all that exaggerated. This is a painful expression of a couple trying to come to terms with a simple fact: We are two different people who have different interests. We may want to use words like “needs” or “desires” rather than “interests,” but, to me, it all comes down to the same thing. However, when the small self begins to get anxious, and entitled, things unravel quickly. What gets lost is that Bob and Susan are both good parents and hard workers. They are both generous with their time and resources, and the world is a better place because of their efforts. Sure, Bob would benefit from learning how to parent his own small self a little more effectively, and it wouldn’t hurt Susan to be a little more mindful of Bob’s “love language. But when we feel like we’re not getting what we want in the moment, it is easy to forget everything that works about our connection.
So, if you find yourself frustrated that your marriage does not have as much “friendship” as you’d like, here’s a few questions to consider:
- Do my spouse and I share core values regarding what’s most important in our lives?
- Are the ways I “wish” my spouse was different really have much to do with these core values?
- Why do I care so much, or feel threatened by, the ways my spouse and I are different?