Obligations in Relationships

Relationships can often be difficult to navigate. I’m talking about romantic relationships specifically. They can be difficult to navigate in large part because of insecurity. Most of us are insecure to some extent, apart from maybe the Zen Buddhists among us. But what insecurity causes is uncertainty, uncertainty about whether the other person wants to be with you, and whether you’re continually meeting their needs or expectations. Because of this, insecurity can be a crippling thing. It can bring about a certain amount of paranoia, where you’re constantly worrying about whether you’ve done something wrong, or whether you’re making your partner happy. Ultimately, it doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of trust in your partner, it can simply mean a lack of faith and confidence in your own virtues and characteristics as a person and a partner.

When it comes to relationships, you have no choice but to trust your partner completely, unless that trust is undermined in some way of course. Anything less will only cause suspicion and resentment, which will ultimately result in the downfall of your relationship. When it comes to insecurities then, the only solution to address that is to simply work on yourself, or whatever it is that you’re insecure about. Fundamentally, you want to become someone that you like, that you can believe your partner would want to be with. That’s actually what insecurities come down to in relationships, you struggle to believe that your partner would actually want to be with you. You see all your flaws and wonder if they see them too, and if so, why they’re still with you.

Insecurities are both rational and irrational. They’re rational in the sense that you shouldn’t be complacent about yourself, and you should always want to work on yourself and improve, both for yourself and your partner. But they’re irrational in the sense that everyone has flaws, and are insecure about those flaws, even your partner. Yet, if you still love them despite these flaws, why can’t you believe that they could also look past your flaws, or even not see them as flaws?

The fear created by insecurities is obviously that your partner will either fall out of love with you, cheat on you, or fall in love with someone else. That’s the trifecta. We can argue about whether you can cheat on someone or fall in love with someone else if you still love your partner, but the point is that these are the root fears bred by insecurity. The biggest fear is obviously that your partner will fall out of love with you, because this is something that they don’t have any control over. People clearly have more control, near complete control, over whether they cheat on their partners. And if they do, then you probably don’t want to be with that person anyway, so, if that is the case, even though it’ll obviously hurt initially, and probably for a while after the fact, it doesn’t say as much about you as it does about them. But if you fall in love with someone else, then that’s a different story. You don’t really have any control over that, it’s just the way that you feel. You do have control over whether you put yourself in a position to develop romantic feelings for someone, but falling in love with someone is an involuntary process. As a partner, you always want to be the person that your partner finds the best looking, the funniest, the most caring, the most successful, the most capable, the strongest, the fittest, the most charming, the best in bed. Obviously this won’t always be possible, but you’ll usually take being the best overall, taking the average of all the relevant criteria. But there’s no guarantee that this will always be the case. And I don’t want to give the wrong impression that love is a simple calculation that can be broken down into a group of variables, it’s obviously also related to shared experiences and personality traits and interests, but the aforementioned characteristics are without a doubt a factor.

The answer, as far as I can tell, isn’t a satisfactory one, but it’s the only one that seems healthy to me and that makes sense. You have to really identify what it is that you’re insecure about, and figure out a way to work on that insecurity, and if there’s seemingly no way of doing that, try and simply come to terms with it, which is obviously much easier said than done. You have to assume that if your partner’s with you now, that there’s nothing so severely wrong with you as to be a deal breaker, and that any flaws that you may have are overlookable (a word that I made up just now). If there are things that you can work on, and the odds are that most of your insecurities are things that can be changed, then you should do that.

You have an obligation to yourself to improve yourself, and the characteristics that you don’t like about yourself. Not only that though, you also have an obligation to your partner. And this is important. Being in a relationship with someone is accompanied by inherent and implicit agreements. You obviously acknowledge that neither of you will cheat on one another, you also acknowledge that you’ll both make an overall equal effort in the relationship to sustain it and show one another that you care, and similarly, I believe that there is an implicit understanding that you’ll both make an effort to be the best person that you each can be. I don’t expect my partner to be constantly worrying about whether she’s good enough for me, or constantly worry about improving in whatever facet for me, but I do want her to care what I think about her and what she does, and want to impress me. I don’t want to be in a relationship where we’re each ambivalent about what one another does. I can’t remember where I read this, but someone once said that hate isn’t the opposite of love, apathy is, and that’s quite often true, I think. If my partner was indifferent about anything that I did, I think that would be odd. Yes, love should have a certain tolerance and robustness, you should allow a certain margin of error to your partner over a certain period of time. This is, after all, one of the obligations that I think that you have to a partner, increasingly so as time goes on. There’s a mutual trust to support one another through difficulty, and to accept that your partner isn’t going to be perfect every day. But if I started being annoying in some way regularly, for example, over an extended period of time, I would expect my partner to talk to me and eventually give me an ultimatum. Love isn’t unconditional, and whoever says that hasn’t really thought through what the word ‘unconditional’ means. If I went and punched a dog in the face, and that became my hobby, I would find it a stretch to be shocked if my partner dumped me. Love is highly conditional. It’s conditional on whatever makes someone love someone else. And if what someone loves someone else for changes, or if the other person changes, then the love can slowly dissipate. But ultimately, the only thing you can do is to do what you can to be a better person. The following is a list of obligations that I’ve written to remind myself to be a better person and partner, to try to counter my insecurities:

  • I have an obligation to be happy: I want to be someone who is enjoyable to spend time with, who doesn’t take life too seriously all the time, and who my partner is able to feel relaxed around. Sometimes, if I’m not in a great mood around my partner, I’ll just go over to her and give her a hug and do something silly and I’ll invariably feel better. Mood and behaviour can be mutually reinforcing things
  • I have an obligation to be confident: confidence is an attractive thing, and I don’t want to seem like the person who’s always anxious or nervous or unsure of himself, I also don’t want my partner to feel like she has to tip-toe around me for fear of upsetting me. Again, I want her to be able to feel like she can relax around me
  • I have an obligation to be successful: I don’t want to be a scrub, is what this comes down to. I don’t want to be the person in the relationship that everyone thinks is holding the other person back. I want to make something of myself, and impress my partner, and not be someone that she’s ashamed to talk about, or be someone that she feels guilty for wanting to leave because of what I do as a career. In fairness, even if she didn’t care, if there was an enormous disparity between our respective careers, I would. I wouldn’t feel like I deserved her, and it would be a disparity that I would probably find impossible to overcome. That kind of social chasm is too wide to cross. I just don’t want to be in a relationship that ends not because we fell out of love because of our personalities, but because of our careers
  • I have an obligation to be interesting: I don’t want to be the couple that talks about nothing over dinner, or talks about the weather, I want to constantly stimulate my partner and talk about important topics in an authentic way. I want to constantly be doing something or learning something, and constantly evolving intellectually, so that I don’t become stale as a partner. I want to be able to challenge her intellectually, and actually get something out of this relationship, rather than just being a body to fill space and pass the time
  • I have an obligation to be in good shape: there’s not much that I can do about my face, but one thing that I do have a fair bit of control over is my physique. I want to show my partner that I’ll never take her for granted, and will always take care of myself physically. I want her to always be physically attracted to me, until my body starts to look like an action figure melting from the top down (due to natural causes of course)

These are just some of the things that I try to keep in mind on a daily basis, because I don’t want to let my own issues get in the way of a great relationship. I don’t want to be the reason that the relationship ends. You actually have a lot of control over whether a relationship succeeds, so do everything that you can to make sure that it does. Love is something that you need to facilitate. Just do what you can, and most of the time just making the effort will be enough.

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