The 2 Ingredients Every Relationship Needs To Stay Balanced, From A Therapist
It is common knowledge that we require a diversity of nutrition to have the energy to move through our days and to live long, healthy lives. As couples' therapist Esther Perel often writes about, we need to bring intentionality to our partnership "diet" as well, as it is "the quality of our relationships [that] determines the quality of our lives." Therefore, we need to engage in consistent care, nurturance, and attention to ensure that the health and vitality of our intimate connection are thriving and growing.
There is a paradoxical relationship between love and desire that creates tension in all of our relationships over time. It is a sign of secure attachment to move toward someone who can provide security, safety, predictability, and familiarity. However, we also require novelty, adventure, surprise, and discovery as necessary aspects of growth and aliveness.
So, how do we reconcile these two parts of ourselves in our relationship? With attention, responsiveness, and intention.
Changemakers vs. anchors.
In my work, and in my own marriage, I often witness a relationship pattern: one person is an anchor, and one person is a changemaker. Initially, these two people were attracted to each other because of these very differences, but over time these differences can become sources of conflict and frustration.
In the beginning...
- Changemaker: "You anchor me. Sometimes my need for newness can keep me in the air, and you help me feel grounded."
- Anchor: "You are exciting to me. You take me into the air when what is familiar to me is the ground."
- Changemaker: "You never move! Why won't you come into the air more? I want more, and you always want the same."
- Anchor: "You never sit still! Why can't you just be content and stay put for a bit?"
A key existential polarity is security versus freedom. We need both to feel fully alive and safe. While each couple needs a different balance of nutrients in their diet, here are a few ways to check your current feeding regimen and to see if you may need to make some dietary adjustments.
What are your intentional ingredients of security?
Security in a relationship is about reliable and ritualistic support. Security means I trust that I can lean on you. I know that you'll be there. Security means that you are accessible, responsive, and engaged with me.
From a behavioral standpoint, security looks like:
- You always follow through on your word. You show up when you say you will. You follow through on your commitments.
- You can enhance security with your communication such as, "I appreciate how steady you are with me. I can always count on you to follow through, and I treasure this about you."
- I know how you'll respond. Your behavior is consistent, predictable, and reliable.
- We share rituals—we watch the same show on Friday night, or we create holiday rituals together that are familiar, etc.
What are your intentional ingredients of novelty?
Novelty is the food of self-expansion. When I nourish myself with something new, I move beyond the boundary of who I was, or who I thought myself to be. When we feast on novelty in our partnership, we witness one another with fresh eyes, and we experience one another moving beyond the threshold of what is known, into the unknown.
From a behavioral standpoint, novelty looks like:
- Being aware of the confirmation bias (hearing and seeing what we already know of our partner) and listening and sensing for what is new. We can enhance novelty with our communication by offering our partner an appreciation here, "I appreciate that new move you made at work. That was different, and I feel inspired by you."
- Maybe add a deep and passionate kiss on a Monday morning instead of the usual peck on the lips.
- Cooking a new meal with new spices and flavors. Lighting candles and playing new music.
- Inviting your partner to dance with you after dinner instead of putting on the TV.
- Going to a new destination together, or walking down a street you've never walked before.
- Be boundless in your imagination, playfulness, curiosity, and excitement. Novelty is boundless and abundant.
The bottom line.
A balanced diet is a practical metaphor for intimate partnership, and it is important that you and your partner ensure that there are equal parts of security and novelty in order to nourish your connection. Many relationships contain one person who is a "changemaker" and one person who is an "anchor," and while these differences can sometimes feel challenging, we do need both for a healthy bond. Be sure to verbally acknowledge one another for the aspects of security that you each bring to your partnership, and also appreciate one another when you bring novelty and change to your connection.
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Jordan Dann, MFA, LP, CIRT, is a dynamic and innovative psychoanalyst, writer, and educator. Her training in Gestalt Psychotherapy as well as her many years coaching and directing actors has fostered her desire to help individuals become more connected, self-aware, free, and expressive. As a licensed psychoanalyst in private practice, she works with individuals, couples, and conducts case supervision in New York City. She is a graduate of the Gestalt Associates for Psychotherapy, an IMAGO couples therapist, and a Somatic Experiencing (SE) practitioner. She has a BFA in acting and MFA in theater education from Boston University.
As a coach, her 20 years career in the nonprofit sector deepened her commitment to help people reach higher levels of fulfillment, truth, effectiveness, and joy in their work lives; and to help create intentional working environments so that people feel safe to communicate, play, create, resolve conflict, and get work done.
As a theatre educator, she has taught at New York University, Boston University, Colorado Mountain College, Dreamyard Art Center, Stella Adler Studios, and Cap21. As an experience architect and program manager, she has worked with the Teachers & Writers Collaborative, Shakespeare Society, Aspen Institute, and Theatre Aspen.