Busting a gut in your relationship but it’s still not where you want it to be? There’s nothing more frustrating than giving something your all and feeling like it doesn’t seem to be moving the needle even a smidgen in a positive direction.
Maybe you make your partner chicken soup when they’re sick, do the dishes when they don’t have time, fill up the gas tank in their car when you notice it’s running close to empty and make their lunch when you know they have a big day at work.
And yet, while they appreciate what you do, it doesn’t seem to bring the two of you any closer.
If this sounds familiar then you’re doing a phenomenal job of caring for your partner.
But what you might not know is that there’s a difference between caring for those we love and caring about them.
It kinda sounds like the same thing, doesn’t it? I thought so too. But it turns out that those two things are actually quite different and mastering the art of both can help take your relationship from meh to magnificent.
Caring for versus caring about
Dr Kieran Sweeney, a Scotland-based General Practitioner, spoke eloquently about the difference between caring for a patient and caring about them. His work, while originally intended for healthcare professionals working with patients and families, can be applied equally as well to our intimate relationships.
Sweeney believed that caring for someone is a technical activity, it’s very much grounded in the doing, whereas caring about someone is a relational activity, grounded in simply being.
We often naturally and unconsciously gravitate towards caring for our partners because in the doing we feel we are being useful. We’re helping, fixing, doing our best to make things better.
Caring about our partners is harder, more uncomfortable, because when we simply be with them it doesn’t feel like we’re contributing in any meaningful way.
And yet we are.
Striking a balance
Throughout his moving 12 minute YouTube clip, Sweeney comes close to tears on more than one occasion as he movingly describes his own journey from healthcare professional to patient.
While he doesn’t suggest we move away from caring for people, he believes we need to move towards the middle, balancing the technical with the relational.
So, how does this apply to your intimate relationship?
When people describe their relationships with their partners, the reason so many use words like ‘meh’ or phrases like ‘it’s okay’ is often due to both partners focusing too heavily on the caring for aspect of the relationship and neglecting to care about.
It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially if one or both partners identifies acts of service as their primary love language.
And of course, caring for and doing for our partners is one facet of love. That technical side of things is important.
But where relationships often struggle is when they become completely dominated by the technical at the expense of the relational.
The path to a magnificent relationship begins with evening out the scales so that you’re attending to both the technical and relational simultaneously. That’s how successful, long-term partnerships come to be.
How to be rather than do
We live in a world that’s heavily focused on the doing so it’s little wonder that for most of us, that’s our comfort zone.
Helping our partners by cooking dinner or doing the laundry feels a whole lot safer and less awkward then sitting down and doing a deep dive into their inner world and what’s going on for them.
There are millions of couples out there whose relationships are shallow and superficial, not because they don’t desire something deeper but simply because creating that depth can feel terrifying.
Vulnerability is scary. Exposing our wounds, our most tender places, is not for the faint of heart and our fear often leads us to choose comfort over courage.
Being can feel frightening because we often look at the magnitude of what that requires and feel overwhelmed. An easier approach would be to break it down and start small.
Relating to your partner on a deeper level doesn’t have to start with a big conversation in which you both share every dark thought and travel through one another’s childhoods and previous relationships in search of every scar.
Being with your partner can mean lots of things and it’s up to the two of you to decide together what that looks like for you.
It could mean:
- Asking each other what the best and worst part of the day was and really listening to the answer
- Sitting on the sofa and holding their hand when they’ve had bad news and simply need you to be there with them while they process it all
- Going on a long walk together and talking about what you’re loving about life right now and what you’re finding challenging
- Sitting with them in their pain and suffering without trying to fix it
- Playing a round of mini/crazy golf and laughing with each other like you used to
- Slowly getting to know each other better by asking a mix of silly and deep questions
Caring about your partner can be as simple or as deep as you want it to be.
Meh relationships exist not because two people don’t love each other but because they’ve forgotten how to connect in meaningful ways.
The solution is simple, care for as well as care about, but not always easy to implement.
Which, by the way, is not your fault.
Most of us aren’t raised in environments where we learn how to do these things and the world certainly doesn’t teach us so our intimate relationships can end up feeling like thick woods we’re sent in to navigate without a map or compass.
You’ll be amazed though how simply being aware of the difference between caring for your partner and caring about them and taking small steps to balance the doing with the being, can be enough to grow your relationship into something magnificent.
Try it sometime and let me know how you get on, I’d love to hear whether it makes a difference.