Do relationships take work? Part 2

So, we already addressed this question… but #1 has recently read Mindset in which it actually discusses what “work” entails.

What work entails according to Mindset:

1. Listen to your partner
2. Discuss differences
3. Solve problems together
4. Communicate and realize people can’t read minds

Ohhh, that’s work?  Well, gee, we do THAT.  But I don’t think of it as work, but as fun.  Who wouldn’t want to get to know their partner better? Who wouldn’t want a partner to help solve problems?

Partner and I discussed what we’d thought work meant…

I thought maybe it was something like giving up some of your own preferences and desires like in a roommate situation.  Possibly effort towards doing romantic things from time to time.

He’d thought it was maybe it had something to do with the cognitive dissonance of your partner in reality not actually being the partner in your head.  (Which the book also discusses.)  (Note that he prefaced this with talking about his friends dating crazy people who had this problem, so no reflection on me!)

#2 notes: Work could also be a joint project of working out your life so that you are BOTH happy: how can we manage the dirty dishes situation so that nobody is unhappy about doing them, or about them not being done? We are a team and we have a problem to solve together; if we don’t solve it, somebody’s going to be cranky and we’ll fight. But it doesn’t involve giving up your own preferences and desires entirely.

So, to sum, apparently relationships take work but we don’t actually have to have the mindset that these “work” activities are work.  We can view them as perks instead.

Does your relationship take work?  What do you think “work” means in terms of relationships?

28 Responses to “Do relationships take work? Part 2”

  1. Comrade PhysioProf Says:

    Relationships only take “work”–as opposed to “fun”–if one or more of the people in the relationship is locked into a toxic mindset of “I’m ‘right’ and the route to happiness is to convince others of this fact and thereby induce them to behave in conformance with my desires”.

    One of the things that has dramatically increased my own happiness over the years has been to learn how to refuse to engage in meaningful relationships with people locked into that mindset.

  2. Clarissa Says:

    I never understood what it meant that relationships take work and why one would want to work any more after putting in many hours at one’s place of employment. Unless a relationship is all about joy, fun and pleasure, I don’t need it. My husband agrees, so we, as two happy lazy layabouts, haven’t done a stroke of work on our relationship.

  3. Frugal Forties Says:

    Hm. I do think relationships take “work”. But I also don’t understand why “work” has to be something negative or to be avoided or something that you give up at the end of the day. Oooh .. it’s past 5 I can stop working now.

    There are a lot of different types and variations of “work”. There’s work to earn a living. There’s work that means to achieve a goal (as in working towards that solution). There’s work that means to prepare things (like work the soil). A relationship takes all of these kinds of work.

    Relationships don’t just magically happen and be successful, right? You have to put some effort into them. You have to sometimes do something you don’t want to do (or not do something you do want to do) because of your partner or because it would/wouldn’t benefit YOU as a couple or a family. Sometimes you have to face things about yourself and change them as you learn how to function in the relationship you have – and that can be difficult, although ultimately worth it.

    I also think that as human beings we’re all inherently self-focused and therefore often selfish. Being in a relationship often means pushing that “me” aside and doing what’s best for “us” or even for “them” (spouse, children, other family). And that can also be work, although the rewards are worth it.

    I think that for some people this kind of work comes more easily – just like some people can throw on a pair of shoes and run a mile and others struggle with it for years. Some people are naturally more empathetic, more able to give, more able to communicate. For those people maybe the idea of these things being work is silly. But for others, it’s not.

    No disrespect to the other commenters, but comments like “it’s only work if you’re a toxic human being” and so forth … those are wrong and hurtful. And for the commenter who said she and her husband didn’t put a stroke of work into their relationship – I call malarky. :) What they do might not be “let’s sit down and work this out” but it’s still work of the sorts mentioned above – working towards a common goal, working to “prepare the soil” of their relationship. It just comes more naturally to them and so they don’t have to actively labor at it as much as some others might.

    Also lot of the ability to have a healthy successful relationship without struggle (as opposed to work) is how one was raised. Growing up w/out a healthy relationship role model and having to work to learn how to form a relationship doesn’t make you toxic. It makes you a human being. Someone who does have to work to learn skills that weren’t part of their everyday life.

    I think it’s far more complex than any of this, to be honest, so I’m just going to stop here. I do think that laughing, mocking, or deriding people who do “work” at their relationships, however, is wrong. And cruel.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s a good point that when we talk about paid employment, work can also be fulfilling. I hadn’t been thinking about it that way when people say, “Relationships take work,” I’d only been thinking of the negative connotations to “work.” In reality, we’d been working at our relationship all along, but had not been viewing that work as “work” because with a good coworker, it seems more fun than going it alone.

      The point we’re trying to make, is that with anything, a challenge can be viewed as something unpleasant and destructive (in a “fixed” mindset) or as something exciting to be overcome (in a “growth” mindset). Which is kind of the point of the whole mindsets book.

      #2 has always said that relationships take work. #1 just didn’t realize what work meant.

      In terms of how people were raised, there’s probably some correlation but let’s just leave it to say that our relationships with our partners are very different from our parents’ by design. Thank goodness for 1980s sitcoms.

  4. Rumpus Says:

    I work very hard to be the person I want to be, in large part because I feel responsible because I have my family. I mean things like being a good role model, trying not to bring home stress about my job, and putting more effort into having/creating more fun/interesting experiences even if I tend to be a slug-a-bed homebody. I work at my relationship(s) in the same way, by making sure I listen very carefully to my family members, treat them with respect, and not lose my cool when I’m unhappy about something. We don’t “work” at these relationships in an effort to change the relationships or to change each other, but we have many discussions about chores or other unpleasant tasks to find a satisfactory solution. I don’t sacrifice either, e.g., I take out the trash because it gets smelly otherwise and I don’t like that. These discussions are regular but are not a challenge; they are as much a part of the relationship as the hugs. Talking is the relationship, just as much as the companionable silences. For me “work” means a force over some distance, and solving problems together doesn’t require any force, so I don’t work at my relationships. (Note, some leeway should be expected with respect to teenagers and other insane beings.)

  5. Cloud Says:

    Hmmm. I think there is some “work” in figuring out how to arrange the household chores, like #2 says. I’m sorry, there is just no way that a discussion about who does the laundry is fun. But it is sometimes necessary to have a discussion like that for the good of the relationship.

    And I guess some people would call the effort my husband and I put into making sure we get some time as a couple “work”, but I think of it as just what we do to get the pay off of some time on our own.

    I haven’t thought about this all that much, but I guess I think there is work, but that it is mostly a rewarding kind of work. Except the discussions about laundry. Those are just dull.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The laundry is going to have to be done anyway, whether you’re partnered or not, right? For us it is more fun to do it together than to do it separately.

      • Cloud Says:

        Again, it was the kids that pushed this over the edge into something to discuss. When it was just us, we just each were in charge of our own clothes. Now with two kids…. we do an ungodly amount of laundry.

        Generally, one of us sorts it, one of us shuttles it to the machine, one of us pulls it out, one of us folds it, one of us puts it away…. and on any given weekend, either of us could do any of those things. But sometimes one of us starts feeling like we’re doing more than our fair share of laundry and then a discussion ensues.

        See? I told you. BORING.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We do the folding and putting away together. It’s fun family time. :) Other than my delicates we’ve given up on sorting… we just don’t own anything that bleeds and own very little white. I sort my delicates when I take them off at night.

        DH and DC have a game where DH tries to put DC’s laundry away in his own drawers, and DC has to snatch it away and get it to hir room before that happens. When it’s just me and DC, DC is a superhero coming to the rescue putting DC’s clothing away.

        Though back when we lived in a walk-up apartment with laundry in the basement, using the washer and dryer was man’s work because it was strength related. We couldn’t do that with a kid.

  6. Cloud Says:

    OK, I’m coming back to add… I was thinking about this and realized that I don’t recall ever thinking I was putting any effort into my relationship/marriage until we had kids. Maybe this is because co-parenting decisions seem much more important than “where are we going on vacation this year?” sort of decisions. And maybe it is because time is much harder to come by these days.

  7. Z Says:

    You have to put in some effort but it doesn’t feel like “work.”

    I think the “relationships take work” edict is:
    a) for people (usually clueless men) who think their wives or partners are furniture or cows, and
    b) for people (usually women in bad relationships) to just “try a little harder” and resign themselves to something uncomfortable.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      “effort” is a good word

      I can’t judge whether other people should be in their relationships or not, but it does make me sad when people’s relationships make them unhappy. Not every relationship can be saved, but there’s also something to be said for learning communication skills. I wonder if people should be forced to live in one room with a non-romantic roommate before getting amorously partnered.

  8. Z Says:

    @Frugal Forties — my parents are among those who say relationships take work. What they mean is, it’s a lot of work to make the relationship work if you *don’t* also evolve as individuals and allow the other person to do so.

  9. “Do Not Think You Are Not Like the Others” | Z-Xiuhtecuhtli Says:

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  10. hush Says:

    Late to the party, but I agree with @Frugal Forties said: “And for the commenter who said she and her husband didn’t put a stroke of work into their relationship – I call malarky. :) What they do might not be “let’s sit down and work this out” but it’s still work of the sorts mentioned above – working towards a common goal, working to “prepare the soil” of their relationship. It just comes more naturally to them and so they don’t have to actively labor at it as much as some others might.” Amen, sister.

    For DH and me, the “work” is about learning to really listen at a deep level, and to actively understand and unpack the myriad ways we are (secretly) f*cked up and projecting our own unresolved childhood pains onto each other. I’m one of those “every marriage could benefit from therapy” people (don’t gag). We have had some bad days since kids came along, but at our core we are both healthy people. We’ve even thrown around the d-word before, and yet today we have fantastic marriage that our friends say they envy. Yes, does take a great deal of personal work, but the “work” is gratifying when the payoff is so huge.

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