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What’s a reasonable expectation to have of your partner?

There are three roles inside your singular marriage. Sometimes you’re in sync with your partner. Everything just flows. These flow times happen when each of you is occupying the same role at the same time. But what happens when you’re not in sync? And how can you get in sync with your spouse?

This article will:

  • Help you recognize the three roles inside your marriage
  • Take a deep dive into the role of partner

Before We Dive Deep: An Overview of the Three Relationships

Partners want to achieve together. Friends want to relax together. Lovers want to explore together. A partner feels intimacy when you share a project. A friend feels intimacy when you share stories. A lover feels intimacy when you share a new experience.

When you’re both playing the same role—partner, lover, or friend—life feels easy and you connect. But lots of times, the reason you’re not in sync is simply because you’re each playing a different role in your marriage. The different roles can cause different expectations, and you struggle to connect.

partner lover friend three relationships of your marriage

There are three relationships inside your singular marriage. When you and your spouse are aligned, you’re in sync with each other.

Take a look at this graphic. Notice when you’re both in partner-mode life is full of hearts. But when one of you is in friend-mode while the other is in partner-mode, you’re at cross purposes: wanting different things from your marriage.

Let’s take a deep dive into the role of partner. Being a good partner will improve your marriage because you’ll cooperate better and feel like you’re moving forward on the same team. (To take a deep dive into the friend-relationship click here. To take a deep dive into the lover-relationship click here.)

How to feel in sync with your partner

You’ll feel loved by the partner in your marriage when:

  • You want to buy a house. A partner is great at creating a savings plan.
  • You want to get the house clean. A partner is great at to-do’s and wants to help.
  • You need to plan a vacation. A partner loves to plan and feels good when they can make a valuable contribution to the fun.

A partner feels like they’re playing when:

  • They have a clear job to do. Partners love the feeling of hard work.
  • There’s a need for a list. Partners love sorting through details and making a plan.
  • There’s a clear task to accomplish. Partners feel valuable when they make a contribution.

You’ll want a partner in your marriage when:

  • You feel overwhelmed by your to-do list.
  • You feel burdened by a project and you don’t know where to start.
  • You have a big goal and want help achieving it.

Try this:

Look for signs your spouse is in partner-mode. When you learn to recognize partner-mode, you’ll remember how valuable this role is in your marriage and you’ll be grateful for your spouse.

  • When your spouse gets out their colored pencils and begins drawing charts and plans, smile at your partner who keeps your life organized.
  • When your spouse ogles over a stack of perfectly folded cleaning rags, appreciate how clean your partner keeps your home.
  • When your spouse wants to forgo dinner out in favor of banking the money in your savings account, thank your partner for their help securing your future.

It’s easy to feel in sync with your partner when they are helping you. But, as Anne Lamott says, “Help is the sunny side of control.” Your partner hates—HATES—to lose control. Their attempts to help sometimes feel a lot more like control.

In the boxes above where the partner isn’t connecting with the friend in your marriage, it’s often because friends don’t like to be told how to fix their problems. Instead, a friend wants to be understood. Likewise, a lover doesn’t want to be controlled. A lover wants to be free to explore without an agenda.

Let’s look at some of the shadow qualities that explain why it’s tough to connect when your spouse is in partner-mode.

Why you feel out of sync with your partner

You’ll feel frustrated by your partner when:

  • They demand a plan. Partners want predictability, but sometimes that can feel oppressive to you.
  • They need everything to be perfect. Partners like a job well done, but you feel like enough is never enough.
  • They take control of a situation. Partners see a way to solve a problem and they get to work, but sometimes it’s better to sit back and wait for a team to come together.

You’ll be embarrassed by your partner when:

  • They hound you in front of your friends. Partners like to have-it-all-together, but that might feel like they think you don’t measure up.
  • They accuse you of not doing your share. Work is play to a partner, but they aren’t always great at relaxing. Instead of learning from your ability to rest, they accuse you of being a slacker.
  • They shame you because you can’t figure it out. Partners see the solution and want to take action and fix the situation. But you might need more time to process, or maybe you don’t like their solution.

Try this:

Look for signs your spouse is in partner-mode. When you learn to recognize partner-mode, you’ll need to set some boundaries so you can stay happy in your larger marriage.

  • When your spouse has three tabs open on their computer and is eager to coordinate calendars, let your partner know you don’t have energy to make a plan right now. (Later, send a text with your timeframe and any logistics needed.)
  • When your spouse is getting out the mop and the sponges, let your partner know you’re happy to clean the bathroom tomorrow, but today you had other plans. (Then keep your promise and clean the bathroom.)
  • When your spouse has refused to spend money for the third time, remind your partner you love their ability to save. Then sweep your spouse up in a big hug and say, “I love that you are creating our future. Today I want to take you out and show you I love you right now.”

It’s important to love your spouse even when they are in the shadows of partner-mode. Afterall this person helps keep a roof over your head and food in your pantry. It’s also important to set boundaries with your partner-spouse.

It’s important for you so your partner doesn’t drive you crazy, but it’s also important for your spouse. Likely they need the balance in life that you provide. Let the friend inside of you find a song from your playlist so that your mutual sink-scrubbing can hum to the same tune. Or let the lover inside of you scoop up your partner to find adventure elsewhere.

If you’d like to read a story about a time in my marriage that I messed up when it comes to being a good partner, click here.

When is your spouse likely to be in partner-mode? How does your partner-spouse make your life better? How does your partner-spouse get on your nerves?

If you’d like to learn more about what’s sabotaging your marriage communication, check out my class: 6-Steps to Better Marriage Communication.

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