Why You Should Diversify Your Relationship Portfolio

You probably know about the importance of diversifying when it comes to your finances. You understand, for example, that it’s unwise to have all of your money invested in the stock of one company.

But diversification is also important to keep in mind for your marriage. I was reminded of this truth while listening to a recent NPR Hidden Brain segment with Shankar Vedantam. He spoke with Eli Finkel, a social psychologist at Northwestern University, about how our rising expectations of marriage can create problems in our relationships.

Here’s how Finkel explains it. Before you got married, you likely turned to a wider circle of people to fill your different needs as a person. For example, you had fun nights out with your neighbors, you talked about your goals with your favorite colleagues, you kept fit with your yoga class and you confided in your best friend from college. If you still have that variety of people in your life, pat yourself on the back. What tends to happen when we marry, though, is that our circles shrink. The perception has built up in our culture that your spouse should be able to be everything to you since he’s your “soul mate.”

We haven’t always thought about marriage in such exalted terms. If you read my blog post about psychotherapist and author Esther Perel, Finkel’s ideas might remind you of hers. Perel writes:

We still want everything the traditional family was meant to provide—security, respectability, property, and children—but now we also want our partner to love us, to desire us, to be interested in us. We should be best friends and trusted confidants, and passionate lovers to boot.

We want our chosen one to offer stability, safety, predictability, and dependability. And we want that very same person to supply awe, mystery, adventure, and risk. We expect comfort and edge, familiarity and novelty, continuity and surprise. We have conjured up a new Olympus, where love will remain unconditional, intimacy enthralling, and sex oh so exciting, with one person, for the long haul. And the long haul keeps getting longer.

This all puts a lot of pressure on our marriages. And, sadly, it can even set you up for added heartbreak if you lose a spouse to divorce or death. Kristi Williams, an Ohio State University sociologist and editor of The Journal of Marriage and Family, believes that many of the problems divorced or widowed people suffer are because they over-relied on their spouse.

You will be happier and your marriage will be healthier if you can diversify your relationship portfolio. Here are a couple of ideas to try.

It’s easy to forget one of the most important relationships — the one you have with yourself. If you feel that you’ve lost some of who you are since you’ve been married, start making it a priority to be yourself and value yourself. Do your own thing sometimes. Take a class in something you’re interested in, even if it’s not his thing and he doesn’t want to join you. Revisit the dreams and interests you’ve been neglecting. You’ll feel more engaged and alive, which — bonus! — makes you more attractive to your husband.

You can also start rekindling some of the relationships you’ve let slide to the back burner. Elaine Cheung of Northwestern University has found that having a larger array of relationships to help you manage all the emotions of life makes you happier. And when you have additional emotional support sources besides your husband, you’re more likely to appreciate the unique role he does play in your life.

For more ideas like these, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love. It’s a comprehensive guide to caring for your marriage and yourself.

Be kind


An excerpt from Strong Women, Strong Love:

Studies across cultures identify kindness as one of the top qualities people seek in a partner.  Kindness, sincerity, and warmth are essential to helping you and your partner open up to one another.  Treat yourself with kindness, as if you were your own best friend.  Welcome interactions with gentleness, remembering the power you have to crush a person’s spirit, even your own.  We all want to feel treasured by the ones we love, so cherish your partner and let him know how much he means to you.  A gentle, tender, compassionate stance in relating to your partner does wonders for nurturing authenticity because you are making it safe for both of you to be yourselves.

Learn to be flexible



An excerpt from Strong Women, Strong Love:

In a relationship, it is important to have some capacity for flexibility.  There are times when you and your partner need to lean on each other, like when you are ill.  Other times, you are distant from one another because you are simply busy or need space.  The level of closeness can also fall somewhere between the two.

When each person in a relationship has a strong sense of self, they can move into different stances based on their needs.  Movement away is not viewed as a threat, and movement toward is not considered suffocating because each person is emotionally secure, generally self-reliant, and trusting.

The two most problematic stances in a relationship are Excessively Close and Emotionally Distant.  If you have a weaker sense of self, you are probably driven by fear, which makes you prone to being too close or too distant.  It is difficult for you to accept the fluid nature of a relationship, so you may not allow your relationship the breathing room and intimacy necessary to grow in a healthy manner.  These two stances may manifest in the ways listed below:

Excessively Close (Needy/Clingy)

  • Needing constant reassurance
  • Feeling intense jealousy
  • Being intrusive
  • Making your partner the center of your universe
  • Nurturing your spouse excessively, relating more like a mom than a partner
  • Acting like a victim, doormat, or helpless person
  • Refusing to do anything independently of your partner
  • Not knowing what you need or want
  • Ignoring all other relationships

Emotionally Distant (Emotional Strangers)

  • Hiding your true thoughts and feelings from your partner
  • Being so independent your partner feels unnecessary in your life
  • Avoiding deep connection
  • Ignoring your partner’s needs
  • Showing little interest in the details of your partner’s life
  • Spending all your time with other people or other activities, including work
  • Avoiding relationship problems that need to be addressed

If you are regularly relating to your partner in any of these ways, it is important to ask yourself what unfulfilled needs or wishes are driving you.

Although women are encouraged to make men the center of their world, men usually find this too intense and withdraw.  What works better is having a life of your own that you gladly share with one another. A strong sense of self gives you the flexibility essential to a healthy relationship.