Updated: Jan 3
Let's say you put time and effort into making tasty healthful dinners for us night after night. I like them but they don’t knock my socks off. Your caring doesn’t quite add up to my feeling cared for.
So there you are. Two things I think we all know for sure about almost all long-term committed relationships. The first is that people come together determined to care for each other and expecting to be cared for. “As long as we both shall live.” And the other is that this usually doesn’t work out as well as we’d hoped.
Now this is important, since love IS a mutual relationship of two people caring for one another. And no, not in the sense of “Oh, I really truly care for her.” Feelings are nice, but it’s not about feelings. It’s about delivery. Showing you care—that’s part one. And doing so in a way that actually makes the other person actually feel cared for—that’s part two. Part three is your both making sure it’s done in a way that feels balanced: one isn’t doing a lot more of the “caring for” than the other.
You can see why this is harder than just saying, “I will always care for you!”
Showing I care takes work, which is way, way harder than having good intentions. It means making you a priority.
Caring for you in a way that makes you feel cared for takes more than work: it takes insight and understanding. It takes me doing things your way, not mine. It takes me having your agenda for you, not my agenda for you.
And keeping things balanced is hard because life is complicated. How do we handle the care accounting when you have to take care of me for six months when I’m laid up? A lot of extra work for you, even though it’s no picnic for me. So what am I on the hook for? “Nothing,” you say out of the generosity of your heart. Well, maybe, if this is a period where you have a lot to give. But what if you have little to give in this period but you just don’t want to come across like a bean-counting jerk?
I wish I could say there was a simple answer to all of this. But there is a way to deal with it.
Those of us who are in relationships need to be constantly aware of these truths:
There are always times our partners are feeling the need to be cared for that we miss. We need to not miss them.
We can’t assume that the ways we need to be cared for are the ways our partners need to be cared for. Caring for another creature—even another human creature—requires insight and understanding of their needs, and asking questions.
And we have to pay careful attention to balance. It’s normal for two people to profoundly disagree about whether things are balanced, and in whose favor. You’re going to have to talk this out. It can be eye opening! Maybe painful! But it makes all the difference.
There is one great thing about attending to all this. It’s the knowledge that by truly caring for one another you are laying your hands on the very heart of what feeds life and hope and love into your relationship.
And if you run into problems you find challenging to resolve, don’t worry. That’s what our Why Couples Fight is all about. It’s the ultimate resource for enabling two people to feel cared for in their relationship.
The cover image and the first two pictures in the text are Gainsborough's tender and soulful paintings of his daughters, done in the 1750s. The last picture is Goya's 1820 self-portrait with Dr. Arietta, a self-portrait done amazingly while he was close to dying, from which he was saved by Dr. Arietta. Interestingly, while there are countless paintings of romantic love, there are extremely few paintings of caring.