Are You “Should-ing” All Over Your Relationship?


I am in the middle of reading an amazing book, I Thought it Was Just Me (but it’s not): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy and Power by Brene Brown.  Brene Brown is a researcher who has spent the last 10 years studying women and shame.  In her book, Brene primarily focuses on how shame effects, influences women.  For me, as a couple’s counselor, I can’t help but make the connections between shame and relationships.

One aspect that Brene explores, that specifically relates to relationships, is how shame is all about perception; shame is how we see ourselves, and our relationships, from other people’s perspective.  In other words, we base what we “should” and/or “shouldn’t”do around what other people might think of us.

“The Should-ing”

We all have “should’s” in our lives.  We start learning them before we can even talk.  We learn ways that we “should” eat, play, wash, talk, study, work, manage money, raise our kids, clean our house, choose a car to drive, or a book to read, or a wine to purchase, or which extra activities we participate in, and even how to show our love and appreciate for others.  Really, the list could go on forever!  It becomes so second nature for us to “should” ourselves, that sometimes we forgot to stop and figure out if the “should” is even what we want.

I see this all the time with the couples I work with!  Both come into the relationship with their own “should’s” for what a successful/happy relationship looks like.  How could they not, right?  And when I ask them what they want in a relationship, they have a hard time answering, because they don’t know.

Often, we end up letting the desire to be seen as the hot, fun, most in love, magical, special, best, successful couple rule what we think we “should” do in our relationship.  Overtime, this creates disconnection and distance in our relationships, and soon our relationships becomes a “should do” like work, vs. a want to do.

The Good News

The good news is that we can change this!   Just like there isn’t one perfect profession for everyone, there isn’t one perfect relationship model for everyone either.  The best part of being in a relationship is that you get to create it to be whatever you want it to be!

What I mean by this….

Now, yes, there are some basic traits that successful relationships tend to have.  For example, John Gottman’s research has shown that a couple’s “ability to resolve the conflicts that are inevitably in any relationship,” directly relates to the fulfillment and strength of the relationship.  So while the skill of conflict resolution is important in relationships, how you resolve conflict in your relationship is up to you.

The HOW is yours to change, create, make, tailor to you and your relationship.

It’s part of what makes relationships great, and yet we tend to forget this simple concept.  We get to create the relationship we want!  If you want to have taco Tuesday’s you can.  If you want Santa to visit your kids twice a year, guess what, you can.  If you want to plan in separate vacations each year, again, you can.  You want to resolve conflict by talking with funny accents….you can!

How you might be “should-ing” on your relationship

When our idea’s of what our relationship “should” look like, or how we “should” handle conflict, or what our partner “should” do for us comes from how we want to be perceived by others vs. what works for us, we end up “shoulding” all over our relationship.  (And let me tell you, “shoulding” feels just the way it’s similarly sounding friend {wink} feels when it happens to you!)

Here’s a simple way to figure out some of the places you may be “should-ing” on your relationship without even knowing it…

  1. List out all the things you do in your relationship.  Include work, kids, money, entertainment, vacations, house chores…. anything and every area you can think of.
  2. Put a check by all the ones you do because you feel somehow, or in some way, like you “should” do.
  3. Now, circle the ones that are left that you do just because you love them.
  4. Ask yourself if this list of circled items they way you want to live your life?  Is it enough to fulfill you?

If not, stop”should-ing” on your relationship, and start creating the relationship of your dreams, literally!