It’s sometimes assumed that if you have a partner, you’re free from the burden of loneliness, free from the negative impacts of feeling disconnected. However this is not the case, just as individuals experience isolation, couples can bear the weight of feeling disconnected as well and the impact can be severe.
Humans were made for connection, studies over the years confirm again and again that social isolation has negative effects on people. We all have a renewed appreciation for community following a particularly extreme season of isolation thanks to the pandemic. So how important is it for couples to have a community and what should that community look like? The simple fact is one person cannot meet all your relational, emotional or material needs. It puts too much pressure on them, and you’re destined for disappointment. Therefore it’s incredibly important to build and invest in those relationships surrounding your relationship, to the benefit of all.
My husband Andrew and I got married a few months before covid hit, all of a sudden we were locked down in a small apartment with only each other for company. Both introverts, we considered ourselves lucky and in all honesty there was a lot about the lockdown that we as newlyweds managed to enjoy, cooking elaborate meals, movie marathons, caring for our plant babies, etc. We knew we were the fortunate ones. However while we couldn’t necessarily put words to it, we were missing something and when the world began to open up and we returned to our social networks, both individual and shared, we realised what we had been missing was having other people in our lives.
Everyone’s relationship is unique, you may be a somewhat young relationship like us, or you’ve been together so long you see each other as part of the wallpaper, or you may have kids and seemingly never have the luxury of alone time. Whatever your situation is, one thing is certain, you and your partner can benefit from being together, in community.
Benefits of being in community as a couple:
Collective Intelligence —
When a group comes together, they create an intelligence that extends beyond what’s possible at an individual level. We can all benefit from one another’s experience and expertise. So when we have a decision to make, be it big or small, or we’re just in need of a fresh perspective, other people are key in providing that assistance.
Celebrating together is important, it could be a wedding, a big anniversary, a birthday or a new job. Marking moments and making memories with your partner together with others is one of the most joyful parts of life. Think about how people have celebrated you or how you’ve been invited into celebrating someone else. What feelings does that ignite?
Weathering the storms of life is easier in community which is why it’s just as important to be there for each other when times are not so good. When a couple is affected by tragedy or hardship, it affects both parties, even if seemingly felt more by one partner. When experiencing the loss of a job or more intensely, loss of a loved one, the couple are experiencing difficulty together, albeit in very different ways. When the couple is trying to hold it together and support each other, outside support for each individual is invaluable.
It can be challenging to invite people into your sorrow and allow them to help but vulnerability is a skill worth growing in that will transform your life for the better.
For it is better to give than to receive —
There is typically a naturally occurring cycle of struggle in social groups. It’s not as simple as taking turns, “Mary get’s to find life hard from January-March then it’s Max’s turn and we all shift focus.” Hardships often overlap but there are times when you and your partner are doing well and times when you’re not. During the times when your capacity as a couple is high, it’s important and enjoyable to be there for others. Being invited into people’s lives is a privilege and we should steward our roles in other’s lives kindly and wisely.
Sharing the load —
It takes a village. This is of course in reference to childrearing, but I like to think it refers to life. Couples can benefit from community in how their load is shared. That load could be practical, a home DIY project or exchanging childcare for date nights for example, but it could also be as simple as having someone to play dungeons and dragons with when your partner just isn’t interested. Emotional and material loads are easier and more fun to carry with others.
Shared social connections —
Community could look any number of ways, what do you think of, or perhaps who do you think of when thinking of community in your context? An important aspect of community as a couple is having shared social connections. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have your own friends but there is value in being accepted as a unit within a shared social network, and in fact statistics show that couples with little to no shared social network are more likely to experience relationship dissatisfaction, infidelity and even divorce.
The dangers of being a disconnected couple —
Research shows* that couples who are isolated are more likely to break up than those with social connections. It may be romantic to think your partner is all you need but relationships thrive when they’re integrated into a supportive social network.
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