Pursuing passions or partnership?
““You should spend more time with me instead of going fishing!””

"Long Drive" — Jim Furyk by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Long Drive” — Jim Furyk by Mimi Stuart ©

Should you push your partner to stop pursuing their passions?

People often push their partner to stop pursuing their interests in favor of spending more time together as a couple. The pursuing partner may genuinely want to spend more time together or he or she may be reacting to feelings of jealousy or insecurity. Feelings of insecurity in particular will cause someone to try to control the other person and become possessive.

Some partners find it uncomfortable to deal with their partner’s insecurities. So they prefer to accommodate them. Often it is their own anxiety in face of a partner who is upset that they cannot tolerate. As a result, when their partner pressures them to give up their interests, they give in quickly in order to avoid conflict.

Long-term problems of appeasement

When your partner appeases you, you may feel temporary relief. However, ongoing appeasement will create long-term problems. The result of repressing one’s own desires can result in a gradual deadening of the soul, growing resentment, boredom, and a loss of passion within the relationship.

When your partner continuously appeases you at the expense of their own interests, they will lose some of their passion for life and for you. Moreover, as appeasement becomes the norm, you will both feel increasingly burdened by an obligation to appease each other. As a result, one or both of you will become more and more vulnerable to the other person’s manipulation.

Long-term intimacy and accommodation

True intimacy evolves when you don’t manipulate your partner to accommodate your needs and desires. Long-term passionate intimacy requires that two people have a strong enough sense of self that each can spend time separately pursuing their own individual interests.

To sustain a long-term passionate relationship, you need to balance two primary drives — the desire for togetherness and the desire for autonomy. While everyone has a different ideal balance point, it is clear that the extremes of too much togetherness or too much independence each generate their own problems.

If you really love someone, you do not want that person to stop pursuing their passions and interests. Nor should you want to make that person feel guilty for pursuing them. It’s not much fun spending time with someone who feels stifled and held back. The very reason you love a person has a lot to do with their vitality and individual interests. So it is both wise and loving to encourage them to continue to pursue their interests.

Empower yourself

When you feel threatened by your partner spending time apart from you, rather than controlling your partner, find a way to empower yourself and the relationship.

1. Desire the best for your partner.

You will have a better relationship if your partner is happy. It reflects well on you and you will be more attracted to your partner if your partner is passionate about life rather than unhappy about it.

2. Be curious about your partner’s interests.

You don’t want to become a couple that has nothing to talk about. Don’t feel resentment about your partner’s fishing, golfing, or reading. Instead, ask about their interests, their progress, and other details. Find genuine joy in what they appreciate about their pursuits and passions.

3. Pursue something you enjoy.

Start pursuing your own passions. If you don’t have any, try out different activities, sports, or hobbies, or take some classes. The experience of trying new things will make your life richer. When you keep your life engaged, you enhance your life, which also makes you more interesting to be with. Taking on challenges builds a healthy confidence and joie de vivre. Even failed pursuits make for great stories. All of this will lead you to a more interesting and passionate relationship.

4. Make your time together more enjoyable.

Plan activities together that your partner will want to participate in. Spending some time together is important. Rather than spending that time complaining about your partner’s passions, think about pursuits that you can do together that may be interesting or pleasant for both of you. Talk to your partner about what your interests and passions are.

While it is important to spend some time together, couples keep their relationships alive when they do not spend all their time together. When you encourage your partner to pursue their passions, they will be grateful to be with someone who is truly loving.

Loving someone means respecting their autonomy and wanting them to be truly happy.

Alison Poulsen, PhD

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8 thoughts on “Pursuing passions or partnership?
““You should spend more time with me instead of going fishing!””

  1. Candy

    Thanks for your response. The exercise that my partner is doing revolves around designated class times in the evenings. Yes, this has greatly interfered with the time periods we had been spending together for the past year and a half.

    We did talk about how his new interests have really disrupted the quality time we had become accustomed to (and there was more flexibility to spend time together before these designated exercise class times entered our relationship). The first time we talked about it, he agreed to be more flexible on certain days…The thing is, when I would ask him to do something on one of those days, he was not flexible. After several times of being rejected, on the “so called” flexible days, I brought my concerns to him again, in a mature way. Once again he said the he would be more attentive and being flexible. After about five months of extending periodic invitations to him and being turned down, I finally blew up in anger…and boy did I ever explode on him.

    At that time I said, I am not okay anymore with you being in control of the flexibility because you are not flexing and I want a specific evening during the week that will be designated for us to spend time together from 5 o’clock on…we worked it out and for two weeks we had an evening together in the middle of the week. Then when his work schedule “permanently” increased, he abandoned the night with me and went back to exercising on that evening because his new work schedule had interrupted with one of his evening exercise classes…leaving me feeling unimportant once again.

    Here’s the thing though, he suffers with depression and anxiety. He says that the exercise classes really help him deal with these disorders. The odd thing is that he used to say spending time with me helped relieve the depression and anxiety.

    It is difficult to balance because he has to exert a tremendous amount of effort into not feeling depressed and is on several medications. I understand that he has to take care of himself, but it seems very selfish that he has diminished our schedule of spending quality time together so much to relieve his ill feelings.

    It’s like he has to attach himself to whatever relieves depression or anxiety. This is a pattern I am seeing after being with him for about three years now. He seems to go from one shiny thing to another…

    Sorry to ramble on, but this situation is complex.

    1. Alison Post author

      Thank you for writing back. Yesterday I posted a blog on the general question of your first email. From your current comment it definitely appears that he is choosing other activities as priorities in his life at the cost of your relationship. Exercise is good against depression. However, he seems to be using his problems of anxiety and depression as a reason to make everything else his priority, and this seems to be a substantial change in the relationship. It may be time to draw the line and either find a good counselor, ask him to go to a John Gottman seminar (which is superb for teaching people how important it is to make your partner number one), or tell him how important it is to stick to a schedule of doing some things together, OR move out temporarily and see if things change. You can’t force someone to change, but you can let them know what is important to you and then go after it, despite potentially losing the person. If after three years of being together he doesn’t value your desires enough to spend some quality time with you, things will only get worse in the future. Sorry to say. Please let me know how it goes.

  2. Candy

    I’ve read several of your articles about pursuing your own interests and being autonomous.

    Honestly, it appears that you are heavily weighted in your opinion toward the side of couples doing a lot of things separate from one another.

    I get somewhat discouraged when I read these things because I feel there should be more emphasis on the importance of there being “well-balanced quality time” spent being together.

    Yes, I totally get that we should have our own interests, but when one partner is overly zealous in their passions it really creates problems in a relationship.

    I share this because recently my partner decided to get involved in regular exercise in an organization outside of the home. It started out being 3 days per week for an 1-1/2 per outing. Over the course of 6 months the days for exercise increased to 5-6 days a week and on top of that this person started doing additional volunteer work for the organization that has demanded an additional 6 hours per week away from the home.

    Suffice to say, the change in my partner’s lifestyle, greatly interfered with us spending “balanced” quality time together. They actually abandoned things that we did together, exercise being one of those things, hobbies we enjoyed together, social time with friends and a therapy group we attended together to be involve with this exercise organization.

    As they got more involved in “excessively” pursuing their interests, I began to feel less important to them with every invitation to do something that ended with, “I really feel like I need to go exercise, it’s helping with the depression and anxiety I’ve been feeling.”

    Anyway, I’ve felt abandoned, rejected and not important as this person has decreased our time together by about 50%.

    To some people spending “quality” time with their partner is very important. Here again, balance is the key.

    1. Alison Post author

      Thank you for your excellent comment Candy. Yes, I may tend to emphasize pursuing passions separately over quality time together, possibly because I have seen a lot of controlling and limiting behavior between partners that doesn’t enhance the relationship at all and in fact backfires. However, I DO think there should be a balance, and I think the balance is different for every couple, and unfortunately from person to person within a relationship. That is something that has to be negotiated between the partners, preferably negotiated in an open, frank, and reasonable way without manipulation. A relationship will not thrive unless there is a concerted effort to enjoy each other’s company on a regular basis.

      Personally, I don’t think exercising every day of the week for an hour or an hour of the week is excessive. But I don’t know whether you both have any time together after work and exercise or not–say at dinner. Too bad you couldn’t do some of your exercise together or join him in the volunteering.

      If you both work, and he is spending all his free time exercising and volunteering away from home, it does sound like it’s time to talk to him and find a way for your relationship to be nurtured as well. I hope you are able to talk to him without telling him to quit something, but let him know that you want to be in a relationship where you spend some time together on a regular basis that is fun, romantic, or adventuresome. Rather than telling him what to do, I would ask him what he’s willing to do to keep the relationship strong and enjoyable as well as primary in your lives.

      Let me know what happens.

    2. Alison Post author

      PS You mention that with every invitation, your partner will end by saying “I really feel like I need to go exercise….” Despite his comment, sometimes, I would say, “hey, why don’t we/you take a walk/run for 15 minutes and then let’s go to the event.” But say it in a positive way with a smile. Just say, “I know your exercise means a lot to you, but this will be fun and it means a lot for our relationship.” I don’t believe in guilt trips, so don’t use manipulation or a whining attitude. But confidence can be irresistible. It also shows self-respect, with the underlying assumption being that you are worth giving up one exercise session for. Let him take a quick run and get back and go out with you. Tell him exercise and volunteering are great but balance is critical in sustaining a happy marriage. But try to be confident, uplifting and matter of fact. He will get defensive if you resent his exercising. On the other hand, if you support his passions, but also support your relationship and emphasize the necessity for balance and for nourishing the relationship, that will be easier to hear.

  3. Vanessa Rottner

    Thank you for addressing this very important issue. I studied psychology in College. Often my colleagues and friends alike (as I do now) have sat around many tables over coffee discussing the same! We should approach all of our relationships with the intention of a ‘pure heart, free of strings, then to me that open the pathway to the road of our journeys together! One of the frailties of the human condition is that we often get trapped into our own agendas (whether it is intentional or not). Along with that we have to consider personality types, gender, maturity and ALL the complexities. You have so nicely addressed and outlined “passions and pursuits” so thoroughly.

    I love the closing statement which so wonderfully rounds out openness and flexibility

    “When my husband encourages me to go to waterski tournaments, even though that
    means more weekends apart, I feel gratitude, appreciation, and increased desire
    within the relationship and for his happiness”. To coin a phrase: “Absence makes the
    heart grow stronger”. I am so blessed that my dear mother was a wise counsellor,
    who gave me the power as a young child to be my own person, balanced nicely
    with by ability to engage with others perceptively. Thank you for the listen. V

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