The Relationship Reset

My wife and I have been together nearly seven years and married almost four. We’re still near the beginning of our lives together and in the process of figuring things out. But, these few years together yielded the first major realization about how life works as a couple: As you get to know each other more and more, you experience the ‘relationship reset.’

The relationship reset happens when you go from living within the broad spectrum of how people act to living within the narrower spectrum of how you compare to your partner.

Take cleanliness, for example. Maybe a similar level of cleanliness was one of the reasons why you were a good match for one another. While other potential matches left clothes on the floor or dishes in the sink, you both put things away immediately after using them. You were, in essence, on a similar spot on the dirty-to-clean spectrum.

initial spectrum with comment

Now you are in a relationship. You live together day-in and day-out. And instead of comparing yourselves versus the whole world, you primarily – and increasingly – only compare yourselves to each other. The ways that neither of you would ever act – failing to sweep the floor or not noticing cobwebs – are not even conceivable possibilities. Instead, the spectrum of possible states – and thereby, your effective world – narrows. You each define one of the new poles of the spectrum. And further, you sit in opposition. Suddenly, one of you is the ‘clean’ one and the other is the ‘dirty’ one. Sure, you both put away clothes and dishes. But, you have different tolerances of how dirty the bathroom can be before it needs a good scrub down. Weirdly, you become more different than similar.

full spectrum

This dynamic holds true for nearly every personality trait. For me, regardless of my absolute level, I suddenly became relatively less romantic, more social, less organized, more serious, a worse driver, etc., etc., etc.  While the relationship reset confirmed some of my self-perceptions, it really screwed with other parts of my identity. I found myself exclaiming “What do you mean I’m not organized?!”

And so, I need to remember the broader spectrum and the impact of the relationship reset. Just because I’m more or less qualified on any dimension between my wife and I doesn’t say much about how I stack up in the broader world. And, more importantly, any differences I feel between us are probably minute in the bigger scheme of things.

Have you experienced the relationship reset?  Along what dimensions?
What are your relative strengths and weaknesses versus your partner?
How has being in partnership changed the way you think about yourself?

Meredith

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