Many of my female clients (and some of my male clients) complain that their partners aren’t more interested in working on their relationship. They feel neglected, or like they’re doing all the work of the relationship while their partner ignores obvious problems. This road trip metaphor helps give a little insight into how differences in perception and focus can impact relationships.
Imagine you’re going on a road trip with your partner. You’re excited and happy to be going, and you know there will be tons of amazing experiences along the way as well as a blissful destination. There you are, jamming to your playlist, humming along. Maybe there’s a bit of traffic, or a detour, but you’re feeling great. There’s something rattling around in the car, but you can hardly hear it over your excellent road trip playlist. Your partner insists on checking it out. You pull over, and he pops the trunk. You just hang out—he’s got this! He’s really good with cars, and he usually does the regular maintenance stuff, and you really appreciate it. You’re not really a car person anyway—if it’s running, it’s fine, right? Your partner slams the hood and off you go—right as rain!
A few miles down the road, your partner pulls over again. He pops the hood and carefully looks over everything. He’s just checking, but he has a feeling that there might be something off. Even if it’s okay, he thinks the car could run a little better. You wish he’d give it a rest. The car has been running fine, and there’s a really cool sightseeing spot a few miles away you want to check out before it closes! You can’t understand why he’d rather make a detour to the nearest town to get some new fluid for the transmission. He says it will improve the gas mileage significantly, which is great and all, but you’re already on this road trip, and you’d like to focus on enjoying it rather than focusing on every little problem or making up problems when things are basically fine. This goes on like this, with your partner feeling more and more resentful that you don’t appreciate his efforts, and you feeling more and more frustrated and impatient.
The metaphor I used follows the usual stereotypes, but this could be applied to a couple of any mix of genders. The reality is that although relationships are an important part of daily life, like cars, they’re not a particular interest to everyone, in terms of the mechanics and how they actually work. Remembering not to take it personally when your partner doesn’t show your level of concern can help reduce frustration and resentment. Also, sometimes it’s worth recognizing that not everything has to be perfect in order to be okay.
Of course, a relationship is a shared responsibility, and both parties must contribute to it in order to keep it healthy. They can do this in very different ways. The passenger in the story supplied snacks, playlist, itinerary, and navigation to keep the road trip going smoothly, while the driver did the driving and engine checks. When we appreciate our partners for the contributions they make, we’re in a better position to ask for appreciation for our own contributions, and less likely to feel that we’re the only ones doing any work. And we can show extra appreciation when our partner goes outside their comfort zone to try to contribute in the ways that are important to us but maybe not so comfortable for them.