Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Is Fidelity Enough to Sustain a Relationship?

In his interesting and provocative book, Monogamy, Adam Phillips suggests that “…the cruelest thing one can do to one’s partner is to be good at fidelity but bad at celebration.”

Is he right? Maybe.

To really sustain a loving and vital bond, you need to do more than just come home.  You need to come home in a way that makes your partner know why you are coming home to them. Just eating the meal he prepared or walking around the paint cans in the kitchen she painted is not celebration of your partner.

As much as celebration without fidelity lacks substance and drives suspicion, fidelity without celebration can feel like obligation or habit. Over the years, I have heard too many people struggling in relationships say “To live with a partner who just doesn’t notice you or what you do is lonelier than living alone.”

What Does Celebrating A Partner Really Mean? Many things

The official definition can range from the commemoration of an event with ceremonies, parties, and galas to an expression of special regard or warm approval. With partners, celebration, be it in the compliment, the big event or the smile has a different valence. She cares what you think about her blouse. The tiny card written by her means more than the big applause at the job…your thumbs up is the one she wants because you are emotionally different from others –you are the partner.

What Stops Partners from Celebrating Each Other? Many Things

No Big Deal

Few people want to give or get applause every time they breathe.

Many couples, however, miss the opportunity for mutual celebration.  As we discuss in the chapter “Healing Together: Enhancing Couple Resilience,” couples in the aftermath of trauma often come to recognize and appreciate their individual resilience and their talents as a couple.

This has great applicability to a couples’ day to day challenges.  One doesn’t have to be “lost” in a jungle or a televised “survivor” to recognize that getting through the week was a victory or a miracle.

Try something instead of  this type of competitive stress: “You think you had a bad week?”

You might consider something that invites mutual celebration:

  • “I can’t believe we got them to the soccer games and managed your mother’s birthday!”
  • “How are we paying these bills and still laughing?”
  • “We’re not bad as a team — thank God it’s Friday!”

Can’t Celebrate Directly

Some partners cannot celebrate their partner directly. Friends, people at work, other family members hear about the great decorating job, the fabulous cooking, the promotion, the brilliance – but not the partner. Why?

The reason may not even be clear even to the person doing it. It might reflect self-consciousness, competitiveness, feared loss of power or even discomfort with the positive reaction of the partner being complimented.

For whatever reason, not directly complimenting your partner is like having the party without inviting the guest of honor.  Just as we said in earlier blogs that pain shared is pain divided – praise shared is praise expanded!

Can’t Take the Compliment

Some partners truly stop celebrating or complimenting their partner in small or large ways because their partner will not take a compliment.  Low self-esteem or a history of criticism can make anything positive feel suspect, manipulative and discrepant to an unloving self.  Sadly, the dismissed compliment is depriving for both. It can engender anger, avoidance, and dismissal– the very things that re-enforce low self-esteem.

It is important for the complimenting spouse to hold on to their perspective –gently:

  • “No, I’m not crazy. I really think you look great in that dress. If you change it, OK, but I think you look terrific.”
  • “I know you need to re-do the deal, but I really think what you said saved the day.”

Can’t Manage the Gala

In a culture that promotes a bigger than life perspective on everything, partners can get caught in the assumption that the other wants the “big praise” or “planned events”  and overlook the celebration offered in the compliment, the wink or the caress.

Luther Vandross captures this so well in the lyrics to his song, “Buy Me a Rose.”

Buy me a rose, call me from work

Open a door for me, what would it hurt

Show me you love me by the look in your eyes

These are the little things I need the most in my life…..

Between partners a small touch can equal a Big Celebration!