Social Question

wundayatta's avatar

Do you feel like you have to perform to keep someone's love?

Asked by wundayatta (58357 points ) March 20th, 2011

During the romance phase of a relationship, most people are on their best behavior. But there comes a time when a person can’t be on their best behavior. Maybe they are sick. Or in a bad mood. Maybe they just can’t maintain best behavior because it isn’t really them. Maybe they are workaholic, and can’t take as much time for you. Maybe they become too high maintenance.

During a later phase of a relationship—say you’ve been married for a number of years—you might change how you are. You may stop paying much attention to your spouse. You might stop having sex with them. You might never have a kind word for them.

It seems to me that we earn love by being good to someone else. We meet many of their needs. We are fun to be with. We take care of them, emotionally and physically.

Then we might stop taking care. How long before you say, I can’t take this and don’t want to be in this relationship any more? What is the minimum you must have in order to be willing to keep on working in a relationship? How does that time change depending on whether you are in the initial stages or after you’ve been together for 20 years or more? In other words, does a partner earn a kind of credit over time—earning them more time they would be willing to put up with you?

Is there a point beyond which they have earned enough credit so you would never bail on them, no matter what? Or do they always have to be on their toes in order to make you want to stay?

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21 Answers

josie's avatar

If you want to stay in shape, you have to exercise forever. If you want to be loved, you have to make yourself lovable forever.

zenvelo's avatar

If you have to be “on your toes” there is an implication of being continually evaluated and criticized. Best behavior is different from being caring and supportive. No one can be on their best behavior forever. But behaving properly is not working on keeping the marriage alive. Marriages and relationships require work and attention.

I think characterizing it as “earning love” puts one person in a power position, when it ought to be equals. I don’t want to have to earn love. I want to be loved for who I am, and love a woman for who she is, despite each of our faults. But we both have to work on the relationship.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I’m actually not on my best behavior at the beginning phase – I’d rather people see all of me and upfront so that I don’t waste my time in case they can’t handle me.

AmWiser's avatar

“You know it’s never fifty-fifty in a marriage. It’s always seventy-thirty, or sixty-forty. Someone falls in love first. Someone puts someone else up on a pedestal. Someone works very hard to keep things rolling smoothly; someone else sails along for the ride.” ~ Jodi Picoult

KatawaGrey's avatar

I think part of the problem is assuming that people’s default settings is bad behavior. Some people are naturally badly behaved so I would imagine that if those people “scrub up” for a relationship and gradually become their old selves, their partners would think in five, ten, or however many years down the road, “What happened to the wonderful person I first met? S/he was so great and s/he’s just awful.” However, I think the natural state of most people is not bad behavior.

When I start dating someone, I like to get all the “shocking” bits out of the way in the beginning so there aren’t nasty surprises later on. All of my boyfriends have known from the beginning that most of my friends are male. Believe it or not, but this little tidbit actually weeded out one horrible guy because he became jealous a few weeks after we had gotten involved. This is something that probably would have taken a while to rear its ugly head if I mostly hung out with females.

Like @Simone_De_Beauvoir, I like to be upfront with long-term partners. I certainly don’t bludgeon anybody but I try to lay my cards on the table before things get too serious. If they feel bludgeoned, generally that means that they expect to be in charge in the relationship and, quite frankly, I’ve become accustomed to being in charge. Maybe that sounds bad, but with the kind of men I date, if I didn’t take charge, we’d never get past the shy, awkward trying-to-figure-out-what-to-do phase. Boy was I ever surprised when my current SO came up out of the woodwork and matched me stride for stride in getting this relationship going.

SavoirFaire's avatar

I’m not sure we should ever perform in a relationship (barring pretenses kept up for one’s in-laws or certain costumed-based fantasies), but we need to work on successful relationships every day. When people stop working on their relationships, those relationships fail. This failure doesn’t always manifest in divorce or breaking up because people are willing to put up with failed relationships for all sorts of reasons (some good, some bad). But a lack of willingness to work on one’s relationship signals a lack of devotion.

Plenty of relationships fail not because two people couldn’t get along, but because they wouldn’t get along—that is, those involved would not put in the effort needed to get past an argument or some other difference. Arguments happen in every healthy relationship, and differences (of style, opinion, etc.) arise between every set of two people. Either we’re willing to reconcile these issues or we are not. And when we are not, the relationship suffers until the heap or unreconciled differences destroys the relationship utterly.

This is not to say that every relationship can be saved, or even that all those which can be saved should be saved. It is only to say that relationships fail as much because those who are in them refuse to fight for their continuance as because of any irreconcilable problems between the people involved themselves.

ZEPHYRA's avatar

@josie HOW DO YOU DO THAT? Please provide instructions!

Electra's avatar

I always tell myself: My love deserves the same remembrance, the same care, that my body does. And I’m a fitness freak.

I don’t think I’ll ever go out of the honeymoon phase with my sweetie, as a result of my attitude and his—we never forget the little things to do for each other, the little soft embraces, loving words, that build up, altogether, to so much.

Electra's avatar

All that being said—I think there’s something wrong if you feel you have to perform, like do tricks, in a manner of speaking, to keep someone’s love. If you feel put on the spot to do things you would not SPONTANEOUSLY do, there’s something majorly wrong that you have to talk about with your partner.

Affection should be spontaneous—or it’s not affection; it’s you being controlled in a way that makes you think that you have to “give love,” but in reality you have this choker collar around your neck telling you how to behave to “be loving.” No one should be in that situation, and I HAVE seen some women, some friends even, caught up in that.

augustlan's avatar

No, and if I did, I would not want to be in that relationship. (I have felt this way in the past, and it’s definitely no fun.)

In a good relationship, each should want to take care of the other. Obviously, no one is perfect and we all have our ugly moments, but on the whole, a healthy relationship is one where each loves the other just the way they are.

cookieman's avatar

Nah, any “performing” I might do in my relationship is born out of my own insecurities. My wife loves me unconditionally (and I her) – I just don’t always believe it.

Sure we push each other to do better, but that’s out of love, not obligation.

BarnacleBill's avatar

The “performance” part seems to come into play when one person is self-absorbed, and knows it. When you try to cover up being predominantly a “taker” in a relationship, then it becomes a performance to maintain a sense of fairness in order to keep the other person. Eventually the guard slips, and the other person gets worn out from never mattering as much as the other person. It’s an interesting balancing act of complexity. There are different ways of being emotionally needy. Eventually the other person gets tired of being second fiddle to the other’s needs and either the marriage ends, or it moves into a financial arrangement only.

Seelix's avatar

No matter how long a couple has been together, there’s no performing necessary in a healthy relationship. As long as both partners are willing to make the relationship work, that is. Concessions and compromises aren’t performance – they’re just sensible actions that occasionally have to be taken in any relationship, romantic or otherwise.

bunnygrl's avatar

Does it matter if you started out as friends? I’m not saying we didn’t go through the whole hearts and flowers type stage because of course we did (and we still like to surprise each other with silly little hidden notes etc…. what? it’s fun) but he’s my pal. When I’ve had a bad day, or even if something really funny happened at work, I can’t wait to get home to tell him about it. If I’m on a “low” because of the depression, having his arms wrapped tightly round me does me more good than any meds ever could. All of this in spite of the fact that when I’m ill I’m like a bear with a sore head. Ick, if I could get away from me I would. I haven’t ever been able to get it, why does my honey love me? but I’m soooooooo glad that he does.

For over a week now I’ve been dying with some horrible cold/flu/chills/sickness/throat full of broken glass type thing, my dear hubby has been up through the night re-heating hot water bottles, bringing me mugs of hot lemon, stroking my hair, hugging me…. believe me, I have not been the best me I could be, but he doesn’t seem to care.

As for him, do I have any complaints? No. Not a one :-) Does he do things that drive me nuts? God yes. He never puts things away (and I’m a neat freak) I can follow where he’s been in the house by following the trail of his possesions… there on the hall table are his keys, whatever was in his pockets before he’s changed from work clothes into his jeans…. loose change, bits of paper with reminders on, his cell phone. Is there anything, ever that would make me give up on him? No.Nothing, ever. Like I said, does it make a difference that we started out as friends? Think of the best, closest friend you’ve ever had, some friendships really are for life, and if you marry your best pal, well it alters the odds for the better I think. We’ve been married now for over 26 years, and it doesn’t feel anything like that long.

Leanne1986's avatar

I do feel like I have to perform to keep my partner from falling out of love with me but I don’t see that as a bad thing and it’s certainly not to an extreme. For example, I make sure that I am in decent shape (I know my partner isn’t attracted to overweight women) so that he will remain attracted to me and I make sure I always think before I take my bad mood out on him. There are times when I want to yell at him just because I am having a bad day but I stop myself.

Now, I don’t for one minute feel that if I have one or two off days where I don’t make sure I look good that he is going to leave me but I like to feel attractive for him and some days that takes more effort than others.

I hope, to a certain extent, he “performs” to keep me as well. Relationships are about putting in the effort after all.

Did I answer the question right?

wundayatta's avatar

I guess I always have this feeling that I’m not allowed to have a bad day. I don’t think it’s anyone else putting it on me. It’s a pressure I put on my self for fear of being abandoned. So I’m wondering (in a rather inchoate way) how much I have to do before she will let me have a down day. And how many down days can I have before the gives up and leaves me.

It doesn’t matter who it is, either. It could be a boss or parents or a girlfriend or fluther or a wife—it’s been all of them over time. I always feel like nothing I do is ever enough for safety If I mess up, they’ll forget me or leave me.

I don’t let this stuff radically change my life. I’m still me and I have my preferences, but I tend to feel that, in real life, anyway, if we are disagreeing over something really important to the other person, I better give in if I want to keep the relationship. Some things don’t have that importance, and I can disagree without fear, but some issues seem like a bottom line.

Then, a lot of time with friends, I feel like I have to be who they think I am. I can’t be the real me. If I’m an entertainer, I must always be an entertainer or else they will lose interest in me.

It’s a lot of pressure, and I can’t be sure that I wouldn’t be friendless and loverless if I didn’t perform these tricks at a sufficient rate. So I live under that all the time. Sort of like justifying my existence a lot of the time. I was hoping others had this feeling, too.

janbb's avatar

I have felt like that in some insecure relationships wundy, but not in general with my spouse. I don’t feel that I can wallow in depression around him because I feel it is unfair to subject another person to that. I don’t see that as quite the same thing as performing..

SavoirFaire's avatar

@wundayatta I’ve certainly had relationships like that, and I’ve done what I can do get out of them. If I couldn’t have a bad day around my wife, I’d never have made it this long in life. I’ll perform for her parents on her behalf or at her request—e.g., pretending everything is fine so we can have a nice dinner at their home—but she doesn’t ask me to do it at home (even if I have to control myself—no breaking the dishes or anything).

I’m sorry you’ve felt that you have to perform for this site. For my own part, I’m not kicking you out of my fluther even if we disagree on things from time to time (even big things). Like the mods say: we can disagree without being disagreeable. We’re all works in progress, and it hardly seems fair to hate you for putting that part of you forward sometimes.

This one’s for you, @wundayatta. It’s one of my favorite songs.

wundayatta's avatar

No, @SavoirFaire. But if I started consistently writing disjointed, poorly written drivel, you’d dump me sooner or later. There are no free passes in life. You must remain likable or interesting or wealthy or entertaining, or people will dump you. Why wouldn’t they? You’d be utterly devoid of interest for them?

Now if you’re a relative or a long time friend or a spouse who has otherwise had a good experience with you, they you might get, if not a free pass, at least a very lengthy pass. Although, in my case, I had a 21 year pass from my parents and after that it was failures-ville. I’m not a genius, see? So I’m a failure. Blah.

augustlan's avatar

I understand this better, now, wunday. It’s general insecurity/fear of abandonment, and not something your wife (or others) have made you feel. It’s hard to get over feeling like that, and I hope your therapy helps you in that regard (it did for me).

Of course there are things one could do that might make another walk away from a relationship, but I really don’t think any of us (here or in your ‘real’ life) would shun you for not being the absolute best you can be every minute of every day. The thing to remember is that you have inherent worth, no matter what you’re feeling at any given time.

wundayatta's avatar

@augustlan I wonder why you think there is inherent worth and where it comes from, but I’m going to ask a separate question about that.

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