Uphill, Both Ways

Posted on November 19, 2012


There is an old cliché (which has become a joke) about a father telling a son how much easier life is for the son than it was when the father was growing up.  The story goes something like this, “When I was your age, I had to walk 20 miles to school through the snow.”  In a Bill Cosby film from the early 80’s, I remember him saying that his father had added that the walk was uphill, both ways.  Figuring that every generation should add to that legacy, I told my daughters that I had to walk through the snow, uphill both ways in 100 degree heat.  I grew up in a coastal area of Southern California, so not only were these things mutually exclusive, but neither would have happened in my neighborhood.  As Professor Tolkien once observed, the tale grew with the telling.

I have run a few marathons with my daughter.  A marathon is an absurd activity.  I have no defense for doing it once, much less three times.  One of the places we trained together was the Los Penasquitos Preserve.  It is a pretty run along a dirt road.  It gives one the feeling of being out in the country even though you are running through a canyon in the middle of San Diego residential areas.  Much of the time you only see open country and few houses.  The road has some uphill sections and occasional downhill sections.  The first time we ran it, as we were running east to west, it seemed to me that overall we were climbing.  The uphill stretches were certainly more frequent and longer than the downhill sections.  I asked my daughter if she thought we were climbing and she said that she thought it was about even and that is just seemed like there was more uphill.  When we turned around and ran back, I made the strangest discovery.  That trail was uphill in both directions.  (I know.  Up until that last sentence you were wondering what the first paragraph had to do with the second.  Hold on.  Here comes another abrupt transition.)

In relationships, most of us would like our partner to meet us halfway.  No one wants to feel that they are the only one giving in the relationship.  From emotional support to household chores, you want your partner to be your partner (i.e. contribute equally to the partnership).  This presents a couple of challenges, among which is the uphill both ways phenomenon.  If you each do 50% of the work in the relationship, you each will feel like you are the larger contributor.  It is simply part of our nature to be more aware of our own efforts than those done on our behalf.  This can be further complicated by other relationship dynamics in which one feels like one’s needs are not being met.  My made up numbers are these (87% of statistics are made up on the spot).  Because of the uphill both ways effect, in a pretty healthy relationship, 50% will feel like 60%.  In a moderately distressed relationship, 50% may feel like 80%.  When the relationship is severely distressed, 50% may feel like 100% (i.e. “I have to do it all.  You do nothing for me.”).  To compensate for uphill both ways effect one needs to choose to give more than one’s share to the relationship.  If this feels like a burden, it will be difficult to maintain over a lifetime together.  If it feels like an opportunity to love and honor your mate, it can be substantially more enjoyable.

The next challenge with the uphill both ways phenomenon is that marriages are not business partnerships (and even business partnerships are not devoid of emotional involvement).  It generally was an emotional attachment that brought you together in the first place.  Though marriage has a variety of benefits (see my earlier post on the case for marriage), the days of spouses needing to cling together for mutual survival are largely behind us.  Now, more than any earlier point in history, attachment plays an ever increasing role in relationships.  How much one is giving to the relationship carries a depth of meaning.  One’s partner’s level of giving to the relationship can be perceived as a statement on how much one is valued by one’s partner.  Feeling not valued in your primary attachment relationship is really painful.  The usual way of protesting this feeling of not being valued comes across as anger and often fuels negative cycles of interaction in the relationship.  In the end, it is not about who does more for the relationship, but rather “Do you love and value me?  Are you there for me?  Do you care about what is happening with me?  When I am weary, will you be there for love and support?”  Beyond dividing up the duties is learning to turn to each other for comfort and support.  Then solving the problems of who does what are much easier even if one has to try to contribute 60% to break even.  Honoring one’s partner becomes a blessing and not a chore.

“I work with individuals, couples, and families to help develop secure connections
and craft manageable solutions.”

More information is available on my website www.scottwoodtherapy.com.  I am also available for speaking engagements, seminars, and retreats http://scottwoodtherapy.com/Page5.html.

Scott Wood is a registered marriage and family therapist intern (IMF67385) and is supervised by Dr. Melinda Reinicke, Psychologist (Psy11011).