Following Your Dreams

Posted on September 16, 2017


Love is about all the changes you make and not just three small words.  Frank Turner

It’s all worth nothing alone.  Graham Parker

My wife is a big fan of Hallmark movies.  I can enjoy them well enough with a few provisos.  First, it helps if the acting is at least decent.  I need to be able to accept that the characters are real and not just a struggling actor playing a part.  Second, the lead characters need to be likeable enough.  Too often when they first meet, before they each know who the other is, the characters are incredibly rude to each other.  Who acts like that with strangers?  If you bump into someone coming through the airport because neither of you were paying attention and something gets spilled, you don’t start berating the other person.  You say, “Excuse me,” make sure the other is okay, and move on.  Third, the relationship should not be based upon lies that the characters have told to each other.  Fourth, it is troublesome when one character tells another what they will and won’t do.  That’s not how healthy adult relationships work.  You might weigh in heavily about a course of action that you think is a really bad idea, but you don’t say, “You will not.”  Fifth, if the leading male character is so fundamentally flawed, that I am thinking that the woman could do better, that doesn’t work for me.

Some of these films meet my criteria.  Many don’t.  Consequently, when I have evening appointments, my wife takes advantage of that time to watch Hallmark films without me.

Last night, my wife was out of town and I was home alone.  I went cruising movies to watch on Amazon Prime.  After watching the recent remake of The Magnificent Seven which was not a bad update on a classic western (the bad guy was seriously evil, and [spoiler alert] he doesn’t survive the film), I decide to watch about a half an hour of something else before bed.  I began watching a film called Holiday Engagement.  I suppose this was somewhat hypocritical as it was not dissimilar to the Hallmark movies my wife loves.  Also, the plot has been done many times before.

The story goes like this.  An engaged young woman with plans to go home for Thanksgiving is dumped by her fiancé just before the holiday.  Not wanting to fess up to her mother and family, she hires an unemployed actor to pose as the fiancé.

The reason I bring up this whole subject has to do with the way the break up happened with the fiancé.  The fiancé, Jason, is an attorney that is up for a promotion that would take him from Southern California to Pittsburgh.  He assumes that the two of them will move wherever his career takes him.  Hillary, our heroine, does not want to make that move.  Now realizing that the relationship could interfere with his dreams of career advancement, Jason breaks off the relationship.

It seems to me that this is something that should have been discussed before they got engaged.  If you are deciding to spend the rest of your life with someone, it would be good to know those things that are deal breakers for each of you before you jump into it.  This, however, is not my point.

When it comes to your relationship with your partner, where do your individual dreams rank in priority relative to your partner’s individual dreams and the health of the relationship?  In close relationships, we are all on a continuum between being completely self-focused and being completely other-focused.  We are also on a continuum between seeing the relationship as two individuals and seeing us as a unit.  Like so many things in life, health is in finding the right balance.  If one is completely self-focused in close relationships, it is difficult to sustain those relationships for any length of time.  The refusal to consider your partner’s needs, other than as a means to meeting your own, will eventually undermine the attachment.  At the other extreme, it is not healthy to completely deny your own needs and reduce yourself to just a conduit to your partner’s needs.

The continuum between focusing on us as two individuals and seeing us as a unit is similar.  If our lives are all about our individual needs rather than what is good for the partnership, we eventually become roommates with benefits.  Then the benefits start going away as we lose the attachment.  At the other end, one should not lose one’s identity within the relationship.  That is enmeshment by definition.

Let’s go back to the basics of the human condition.  Human beings are made for attachment.  From cradle to grave we need someone to whom we can turn for care, comfort, and support.  When we are children, that is usually mom and dad.  When we become adults, that is usually a spouse.

I would suggest, that in general, dreams are more likely to be achieved in relationship.  It really helps if your values in life look rather similar when you get together.  However, even if they were similar when you got together, you are each going to change over a lifetime.  Things that you once thought were terribly important may become less so, and things you previously did not care about may become mission critical.

So what is the ideal balance on these continua?  A blog is inherently just one person’s opinion, but I will be happy to tell you what I think.  On the continuum between self-focused and other-focused, the ideal spot is about 65% toward other focused.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  First, think of the extent of other-focused-ness (I made that word up) as the amount of giving to the relationship and the self-focused-ness as the drawing from the relationship.  If you both meet more than halfway, there is a surplus of giving in the relationship.  The relationship is in the black.  If you are not making it to halfway, the relationship is in deficit.  Relationally, you cannot deficit spend forever.  Second is the “uphill both ways” phenomenon.  The 50% mark will always feel like you are contributing more than your share.  We notice more of the sacrifices we make for someone else than we do those made for us.  If you aim for 50/50 you will inherently fall short.

While we are on this subject, your motivation in regard to this really matters.  Focusing on your partner’s needs is an act of love.  When you are both tired and the dishes need to be done, you have an opportunity to express love for your partner.  Granted, if there is never any reciprocity, it is going to get old.  The point is that this is not a business arrangement, it is an attachment relationship.

On the continuum between me and you as individuals and us as a team, I would set the marker at about 75% toward the “us” end of the spectrum.  Choices that are good for me and bad for us are not good choices.  We are still two individuals and we need to have a healthy amount of differentiation.  But we also need secure attachment which means we are a team.  We win or lose as a team.

When you said whatever those vows were at your wedding, the promises you made were to be other-focused and to consider us as a team.  At some point, it seemed to be a really good idea to make those vows.  Having this person as a life partner seemed totally worth it.  The vows probably did not include an escape clause should I decide I want something different than what you want.

You can consider your source.  I am a therapist because I think marriage is one of the greatest experiences we can have in this life.  If following your dreams undermines the most important relationship in your life, it probably is not going to be very satisfying should you achieve it.


I did stay up and finish the movie.  It went about how you would expect.  But the leads were likeable enough to make it enjoyable.  I do like happy endings.