I just got off a call with a former client, Ashley, and I'm still smiling. She called to share her great news. Ashley got engaged over the weekend and is beaming with joy! I'm smiling because I know she has come a long way.
I met a different Ashley a few years ago. She was a heartbroken 30-year-old nurse who couldn't understand why her boyfriend ended their 18-month relationship. Ashley believed she was the perfect girlfriend, but Rick felt like something was missing. Ashley was devastated because she worked hard at the relationship, yet Rick didn't want a future with her.
A former model, Ashley is a stunningly beautiful and intelligent woman who goes out of her way to make others feel good. She was devoted to Rick and took pride in being "selfless" and generous. Ashley even surprised Rick with thoughtful gifts. She was easygoing, eager to please, always agreed to activities with his Rick's friends and family. Ashley also anticipated and took care of everyday chores like cleaning Rick's apartment or getting his car washed without him even asking.
Everyone loved Ashley. Friends and family often complimented her thoughtfulness and told her she was the best thing that ever happened to Rick. Even Rick admitted that no one had ever treated him so well or loved him so much. How could he leave her?
Can you relate to this scenario? Relationships like Ashley's are very common. Perhaps we have friends who have engaged in similar behaviors and have had similar results. Or, maybe Ashley's relationship is like one you've experienced. Either way, let's uncover Ashley's motivation for being the "perfect girlfriend."
"The Perfect Girlfriend"
Ashley began the relationship with the best of intentions. She hoped Rick was "the one" and that they would fall in love and be married. Ashley liked Rick, but she often worried that he might not be as enamored with her. This underlying insecurity influenced her interactions with him. Fearing that she wasn't good enough, she became the woman she imagined would be most impressive to Rick and win his heart.
Ashley created the facade of the perfect girlfriend who loved everything that Rick loved, including his friends, family and hobbies. She hoped that her "selfless" behavior and agreeableness would cause Rick to fall deeply in love with her and treat her the same in return. Unfortunately, Ashley's turn never came and the relationship remained lopsided.
Trying So Hard But Still Losing
Ashley's self-imposed role required her to constantly self-observe and be on her best behavior for prolonged periods. This was stressful and eventually Ashley became frustrated and resented Rick. Within a year, she tired of being the "perfect girlfriend" and enjoying what Rick had come to expect. She felt taken advantage of and neglected and complained to Rick.
Soon, the couple frequently disagreed and argued and Ashley became more insecure. Rick sensed Ashley's insecurity and believed she had grown needy. He ended the relationship because he assumed they could not get along and believed that something was missing. Why did this happen? Let's turn to psychology for the answers.
A Model for Commitment
In the early 1980s, social psychologist Caryl Rusbult developed the Investment Model of Relationship Commitment to explain how and why people become committed to and stick to their partners. According to Rusbult, couples' dependence on, commitment to, and desire for their relationships is based on three factors:
Partners become dependent and committed to relationships when they experience high levels of satisfaction. Partners are satisfied when their relationships gratify their important needs such as companionship, intimacy, sexuality and belonging.
Partners' dependence and commitment also increases when they believe that the alternatives are less desirable than their current relationship. If a person's needs could be better fulfilled outside of the relationship or if their partner is easily replaced, their dependence on the current relationship diminishes.
Partners' dependence and commitment is influenced their investments into the relationship in terms of time, energy, and other important resources. The more we invest in someone, the more we like and appreciate them as a result. Partners who share a home, family, friends, possessions, and income have made these huge investments into the relationship, making it far too costly to lose.
Because Ashley invested so much more time and energy into the relationship, her love for Rick grew. On the other hand, Rick did not work hard to win Ashley's heart. So, his affection remained flat, Ashley felt taken for granted and unappreciated, and Rick thought that something was missing.
The Balancing Act
Putting a partner's needs first can be a beautiful gift; but only between partners who can share equally in the giving and receiving. If one partner is doing all the investing, the relationship becomes lopsided and the person who is trying so hard is taken for granted and unappreciated. Balance is essential.
Healthy relationships require sharing the effort and the work. That means sharing the decisions on choosing restaurants and deciding on movies to see. Happy couples share in deciding who they spend time with, the music they listen to (in the car), and the TV shows they watch together. But, they also share in helping one another with everyday chores and taking care of each others needs.
So, let your partner invest in you. When they do, they are increasing their feelings of love and appreciation for you. Better yet, invest in one another equally -- share in giving and receiving and you will both be more satisfied.