Primacy – The Hidden Risk

primacy44There’s a hidden risk in every Intimate-Marital (I-M) relationship.

This hidden risk can be the cause of many, if not most, arguments that occur between people in the relationship.

What’s troubling about this danger is that the couple rarely recognizes it and they’re unable to identify it, let alone correct the problem.

What’s even more worrisome is that the risk is always there and remains hidden even after the immediate problem has been solved.

So, what is this risk ?

Read the following story told to me by a man I know and see if you can figure it out. I’ll call him George.

The Life of the Party

George came to my office one day. He seemed pretty distraught.

“My wife and I often go out to visit friends or attend a party,” he said. “I’m a very outgoing guy and I like to mingle with other people. I almost always have a good time but my wife, Melanie, usually does not. Just as I am beginning to enjoy myself, she says she would like to go home. Then at every opportunity after that, she insists on leaving. I finally give in and we drive home, all the while not speaking to one another and feeling angry.  She’s angry for having to be there and I’m upset for having to leave.”

“What does Melanie do while you’re mixing with others at these gatherings?” I asked. George looked puzzled and said, “I don’t know. I guess she probably has a good time. That’s why I don’t understand why she always wants to leave early.”  He concluded.

Let’s break it down

Now do you have an opinion as to why Melanie wants to leave these parties early?

There could be many explanations: She may be uncomfortable at social events, because she lacks social skills or she may be fearful of initiating conversations just to mention but a few.

The explanation that I favor, and one I see often in my work, is that she is responding to the hidden threat I referred to at the beginning of this article.

Remember how I suggested in other articles that whenever a personal, emotional or behavioral problem occurs the first place to look for causes and solutions is the relationship in which that problem is occurring.

Well, in George’s and Melanie’s situation it’s the I-M relationship that we need to examine. It has been my clinical experience that every relationship, including the I-M relationship, has certain factors operating which affect the behavior of those engaged in that relationship. Most often these factors are hidden from the participants, so they are unaware of both their presence and influence.

The factors are made-up of the expectations each has of the others involved in the relationship. These factors or expectations are expressed in the form of behaviors that one person assumes the other will carry-out.

One such factor, and the one I propose that is operating here, is what I like to call Primacy.

So what is this thing called Primacy?

Simply stated, primacy refers to the importance a given relationship has to another relationship occurring at the same time. In George’s case it is how important his relationship is with others at the party, as demonstrated by the attention he gives to them compared to the attention he gives to Melanie.

In my work I have come to recognize that most people involved in an I-M relationship believe that it should take precedence over any other relationship. When that doesn’t happen one or the other will become upset resulting in a personal, emotional or behavioral problem.

George’s involvement with others might well suggest to Melanie that George puts this relationship above the relationship he has with her, at least during the party. Granted, it’s only a short-lived involvement but it’s one that will result in a violation of primacy.

As you can now see this could happen frequently and without any awareness on the part of George and Melanie. That is why primacy is a constant and hidden source of problems in the I-M relationship.

Next steps

The question now is, how can a couple deal with primacy in their relationship? Probably the best way to deal with the problems of primacy is to prevent them. You can do this by recognizing primacy’s existence and how it operates.

Also you’ll need to become alert to those vulnerable situations when primacy is most likely to take place, for example, events wherein socialization is present. Then you should pay attention to whom or what matters most to you.

And when a violation to primacy occurs and you recognize it, apologize to your partner for the violation.

To find out more about this topic, check out my book which explains the I-M Relationship.

Thanks for reading.

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