Last week I was driving through the lush hills of Tuscany on my honeymoon. I rarely get to sound this worldly, so bear with me.
In truth, I wasn’t the one driving. My husband was. Moments earlier I had attempted to drive – but within seconds I stalled the engine, threw my hands up and relinquished the keys to my partner because that’s the kind of tenacity he fell in love with.
The mental circus of operating a manual car in a foreign country went straight to my too-hard basket. Why induce sweaty palms and overseas insurance woes when he was happy to do the driving anyway?
Fast forward a few days later and we’re in Florence flitting between cathedrals and our next plate of pasta.
Although I was hands-on in planning the trip, once there I had decided it was none of my business how we actually made things happen. John’s better at reading maps anyway, so I happily took in the sights while he did the navigating.
As the days passed, I noticed he was getting a feel for this vibrant new city, conquering language barriers and public transport systems – yet I still had no clue. I had appointed myself official gelateria patrol person, constantly strolling three paces behind him and that was the extent of my personal development.
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Being a tourist isn’t brain surgery. I knew I could do what he was doing if I had to but I just…didn’t. Because he was there to do it for me.
It’s a pattern in our relationship that rears its head most noticeably when we’re travelling. When abroad, he does the heavy lifting and I’m basically on Contiki.
We jokingly call it the relationship crutch – this tendency to step aside and let the more qualified (or willing) partner do the tricky thing instead. This crutch mentality can apply to both men and women, and has the potential to spread rapidly with the right amount of sunlight and a can’t do attitude.
Consider this. In any long-term relationship, each person will inevitably nestle into defined roles according to their strengths and likes. You hate washing up? No problem, I’ll do it. I can’t stand putting the rubbish out – can that be your job?
These early negotiations seem harmless. If one person likes doing something the other doesn’t, everybody wins, right?
But what happens when we apply our crutch to more meaningful roles? When we pass up challenges that take us out of our comfort zone and help us learn more about ourselves? You know the ones we’re forced to tackle head-on when we don’t have the luxury of our other half?
Take my four-second driving career in Italy. If I was travelling with friends, I would have no choice but to swallow cement and restart the ignition. Eventually I would get the hang of the European gear stick and with that, a deep sense of accomplishment. But because my crutch was so readily available, I defaulted straight to him.
While it is tempting in the humidity of the love bubble to combine each person’s distinct strengths to create one highly skilled superhuman, when does it cross the line between mutual benefit and doing a disservice to the individual?