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Why Your Partner's Grass Is Always Greener

In last week's newsletter, we explored envy outside of marriage, toward friends or other couples. This week, we want to go one level deeper into the sensitive subject of envy towards your partner.

We experienced this just last week. With our daughter out of school and in camps for the summer, we decided to modify our work schedules.

Nate slowed down a bit so he could take on more of the camp drop offs and pick ups and random life logistics. Kaley, meanwhile, ramped up her travel for work, spending more time on the road.

We both viewed this as the perfect summer arrangement. We designed it around the 80/80 structural goal of “shared success" or "What's best for us?"

But once we started living this new arrangement, we noticed something interesting. Somehow, we both ended up feeling jealous of the other person.

As Nate slowed down, he started to envy Kaley’s sense of purpose and her ability to devote long stretches of time to fulfilling work outside the house.

Kaley, on the other hand, experienced the opposite. After returning home late at night from work trips, she envied Nate's more relaxed late-afternoon adventures at the community pool with our daughter. 

Nate wanted Kaley‘s experience of professional fulfillment. Kaley wanted Nate's experience of quality time with our daughter.

This unexpected experience led us to a huge insight: even if you're living your perfect life, there’s always something your partner has that you don’t. 

How can you navigate this feeling that the grass is always greener on your partner's side of the fence? Try these two tools.




1. Reveal your envy.

We know what you're thinking, "Shouldn't you just keep these jealous thoughts to yourself?" You could do that. But these envious thoughts have a way of expressing themselves, mostly in unskillful ways. It sounds like, “Wow, it must be nice to have a wide-open afternoon with the kids." Or, if you’re the other partner, “You realize that I can’t remember the last time I slept in a hotel by myself and didn't wake up to screaming kids, packing lunches, and getting everybody out of the house on time."

We think there's a better way to have this conversation. Instead of expressing your envy sarcastically, you can have a fun conversation about the absurdity of this experience.

Try this out on a walk or during some other moment when you're both relaxed. Ask each other, "What are the areas of my life that you feel envious of?"

The big idea is to explore this strange phenomenon from a place of amusement. When you take a step back, it’s weird and funny. Here you both are, wanting what your partner has even though you probably don't actually want it. 


2. Flip the script.

If you discover that you both feel envious of each other, we encourage you to try a one or two day role flip.

We explore a similar practice in The 80/80 Marriage called the “Power Swap." The basic idea is to interrupt this habitual dynamic by flipping your roles for a short time. If you're the partner who gets lost in work and craves more space, block off one or two days for low key family time.

If, on the other hand, you're the partner who craves more intensity or purpose, block off one or two days to go full-throttle on an exciting new project.

These flips can give you a taste of the experience your partner has that you are longing for. And these flips might also lead you to a paradoxical insight -- that you're most alive, not when you live the life of your partner, but when you fully live the life you currently have.

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