Jeff and Cathy each hold college degrees in the family science field. The principle of least interest is a prominent theory in this discipline. It simply means that the partner who is least invested in a relationship controls that relationship. This is so because the less interested partner is more willing to walk away rather than compromise or change.
We have seen many manifestations of this, such as a wife who is constantly clamoring for her husband's attention while he works long hours to avoid feeling smothered at home. It could be the husband who is pressing his wife for more couple time while she focuses on the kids and her friends, often to the exclusion of her husband.
In the realm of dating, one person may be very excited about another, while that other may still be dating a lot of other people. That dynamic creates a great deal of frustration for both of them. The one who is dating all of the other people controls the relationship because he or she is prepared to pursue other interests, while the other is willing to make the relationship a priority.
If you are the more interested dating partner, here are a few suggestions to help you deal with a relationship where you have no power:
- Date other people. If your partner does not commit to an exclusive relationship, neither should you. I have coached people who have protested, "But I don't want to date anybody else. I have found the person I want to be with." Don't invest more than your partner is willing to invest. This isn't a matter of playing games but of recognizing where your relationship really is. For commitments to be meaningful they need to be mutual. If you are constantly chasing someone who is chasing other people, you are likely wasting a lot of time and emotional energy, and smothering your partner in the process. Keep dating other people and give your partner a chance to catch up. Be open to meeting someone else.
- Develop other interests. Take a class. Restore an old car. Get together with friends and go to a movie. Do some scrapbooking – whatever you enjoy. Don't overload a relationship with constant demands that the other person "be there" to make you happy. Make yourself happy and accept what the other person is willing to give. Ultimately, if your partner does not get more invested, your relationship is not going to go anywhere and it shouldn't. Occasionally we have seen relationships where the more interested person gave an ultimatum and the less interested person gave into it under pressure. That leads to a marriage to a half-hearted partner. Does anyone want that?
- Don't get married where there is a huge emotional intimacy gap. If you are in a relationship where you find yourself always wanting more of your partner, this may not be the right relationship for you. You may have fundamentally different ideas about the appropriate amount of time together and the balance between relationship and outside interests. You might have great physical chemistry and the ability to connect in conversation. But if your partner is not invested in the relationship at roughly the same level as you, it is going to take a lot of adjustment for you to get comfortable in the relationship. You're probably going to do a lot of grieving. You have to decide whether that is something you are ready to do, or if there might be another person out there that is better suited to you.
Listen to our LILY Pod episode which outlines dating etiquette for mid-singles and for married couples. If in addition to these free materials you would like to consider one-on-one coaching for your own dating and relationships, email us at loveinlateryears.org to schedule a free consult.
Enjoy LILY Pod Episode 7: Dating Etiquette for Mid-Singles and Married Couples