My wife is a great cook. When I step out of the elevator, turn and am walking down the hall to our condo I can often inhale the scent of lunch. The sweetness of sautéing onions, or burnt chiles, of broiling sweet potato. She doesn’t love to cook but for her it is important to provide for her family. Oh and she is a tornado in the kitchen. She uses three different spoons to stir the broth, cilantro is in the soup and on the counter and in the sink. She glows with fulfillment as we set the table, pour the drinks and gather for the meal. Behind her is a crime scene of pots and pans. We give thanks, eat, talk and we clean.
I am not a good cook. When I make something I always screw the top back on the jar, cut just enough food for us to eat and leave the cutting board in the sink ready to be cleaned after we eat. I am not exactly a robot in the kitchen but I think a robot would like my style.
For my wife cooking for her family is a fulfilling experience that fill the home with familiness. For her husband cooking is a succession of satisfactions. Occasionally it is even satisfying for my family who eat what I prepared. My wife’s meals are a mini family event. Mine are mini missions.
Having a sense for when somebody is looking for satisfaction as opposed to searching for fulfillment can help to avoid lots of problems that get in the way of getting what you want.
Satisfaction means getting something done so you can get to the next thing.
Fulfillment is living the experience of realizing the accomplishment of something.
They are not competing concepts though that can be the experience a lot of us have in our relationship and professional lives. In taking a look at a real life example what better place to look at than marriage. We don’t all get married but we all have experience with marriage in its broad range of expressions whether from living with our parents or observing relatives and friends.
Often, for men the wedding fulfills the desire be in a relationship that makes both of you happy. The years of marriage that follow , again for the man, can be a series of satisfactions.
The woman takes the courting of being boyfriend-girlfriend as a romantic connection fulfilling her vision she has built in her mind of being fiancees, walking down the aisle and going on the honeymoon . The man uses the same steps into marriage to fulfill his desire to get the girl – before someone else does. So they are both finding happiness together but not for the same reason. They end up married to each other with same anniversary and wedding photos but their concept and feelings about the marriage often are ongoingly divergent.
So when the first, second, … fifth anniversary comes around the wife rekindles the romance of the wedding and courtship. For those same moments the man is checking things off his list: dinner reservation, flowers. It feels good to him that his wife approves of his thinking in advance of the details – and getting them right. So he is investing satisfaction level emotion into the anniversary and she is investing fulfillment level emotion. It’s not that fulfillment is any better that satisfaction because it is not. The problem is they are different. She is expecting fulfillment emotion in return from him on their anniversary and she can feel he is in it for satisfaction. There is discord so he asks what’s up; conflict ensues. She doesn’t understand why he isn’t more in their moment, more reminiscent, more romantic. He doesn’t know what the big deal is!
What happened?! The love is gone!!! Not necessarily. He may love that she gets so excited about their anniversary night getting all dressed up and telling her friends where they are going for dinner. Being an agent of her happiness may be fulfilling for him but their anniversary is just part of the whole marriage package – therefore it falls into the satisfaction category.
The anniversary night is not categorized as ‘satisfaction’ out of malice. He does it because of what it means to him. Of course there are those men who cannot overcome their relationship issues with their partner. Things get personal and minimizing the importance of their anniversary could be a revenge tactic by him.
At the beginning of the relationship/marriage they are using each other to make themselves happy. A by product of them achieving happiness is it makes their partner happy too. Win – win. Or in the words of Justin Beiber; ‘You smile – I smile’.
When there is a breakdown in the relationship his using his partner to get happy does not make her happy. This negatively impacts the possibility of either person finding satisfaction or fulfillment in their marriage. They will likely search for it elsewhere: work, hobbies, bad habits, friends or an affair.
How can we be proactive? Stay up to date with our partner as we go through stages in life and marriage?
Share with your partner about their role in what satisfies and fulfills you. And find a way to recognize the value of their satisfaction discipline or fulfillment feelings. Love their satisfaction of cooking from scratch, gardening, organizing the garage, talking with their mother every day. Love their fulfillment in fixing the broken window themselves, helping her sister, their annual reunion …