The steps are easy; it’s the repetition that matters. Make these habits and your relationship will be better for it.
1) Refuse to make excuses
Yes, your life is busy. Yes, your partner can be annoying sometimes. Yes, the kids soak up time and energy, not to mention all your responsibilities at work.
Yes, yes, yes, AND…
You still need to tend to your relationship. You need to hug your partner, and ask how his/her day was, and really care about the answer.
If you’re not doing these things, then you’re probably rationalizing why you’re not. You’re telling yourself it’s okay to put your relationship last on the list, and it’s not. Because sometimes people neglect their relationship so long that it dies. I see those couples turning up in therapy — the ones where they thought there was always more time somewhere down the line to make things better, but then time ran out.
2) Make sure you notice what you appreciate about your partner, and say it
Noticing positives is a skill. It can be honed. If you’ve chosen someone to spend your life with, then that person must have good qualities that are worth appreciating, out loud.
Oftentimes, if you start doing this, the other person will start doing it back. If that happens, you’ll be in a positive feedback loop that can create enough good will to overlook the negatives we all encounter.
If it’s not happening — if you’re noticing and appreciating and wanting that to be done back — then request it of your partner directly, rather than storing it up as a resentment.
Which brings me to…
3) Recognize that if you’re not speaking up, you’re not going to get what you want
It’s your responsibility to communicate your dissatisfactions to your partner — not your partner’s responsibility to be a mind-reader. And if you’ve said it before and it’s been forgotten, say it again, with intensity but without accusation.
Resentments are toxic. Perhaps even more toxic is the belief that the people we love always know what matters most to us, or that they should never forget. Humans are forgetful creatures. But we’re loving, social ones as well. Presume your partner loves you; ascribe good intentions, and he/she is more likely to live up to those than if you approach with a chip on your shoulder.
Giving the benefit of the doubt and working to clean the slate is probably not so easy, but think of all three of my suggestions as daily guidelines. If you follow them consistently and habitually, your relationship will be stronger for it.
Hands and tea photo available from Shutterstock