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How to Argue to Strengthen Your Relationship: The Power of Giving the Love You Each Want, 3 of 3


Speaking of breaking free of the criticizing habit, a step discussed in Part 2, it’s a lot easier to achieve when you also shift your focus to wanting to understand what you each want, then actively giving or supporting each other to realize your wants and yearnings etc. — at minimum with the energy you bring. These two remaining steps strengthen your relationship, and are the subject of this post.

Step 4: Know What You Each Want — and Why

Step four consists of two parts: clearly understanding what you (really, really) want and why, and also what your partner wants and why.

Knowing what you want makes it more likely you will: (1) be heard and understood ; (2) say and express what you want in ways your partner can “listen” (not get triggered); (3) stay on topic focused on what is most relevant; and (4) eventually come to a mutually satisfying resolution.

Additionally, when it comes to realizing goals, understanding the “why’s” is the fuel that sustains momentum from start to finish. Your reasons for wanting what you want are no small matter; they connect you to deeper yearnings — inner core emotion-drives to matter.

It’s not really about the kids, money, sex, communication, and so on; it’s about certain unstoppable inner yearnings each partner brings to the equation, such as seeking to meaningfully connect, to matter in relation to life, self and the other, and so on.

That said, it’s not enough to have one-sided clarity. In a couple relationship, it works against harmony to only or mostly know your own wants and why’s. A key part of also knowing your partners wants and why’s ‘s missing, which can cause much disconnect between you.

Relationships are a science, governed by formulas. Cultivating harmony in a couple relationship is similar to solving algebraic equations with variables on both sides; you must necessarily work on both sides of the equation to keep it balanced. If you do not, it’s not solved — or “true.”

When all is said and done, the realization of one partner’s goals in a relationship is to a great extent connected to the realization of the other’s. A key operating principle to consider if you want emotional intimacy to grow in your couple relationship is:

Realizing Your Wants = Wanting Partner to Realize Theirs

In other words, your partner’s wants and why’s must fully matter to you as well as your own; otherwise, the relationship will remain off balance.

This rule may not apply to all your goals, however, it definitely applies to issues in which you’ve both been stuck in toxic reactive patterns for years … or decades.

You need two-sided clarity to work on both sides of your relationship simultaneously, to avoid going around in circles, to steer away from energy-wasting ruthless (or subtle) competitions, and the like.

The point is that, whenever you attempt to resolve an issue, and one or both of you feel short-changed, it’s costly to both. As with any partnership, a win-lose competition in a couple relationship will always result in a loss for both. (In algebra, a negative and a positive number equals a negative, right?)

Your power lies in focusing on the part that you can control, and that is your part.

One of the biggest mistakes (energy wasters!) partners make is they tend to focus on what the other needs to change or stop doing. This not only wastes the power (energy) they have to “influence” their partner, it tends to make their partner resentful or resistant to change, or both!

In the words of H. Jackson Brown, Jr., “Never underestimate your power to change yourself; never overestimate your power to change others.”

Do not waste the precious energy you have to transform a situation for the better. If you do not take charge of your part to break the reactive pattern between you, the principle that operates is:

Repeated Behaviors = Ingrained Automatic Patterns

In other words, the longer your response patterns remain unbroken, the more your brain will reinforce (thicken) these emotion-command neural pathways to form ingrained, subconscious habits.

Partners can and do get addicted to “keeping” problem behaviors or issues “alive” by the way! In fact, a toxic pattern can feel so familiar that “new” responses — even potentially healthy ones — more often feel “uncomfortable,” and thus can be quickly rejected with an “it’s not me” response.

It has to do with the way the human brain learns. As with healthy habits, once a pattern is subconsciously repeated, it can persuade you into thinking it is “your” personality, who you are, etc.

The good news is that you have the power to change any negative patterns throughout life if you wish to do so. That speaks to how important knowing what you and your partner really, really want is to your personal and relational happiness!

In a sense, your brain grants you built-in “power” to create and keep creating yourself throughout life. What you want is so powerful that it literally activates inner processes to potentially make both your wants a reality, that is, providing you work on both sides.

So, before discussing a sensitive issue, ask yourself: What do you really, really want, and why? (Whenever possible, write this down in advance to help you to stay focused and talk in ways that best guarantee your partner will listen.)

Next ask: Is one of your wants, that: your partner realizes what they really, really want? If so, consciously seek to intimately know their wants and why’s, as well as your own. Rest assured that, when your energy conveys the sincerity of your commitment to be an authentic presence as co-creators of realizing the future you both want, both of you will feel the difference.

Step 5: Support Your Partner to Get What They Want

This last step is about mutually supporting one another to get what you both most aspire through your actions, big and small. If wanting to know — and understand one another’s wants and why’s is critical, expressing the sincerity of your love with action is what seals the deal. Actions are always the best measure of what you most value, and really, really want.

The rule that operates here is that:

What You Most Want = Outcomes You Produce With Actions

In other words, your actions are the most accurate statement of what you most want or yearn to realize in your personal life and relationship.

Literally, if you wish to create a different reality, you must energize or feel the energy of wanting both you and your partner to realize what each aspires in relation to self and other, i.e., to be happy, to matter, to feel valued, and so on.

When you or your partner really, really want the other to have what you each want, your actions — and outcomes — will change accordingly. Naturally, sustaining your actions to make them a regular and consistent practice also speaks to what you really, really want.

Without this focused-energy state of mind, you are each at risk of getting triggered, or triggering one another, and does it really matter who’s triggered first? When triggered, after all, aren’t you each following a script, merely rehashing the same worn dialogue again and again?

Punitive tactics may work is a wrestling match; however they are guaranteed to help both partners fail, unless of course, what you really want is to avoid anything that resembles a secure, vibrant and passionate couple relationship.

Energizing yourself here means you recognize the power of your choice to take action to express that you truly value your partner as a person; and since you know and feel how important it is for your partner to value you as a person, you give this gift to them … just because.

(In other words, stop waiting to first feel your partner values you! This thinking pattern keeps you both in competitive win-lose mode, thus stuck in the rules that govern and activate tit-for-tat energy!).

Doing the “right” thing to express your love … not only when you “feel” like it … is a choice to access the power you have , at any moment, to command the energies of your mind and body, and shift toward energies that govern and activate the “Golden Rule.” The energy you chose to take action from, consciously or unconsciously, is the energy you attract and expand, so choose wisely, thoughtfully. Another way to express the Golden Rule is with the following formula:

Healthy For You = Healthy for Partner & Relationship

In other words, what is healthy and life-enriching for you is ultimately healthy and life-enriching for your partner and your relationship, and vice versa. (Correspondingly, what is unhealthy & harmful for you is ultimately unhealthy & harmful for your partner as well as for your relationship!). 

Test it yourself, don’t take anyone’s word for it.

Knowing what you don’t want is also important, however, the human brain doesn’t process negatives as effectively. That’s because your words create images in your mind, and these images automatically activate emotion-command neural patterns, which may or may not be helpful, depending on whether they activate your body’s survival system (fear response).

So for example, if your goal is to not argue defensively, that’s great. However it’s best to state your request or want in the positive.

Why? In order to use the workspace of your imagination wisely, you want to speak or think words that create images of “two healthy, relatively calm partners talking intimately about their concerns” … and avoid images of “two partners arguing defensively”!

When you focus on what you want (rather than what you don’t want), you are also connecting to your core needs, or emotion-drives, to matter, and since these core emotion-drives are universal, this automatically connects you and your partner to a shared understanding of one another.

This may sound like splitting hairs; however, your subconscious mind interprets things literally, and can activate wiring and firing of neural patterns 180 degrees in the opposite direction of what you “think” you’re saying/wanting.

Taking action seals the deal, which is why it is listed as the fifth of five steps.

What specific actions would you want your partner to take that would increase your sense of safety and love in the relationship? Would this action also be potentially healthy for your partner? If so, how? How would this add meaning to your and their life?

How would having what you each want fulfill you both emotionally (see emotion-drives list) in the situation, for example, feeling heard, understood, valued?

An important caveat on “wants”…

True, we do not always get what we want. That’s not only an actual fact, however. It’s an aspect of learning essential life skills, such as acceptance and flexibility, which empower our creative energies and capacity. Learning how to accept and be flexible when we don’t get what we want accordingly, for example, helps us break free of toxic rigid thinking patterns that keep the giving and receiving in our relationship off balance.

Ultimately it’s not about getting exactly what we want per se or a competition between who gets more of what they want. After all, what if what you or your partner wants is harmful, i.e., “wants” drugs or to stay out all night? Should you blindly support your partner to have what they want so they don’t feel bad? That would not be loving, that would be a codependent pattern, also known as “enabling” or “co-addiction.”

It’s about growing our wisdom, learning to be careful of what we bring into our lives with our wants, and identifying what we clearly do not want. As always, it’s about the process, the learning journey we take as relationship beings, and the healing that takes place as we exercise our ability to shift what we want at any moment to healthier, more optimal wants for self and other.

Conceivably, it’s aligning our wants to our core yearnings (values) to matter, to desire more than any other want, to learn how to stretch our capacity to love so we may, along the way, treat self and other with dignity (regardless whether we get what we want or not).

In sum…

If you’re stuck in couple communication patterns where you can “predict” what one other will say or do, it likely means it’s time to stop and think with your frontal cortex instead. While it may be true that what your partner is doing is not working, its’ also true that you only have 100% power to change your part.

To make this work, each partner must own their part. You are not a rock, or an island. You’re interconnected, period. While it’s true that it will only work if both do their part, the sooner you own your part, the sooner you can access your power to make optimal choices and create great outcomes, i.e., to put the habit of criticizing to rest — and the more likely you will “influence” your partner’s heart to do their part!

After all don’t you already:

  • “See” and “know” how ineffective it is when your partner uses blame-, shame-, or guilt-inducing comments, or gets stuck on making negative forecasts, focuses on “lack” etc?
  • See and know how unloving or unloved you “feel” inside when your partner seems to be competing for “who” is right, better, superior, etc.?

So then why would you use the same or similar tactics when you’re arguing, and expect a different response from your partner?

Ask yourself, do you really want the prize of “who’s more hurt, wronged, etc.” on your mantel? What would you gain if the whole world agreed that your partner is to blame or impossible to live with? If you continue to stay on a track that builds a case against your partner, would this finally lead them to give you the love and value you yearn to realize in the relationship?

Likely not.

Keep in mind, like your heart, the key that opens your partner’s heart is feeling loved, valued, appreciated. You’re both wired to keep reaching to feel good about your self and life (i.e., happiness, joy), and thus, absent healthy ways of knowing how to feel good in moments of stress, boredom, etc., your body-mind will subconsciously opt for old tried-and-true “cheap-feel-good” options, which are often a waste of time and energy at best, if not harmful, destructive.

In a sense, you become your thoughts. It’s not just a good idea to become consciously aware of your thoughts. To not do so is like sitting on a million dollars rather than investing in creating ways. The good news is that it’s never too late to change negative patterns. Perhaps the most important take away here is to know you have this power.

Realizing your potential to create happiness and healthy relationships is a living, breathing process that ebbs and flows. The most vital moment at any time in life is always the present one.

  • If you are not present as a witness to your inner world of emotions and feelings, wants and yearnings, hurts and doubts, etc., you cannot be present to your partner. They will feel the distance and disconnect. It’s as if you are not there.
  • If you do not own your happiness, seek to actively grow, to learn what works and what does not (wisdom), to take action accordingly, then you risk approaching your partner with discouraging tactics of criticism, blame, doubts, etc., triggers their deepest fears and doubts.  It’s as if you are not there.
  • If you allow your thoughts or self-talk to keep you worrying about the future or wallowing about past failures or regrets, you cannot be present moment as an observer of your self and your relationship with your partner.  It’s as if you are not there.
  • If you do not know what your partner wants and their reasons, you are at risk of making energy-deflating assumptions or treating your partner as an extension of your self.  It’s as if you are not there.
  • If you do not take actions to consciously support you and your partner to realize what you want, you are at risk of getting stuck in fear-based patterns that activate old emotion-command circuitry in your brain (so old, it takes you back to patterns formed when you were 3 or 5 years old!). Again, it is as if you’re not there.

Realizing your potential as individuals and a couple is less an “outcome” and more an intention to live life fully, to learn, to grow in wisdom and understanding, to realize the amazing built in capabilities you have to stretch your capacity for compassion for your self and your partner.

What does that mean exactly and what is true potential? One thing your potential isn’t is a fixed, static outcome written in stone. Flexibility is a characteristic of creative energy (power); whereas inflexibility is characteristic of destructive power.

Potential can be described as a growing desire to bring into your life and relationship more love, more authenticity, more integrity, more acceptance, more humility, more gratitude, more sense of wellbeing. This is living with the intention for you and your partner to love one another by living to keep reaching for your highest, true potential as individuals and partners.

Ultimately realizing your potential involves cultivating your ability to do the “right” thing, and keep doing the right thing — especially when you do not “feel” like doing so builds character, strength, courage, and so on, and also deepens and matures your capacity to love your self, partner and life in a compassionate, wise-and-understanding way.

To do the right thing is to take action accordingly, meaning that it stems from wanting to do so, thus, out of emotions love, joy, caring, thoughtfulness, kindness, and so on, instead of emotions of fear, guilt, shame and the like.

One of the most powerful (and least accessed in relationships) kinds of action is to make clear, action-inspiring requests.

In couple relationships, this often comes “easy” for one partner, and not so easy for the other. If this sounds like you, don’t worry. It seems to be nature’s plan to bring together polar opposites on this (and other) dimensions. Nature seems to be interested in your growth, progress, transformation, and loves to challenge you.

Your couple relationship is a top-notch school, you may say, and the curriculum seems custom designed for both of you to stretch or change or modify your approach in the direction of the other. For example:

  • For the partner who “easily” makes requests, it may mean they need to tone down the intensity with which they make requests (so they sound less like demands, ultimatums etc. to the other).
  • For the partner who responds with “I don’t know” when asked what they want, it may mean they need to stop talking themselves out of connecting to what they really want or making requests (to avoid upsetting the other).
  • For both partners, it likely means they need to learn to “reimage” the other in their mind, so that they “see” and treat the other as loving and loved, valued and appreciated (as they did when they first met?), which is an infinitely more powerful and effective way to restore their relationship than criticism, reactive negativity and the like.

To create the life experiences that meet your deepest yearnings means you must develop the ability to ask for what you want, and to listen to understand your partner’s.

Set an intention to become more and more aware of how you choose to use your power in present moments; your awareness of power to know, understand what you and your partner want and why, and take action to make life consciously more wonderful for one another frees you both to access life-shaping, miracle-making energies inside.

Practice these 5 steps and you’ll begin to notice, more and more, the power you have to chose to infuse life and love-activating energy into your couple relationship.


How to Argue to Strengthen Your Relationship: The Power of Giving the Love You Each Want, 3 of 3

Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Relationship consultant, author, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Athena Staik motivates clients to break free of anxiety, emotion reactivity, and other addictive patterns, to awaken wholehearted relating to self and other. She is currently in private practice in Northern VA, and writing her book, What a Narcissist Means When He Says 'I Love You'": Breaking Free of Addictive Love in Couple Relationships. To contact Dr. Staik for information, an appointment or workshop, visit, or visit on her two Facebook fan pages DrAthenaStaik and DrStaik

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APA Reference
Staik, A. (2014). How to Argue to Strengthen Your Relationship: The Power of Giving the Love You Each Want, 3 of 3. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Sep 2014
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