It’s not hard to find suggestions for becoming a better person – whether it’s toning your body, training your brain, or adjusting your attitude, there is probably an app, a YouTube or podcast series, and at least a dozen books that could guide you in the right direction.
Many of us also want to figure out how to change our spouses and partners – we somehow think that relationships stumble because of our partner’s behavior, not because of our own. Awhile back, I shared suggestions for becoming a better friend. Now we’re taking those suggestions and exploring how they would fit the task for becoming a better partner in your romantic relationships.
Here are eleven suggestions for enhancing who you are and what you bring to a romantic relationship.
- Communicate with your partner with honesty and with tact. Be willing to voice your own perspective and your genuine feelings, but do so from a place of kindness and sensitivity to the feelings of the person you love.
- Stand behind your promises and intentions that you make regarding commitments to your partner. Don’t make promises that you don’t believe you will keep. Be the kind of person that your partner knows can be trusted.
- As a corollary, be willing to trust your partner, as well. It feels good when people place their trust in us. Spread that positive feeling by being willing to trust in your partner. Once we feel that we have lost someone’s trust, the relationship falters very quickly. Too many of us feel jaded and are fearful of trusting others. I suggest you take a leap of faith and model for others how trust can be given and trust can be earned.
- Show up for your partner both metaphorically and literally. If you commit to being there for your partner, whether it’s a literal place or an emotional space – be there. If you cannot be counted on to keep up your end of a promise, you may be chipping away at what your partner is willing to do for you in the future.
- Each of us have some personal shortcomings are areas in need of improvement. Don’t give up on a partner who is struggling if you know you are both truly committed to one another. Healthy relationships are not always easy to manage . . . but handling the conflicts or rough spots with maturity and support are what determine the longevity and health of the relationship.
- Practice and master the much valued gift of empathy for your partner. Be willing to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and don’t let yourself buy into the belief that your way of seeing the world is the only “right way.” Being able to see the world through the eyes of your partner is essential for creating a relationship built on a sense of shared understanding.
- Learn to be present with your partner and offer support when needed without feeling like it’s your job to “jump in” and fix the problem or tell your partner what to do. We grow through learning and if we aren’t willing to listen to others, we can’t learn any more than we already know.
- Don’t assume your way is always the right way! Be willing to try out new experiences and activities that your partner suggests. Whether it’s a vacation, sexual experimentation, a new restaurant, or a hobby, be willing to try out things that your partner is eager to explore. Reserve the right to make something a “one and done” experience, but variety can keep a long-term relationship from growing stale.
- Be there for your partner when things are going poorly and when things are going great! Don’t let pride, envy, or other negative emotions get in the way of celebrating your partner’s triumphs. No one likes it when someone “hacks their bliss,” so make a point of joining the party when good fortune rains down on your partner.
- Learn how to laugh at yourself and never take yourself too seriously. Relationships are not always easy to keep on course, but if you can’t find the humor in a situation, you’ll end up magnifying the stressors and turning minor setbacks into insurmountable obstacles. Don’t look for drama in your relationship, look for ways to release tension or stress. Relationships are meant to be supportive, not combative.
Learn to smile when you think your partner’s screwed up. Recognize that everyone is going to make some mistakes and do some seemingly “dumb” things in life and in relationships at some point in time. No one masters the skills required for being a good partner without a few missteps along the way. Accept that you and your partner are doing the best you can at any given moment in time. Learn from your mistakes and use them as fuel to enhance, not sabotage, your relationship.
Some couples take their relationship agreements very seriously and develop oral and written agreements that guide their relationship from year to year. One ex-military couple describes their annual “re-up” ceremony in which they reflect on where they’ve been over the past year and discuss any concerns or alterations they feel are necessary in their relationship and relational behaviors. While conventional customs promote marriage as a lifelong institution, it doesn’t hurt to re-visit your vows and expectations every so often to make sure both of you are staying on track and true to the expectations of the other.
Happy long-term relationships are marked by open communication and mutual growth as the relationship, itself, grows and flexes to reflect the changes that each partner experiences. Long-term relationships are like diplomatic treaties between two nations – they only work when the policies and expectations are determined, understood, and upheld by each party.