In long-term relationships, it’s easy to take your partner for granted or, worse, get caught up ruminating about all the ways they frustrate you. After the point you’ve fully committed to each other, long-term relationships often go through a lull, or period of tension, in which partners come to the realization that each other’s annoying habits aren’t ever going to change. It can be emotionally difficult to accept that, short of leaving, you’re going to be stuck with living with those qualities forever.
People who are at this stage in relationships might find themselves daydreaming about the qualities they wish their partner had. You might find yourself looking around at other people’s relationships (particularly through social media), see others gushing about how in-sync they are with their partner, and find yourself wishing your partner had more of specific qualities, like more ambition, positivity, or get up and go.
If you’re in this stage, or even if you’re not, try these questions to take your partner less for granted and feel more grateful.
1. If there is a quality your partner lacks, would there be a downside to them having lots of that quality?
Say you wish your partner was more ambitious. A downside of an ambitious partner can be circumstances like them asking you to move for their work, even if it doesn’t suit your work, your roots, or where you prefer to live. Or, you might wish your partner was tidier, but you also quite like that you can be a bit sloppy when you want to, which would be harder if your partner was a neat freak.
The point of this question is just to recognize that things are never black and white, and all qualities, especially at the extremes, have upsides and downsides.
2. What’s a quality you enjoy in your partner that was never on your list as being a high priority in a potential partner.
Your top priorities for a potential partner might have been something like them being smart, emotionally and financially stable, and being someone who takes care of their health. However, perhaps your partner has a quality that you never thought of as a priority but it has become very important to you. For instance, perhaps they have a close relationship with their extended family, or perhaps they have great taste, or they’re a great musician or photographer, and you never anticipated how much those attributes would bring to their life.
3. What are the benefits you experience from knowing your partner’s quirks extremely well, and knowing how to work around those.
If you’ve got the feeling of being stuck putting up with a particular quality your partner has, then that suggests that quality has become a predictable aspect of your partner. For instance, no matter how many times you ask your spouse to pack before 1 a.m. the night before a trip, they never do.
The downside of entrenched patterns is being stuck with them, the upside of their predictability is that you can use strategies to mitigate the impact. Perhaps knowing your partner, you never book early morning flights, knowing you would’ve inevitability been up late the night before.
What predictability and stability benefits do you experience from being in a relationship with someone you know extremely well? What strategies have you developed so that their annoying qualities don’t cause you excess stress?
4. When was a time in the last six months that your partner stopped you making a poor decision.
When partners have different thinking styles, this can result in tension but it can also prevent decision-making mistakes. For instance, perhaps you wanted to rush into a large purchase or bold decor choice and your partner pulled you back. You might’ve felt annoyed and thwarted at the time, but now you realize they made valid points and stopped you from making a poor choice.
When was a time, your partner weighing in helped you make a better decision? You might think of a very small specific example that reflects a larger category. For instance, your partner talked you into going to a social event that you didn’t really feel like going to, but without their extrovert tendencies, you’d have a much weaker social network.
5. What does your partner do that you give them very little credit for?
When one partner consistently takes care of a chore or a role without a relationship, it’s very easy to stop giving them any credit for doing that. What does your partner take off your plate? What do they take the lead on? What do they keep track of or keep an eye out for? Your answers could be in terms of work they do, decisions they make, relationships they work to maintain (with shared friends or extended family), or emotional support they provide.
Think beyond just daily or weekly tasks to less frequent tasks, like taking the car for an oil change, noticing when maintenance around your home or garden needs doing, or planning trips.
Research shows that romantic relationships operate on a sentiment basis. When we feel generally positive, we overlook the negative aspects. When we’re feeling generally negative, everything bothers us, and even the smallest behaviors can trigger annoyance. If you’re committed to being in your relationship, use the questions from this article to help turn your relationship sentiment around.