I’m sure you have heard people say that good relationships require a lot of hard work. But what does that actually mean? What kind of hard work needs to get done to improve your relationship? Isn’t it enough to commit to your partner day in and day out? The short answer to that is no. In order to have a healthy relationship, we need to be good partners– which means more than just a commitment and a shared life together. Check out these 5 ways to improve your relationship right now.
1. Tell the Truth.
There’s nothing wrong with a little white lie– is there? Do you tell your partner that you love her cooking, even when it takes like burnt rubber? How about all of the times where you said “yes” when your partner asked if you liked their favorite ugly sweater or “no” if they looked fat in something when they didn’t look their best? Do you pretend to listen and wait to speak? Do you tell your partner only what they “need to know”?
I have had clients tell me that they lie to their partner to protect them. I had a guy tell me that he went to the bar once a month for lunch with his work buddies, though couldn’t tell his wife because that would make her jealous. He claimed to be an honest guy, though lied monthly about hanging out with his friends. My question to him (and you) is this: if you have nothing to hide, why would you lie and how is lying protecting your partner if there is no real motivation to lie?
So if you want to improve your relationship, stop lying. No lie big or small has ever turned out to be a good thing. If you are scared of your partner’s reaction when you tell the truth, you may want to have a heart-to-heart with that partner and seek relationship coaching. Lies build resentment and distrust.
Be transparent. If your partner can clearly see your intentions, and can trust your word, you will greatly improve your relationship. Broken promises, little white lies, indirect communication, and speaking in hyperboles tears down the relationship and makes for a rocky path.
Remember this: It may be difficult to be transparent after many years, though it is equally if not more difficult to maintain a web of lies, secrecy, and resentment. Be someone your partner can rely on and stop lying.
2. Manage Expectations.
People change and grow over time. If you are waiting around for your partner to become the person they were when you first started dating, you will be waiting forever. It is an impossible task to ask someone to stay the same over the course of a relationship. Sameness may be comfortable to you, but it is unrealistic to maintain.
Make a list.
What expectations do you have for your partner? What do you expect out of your wife or husband, boyfriend or girlfriend? Make a list.
Do you expect your husband to take out the trash and keep your gas tank full? Does he know this? How about your wife? Should she keep the house at a certain level of clean or should she cook everyday if she is a stay-at-home mom?
After you list our your expectations, ask yourself this for every item on your list: Does my partner know that I expect that of them? and then… Is my partner capable of meeting that expectation?
If you expect your wife to clean and cook every day and to make sure your favorite pair of pants is clean– do you ask this of her? Does she have time in her day to meet those expectations? If you have children and your wife is a stay-at-home mom and not getting all of the chores completed that you expect her to complete– have you talked with her? If your husband never takes out the trash or puts his dirty laundry next to the laundry basket– have you talked with him?
Remember this: Expecting someone to do exactly what you want them to do without ever taking into consideration their capabilities and communicating with them is tyrannical. Be a good partner by managing your expectations and communicating directly with your partner.
3. Choose Leadership over Tyranny.
Do you use sarcasm, shame, yelling, and indirect communication to get your needs met? Are you a good leader to your partner when they need guidance or do you resort to tyranny?
A good leader is trustworthy, determined, influential, empathetic, passionate, and connected. A leader understands and sets boundaries, is responsible, and is humble. A leader takes responsibility for their actions and is able to make choices that make the most sense for the good of the group, not the individual.
A tyrant is also influential, but relentless, critical, and demanding as well. A tyrant is often apathetic towards others and displays arrogance. Tyrants are not concerned with the good of the group, rather they are concerned with what is best for themselves and have a selfish worldview.
I’m not a tyrant!
Are you thinking that there is no way that you could possibly be a tyrant? Think again. If you have low self-esteem, anxiety, and a need for things to be perfect, you may very well engage in tyrannical behavior– whether you are male or female.
Did you ever ask the question, “You’re going to take the trash out, right?” (or do the dishes, mow the lawn, do the laundry, etc.) The minute this question is asked, you set the person on the receiving end up to either fall in line with what you want or face some kind of consequence. Instead of asking, “Will you please take out the trash?” You have entered a situation where your goal (the trash going out and your partner doing it) means more to you than your partner. This is tyrannical.
How about another example? Let’s say you like your house to be clean, so you have an expectation that your partner clean the home regularly since they spend more time at home. When the home isn’t clean and you’ve had a decent day, it doesn’t really bother you, so you don’t say anything at all to your partner. On a bad day, though, it drives you nuts that the house isn’t clean so you scream, yell, and threaten your partner when you get home. Maybe you call them lazy or other names and make them feel bad for not meeting your expectations. That is not good leadership.
Being a good leader is a difficult skill. It takes practice, commitment, dedication, and willingness to fail– at first. It may take time for you to develop and enhance your leadership skills, though this time spent will be invaluable to the growth of your relationship. Need help? Schedule a session today.
Remember this: The goal of a tyrant is always more important than you and your goal. If your goals trump everything in front of you, including your partner, their goals, and the goals of your family, time to seek guidance to transform tyranny into leadership.
4. Communicate Directly & Listen to Understand.
A fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in airing his own opinions.Proverbs 18:2
What is your communication style? Are you direct and to the point or do you use indirect communication to express yourself? Do you listen until it’s your turn to talk or do you listen to understand?
Indirect communication is when a person chooses to act out what they really mean instead of saying it directly. They can use voice tone, gestures, or facial expressions. They do this to avoid being directly rejected, avoid arguments, be in the “safe” zone, and to ultimately save face. This cycle has to end as it can and will end a relationship.Jay Skeeters
Communication breaks down when what we hear are our own assumptions and insecurities projected onto the words of someone else. Direct communication and active listening will repair these breakdowns in communication. Listen to your partner by taking out any assumptions you may have when they are talking so that you can develop empathy for them and see the world from their perspective.
Jay and I talk a lot about communication in our work because it is a key component to having healthy, connected relationships. It is important to change from an indirect to a direct style of communication. Saying exactly what you think and feel makes listening and giving feedback much easier. This opens up the communication lines to a sharing of ideas, thoughts, and feelings. If you use indirect communication and aren’t sure what else you can do to get your needs met, schedule with us today. We can guide you on how to communicate better so that you will feel heard and respected.
Remember this: Listening communicates love, compassion, and empathy to your partner. Listening also helps you understand each other, connect and communicate effectively.
5. Be Supportive.
Would you take a bullet for your partner?
Okay, that’s intense– or is it? Throughout this post, I have referred to people in a relationship as partners. Why? Because if your husband or wife/ boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t have your back then your relationship will feel like its failing because you won’t feel supported or safe.
Have Your Partner’s Back.
A partner would have your back always. They would be supportive of you even if your choices didn’t align with their preferences. Read that again: They would be supportive of you even if your choices didn’t align with their preferences.
If you want to improve your relationship- practice having your partner’s back. Instead of getting annoyed and angry, help them out. Do they forget important dates? Get a calendar to help them remember. Text them reminders the day before and the day of an event.
Do they love NASCAR, football, soccer, ballet, theater, basketball, or disc golf? (insert other activity that does not interest you in the slightest) Make sure that they have snacks on race, show, or game day. Give them space to watch without pressure of doing something you want or need to do. Respect their hobbies and interests just as you would want your hobbies and interests to be respected. Go with them to places you don’t want to go because you love them and respect them as people in the world so their happiness means more than your temporary discomfort.
Do they hate being sick? Get them some vitamin C packs, cough drops, and plan to take care of dinner, dishes, and the nightly routine so they can rest. Do they have a big meeting tomorrow? Make sure their favorite pants are clean and ready to go and ask if there is anything else you can do to help them. An early night? Taking over with the kids? Taking the dog out?
Remember this: Having your partner’s back is key to developing trust and emotional safety in a relationship. If the things I listed above seem too over-the-top and inconvenient for you, it’s time to reevaluate things. Maybe you like the idea of a relationship, though not the work that goes into building a great one. And that’s okay. Telling yourself the truth will go a long way.
Rose Skeeters, MA, LPC, PN2
Rose Skeeters is the CVO of Thrive: Mind/Body, LLC, an innovative mindset coaching & online counseling practice aimed at empowering motivated individuals to master every area of their life. She specializes in family & relationship counseling–helping couples, parents, & families get and stay on the same page. Rose is also the host of From Borderline to Beautiful, a podcast aimed at helping individuals with BPD, CPTSD, and EUPD find hope and help in their recovery journeys. Are you interested in working with Rose? Schedule a consult with her here or contact her today at Rose@thriveonlinecounseling.com.