Being Better Series: Being a Better Partner
There is always room to be a better partner to your significant other. Whether your relationship is at a high point or things are difficult right now, we can always find ways to be better to one another. Relationships are difficult and take a lot of work. Think of it like working out, there is always room to work on strength and toning the body and if you are already in shape, maintenance is key.
Following are 4 areas to pay attention to that can help improve your relationship.
1- Maintaining a Sense of Self
Many happy couples report that they enjoy their partners sense of independence, but also love that they still very much enjoy and need their partner as well. Spending time together is so important but I would say equally important is spending time apart. Having your own world of work, friends and other interests is crucial to maintaining a healthy relationship. It is when things become unbalanced that there can be more susceptibility to neediness or a hyper focus on one partner. This imbalance can ultimately can leave the other partner feeling pressured or depleted by the need to be someones everything.
2- Attention to Communication
Communication is to a relationship like spinach is to Popeye. It is 100% necessary in sustaining a healthy relationship. The better the communication the stronger the relationship. It is through listening and sharing that we learn about our partner. We learn about their feelings, what they like and dislike, how certain actions make them feel and on and on. Opening up to the vulnerability of letting your partner how you are feeling will increase intimacy and help your partner learn to love you better. Listening with empathy is also critical in building trust between partners.
3- Turning Towards your Partner (vs. Away)
In relationships we constantly throw out bids for connection. These bids for connection are an attempt to get the attention of our partner. It is not uncommon to miss these bids completely and that can feel like rejection for the person who attempts to connect. An example of a bid would be one partner coming home from work saying “I had a tough day today.” in an attempt to talk with their partner about their day and maybe get some support or comfort. If the other partner ignores this comment and continues to talk about something different, this is considered ‘turning away’ from the person who made the attempt. It often leaves the person who was trying to connect feeling ignored or hurt… if this happens often enough it can lead to distance or resentment in the relationship. The key here is to pay attention to your partner - are they trying to connect with me? Be conscious of your response.
(Gottman Institute offers more detailed information about bids for connection here: https://www.gottman.com/blog/turn-toward-instead-of-away/)
4- Showing Affection
Affection is a physical expression of feelings towards another person. How do you show the person you love that you care for them? The effects of physical touch towards your partner can go a long way. Many feel very cared for through touch - sending a signal of love. If you have felt distant from your partner lately, try touching their arm, shoulder or put your hand on their back in a bid for connection, see how they respond. If this is something you struggle with in your relationship this can be a good topic to discuss. Ask each other how you feel about touch. This might reveal things you didn’t know about each other, which is always a good thing.
I hope these topics will inspire thinking around how you can be a better partner to your significant other. If anything, it could be a good conversation starter for creating more balance and connection as a couple. If you need help in connecting with your partner or are seeking guidance around your relationship, try speaking with someone you trust whose relationship you respect or a relationship counselor in your area.
Melissa Grohs, MA, LPCC Relationship Counseling for Individuals