Last month we explored five things that make a good partner, including loving yourself and understanding the true meaning of 50/50. This month we asked two different relationship experts to share their insights.
“Many people believe that a good partner is someone who gives unconditionally and makes the relationship all about them,” said Meredith Hansen, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist who specializes in couples, premarital and newlywed counseling.
However, a partner who’s too giving and too focused on pleasing their partner lacks a sense of self, which isn’t healthy, she said.
Good partners have different opinions, needs and preferences. And they work on striking a balance in their relationship. “Sometimes it will be about you, sometimes it will be about them, and often it will be all about the two of you.”
A similar misconception is that partners must compromise their own feelings or beliefs in order to support their partner, said Lisa Snipper, a licensed clinical social worker and trained Imago relationship and trauma therapist who works with couples. This only leads to anger, resentment and unhealthy communication, she said.
Instead, it’s important to discuss your views and differences — without your partner judging you. “Being in a relationship where differences are acknowledged, honored and respected creates a positive attitude … and allows for differences in opinions and respect toward [each] other,” she said.
It’s also important for couples to realize that their partner’s differing perspective isn’t a personal attack. Rather it’s “more than likely a result of how they were raised, what they believe to be important and how they can teach one another.”
Here are five things that do make a good partner.
1. A good partner knows him- or herself.
Knowing yourself means knowing who you are and what you want out of a relationship. “A person who does not know what they want or need may expect their partner to just ‘take care of things’ or ‘just make them happy,’ but then there is always a moving target and the person trying to please you is confused and frustrated,” Hansen said.
You have to know what you want in order to feel satisfied in a relationship, she said.
Knowing yourself also means knowing your contribution to your relationship. You’re able to recognize the effect of your struggles on your relationship, accept responsibility and be open to talking about it and getting feedback, said Snipper, owner of a group practice in Reston, Va.
For instance, one partner is having a hard time at work and starts picking fights and ignoring their partner, she said. They’re able to turn inward and realize they’re taking their frustrations out on their partner. So they apologize and ask for support, she said.
2. A good partner communicates their needs.
Many people expect their partners to know what they want. But your partner won’t know unless you ask them clearly and directly.
For instance, you realize that you need more physical contact, so you ask your partner to be closer more often, Hansen said. You realize you need to vent, so you ask your partner to listen to you instead of suggesting a solution to your problem.
3. A good partner provides emotional safety.
A good partner helps their partner feel at ease so they can be themselves, Snipper said. “This provides an opportunity for each partner to experience unconditional love from the other, where by each person has the support necessary to be vulnerable, let their guard down, show their ‘flaws’ and still feel loved and supported by the other.”
4. A good partner is interested in their partner.
Being interested in your partner helps them feel valued and builds your bond. For instance, ask meaningful questions about everything from how their work meeting went to what helps them feel loved, Hansen said. Ask about their needs, hopes and dreams and childhood.
“The more engaged you are with your partner, the more satisfied they will feel in the relationship and the more engaged they’ll be with you,” she said.
5. A good partner recognizes their role in disagreements.
“When working with couples, nothing seems more frustrating to a partner than having a partner who cannot acknowledge their role in the argument,” Hansen said. This doesn’t mean taking responsibility for the entire fight. It means recognizing your contribution, she said.
For instance, maybe you picked a bad time to discuss an important issue, disregarded your partner’s feelings or lost your temper, she said.
According to Hansen, many people spend more time looking for a good partner than they do pondering how they can become a good partner. She suggested taking the time to consider who you want to be in a relationship, and to practice those behaviors in other relationships — with friends, family and coworkers.
“As you grow into the person you want to become in a relationship, you’ll find that healthy romantic relationships are easier to come by.”
If you’re already in a relationship, avoid hoping or expecting your partner to change, Hansen said. Instead, consider how you can shift your relationship dynamics, become a better partner and practice these healthy behaviors, she said.
“[W]ith time, your partner will begin to shift as well.”