Most of us want to be the best partner we can be. But often we get caught up in work and attending to day-to-day responsibilities. We get caught up in the continuous buzzing of our own worries and what-ifs.
“We go, go, go until something requires us to stop,” said Robyn D’Angelo, a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Laguna Hills, Calif. You might stop because of a fight with your partner, colleague or family member. You might stop because of your own illness or someone else’s. Or you might stop because of a major loss — everything from your job to a loved one.
We might only notice our partners when they’re annoying or aggravating us. This makes it impossible to be the best partner you know you can be, D’Angelo said.
If this is true for you, D’Angelo suggested trying this four-step process:
- Talk about it. Talk about what you see and feel in your relationship, without blaming your partner. Ask your partner to share his or her perspective as well. Pay attention to the different ways you can connect.
- Apologize. Let your partner know about the remorse you feel for not slowing down and sharing how much you love and appreciate him or her.
- Forgive. Accept your partner’s apology — even if it’s a bit messy. (In this video, D’Angelo talks more about forgiveness.)
- Agree. Agree on ways both of you will thoughtfully slow down, connect, and choose each other every day — even when things get tough and you have the option to pick someone else, such as a friend or family member.
Being the best partner you can be takes effort. But it is simple. D’Angelo shared these five valuable tips.
Celebrate your commitment
Show your partner lots of affection for closing out the year together. Be sure your partner knows how much you cherish and appreciate him or her being your partner in crime in 2015, said D’Angelo, who also offers online relationship coaching for couples all over the world.
Ask your partner to daydream
Suggest your partner share both his or her possible and impossible dreams for at least 30 minutes. “Talking with your partner, free of criticism about silly, adventurous or outrageous ideas helps you to connect deeper by infusing playfulness into your relationship,” D’Angelo said.
For instance, she and her husband dream about the question: “What’s the first thing you’d do if you won the lottery?”
Then you can focus on making these dreams a reality. For instance, you might plan a trip in the new year. The two of you can Google places you’d want to go or read 1,000 Places to Visit Before You Die, she said.
Zip it when you’re right
According to D’Angelo, John Gottman’s recommendations are good words to live by: “Apologize when you’re wrong, and shut up when you’re right.”
In other words, she said, avoid telling your partner: “SEE!!! I told you! If you would have only listened to me we would have gotten to the same outcome without this fight.” You might be very tempted to say this or something like it. But it only hurts your partner and can makes your partner defensive. And it “adds nothing of value to the situation.”
Instead, you might silently acknowledge to yourself that you were right, and refocus on how you can turn toward your partner and move forward, she said.
If after a day or so you still have the urge to discuss your feelings, talk to your partner. However, only talk about your feelings, without saying your partner was wrong.
D’Angelo shared this example of what you might say:
I’ve been thinking a lot about what happened yesterday and I want to share something with you. We really struggled to get through that situation and when we finally were successful, it felt really good to me to know that it was my solution (suggestion, idea, etc.) that truly got us there. Sometimes, I want to say, “I told you so,” but I know it doesn’t do anything except get you more mad and then disconnects us — which is something I never want to do. Sometimes, I just want to hear you say things like: “That was a great idea; I’m glad you came up with that and I’m sorry I was such a pain about it.”
Give your partner the benefit of the doubt
The next time you’re completely convinced that your partner purposely pressed your buttons, ignored you or was being mean, ask yourself these questions, D’Angelo recommended: “What would they possibly gain from upsetting me? How could this behavior benefit them right now?”
“This will change your interaction dramatically.”
But what if your partner is pushing your buttons on purpose? Instead of lashing out, get curious, D’Angelo said. For instance, you might tell your partner: “What’s really going on right now? This is so unlike you to lash out at me like this, and it’s really painful for me.”
Another strategy is to set boundaries with your partner when he or she lashes out. D’Angelo gave this example: “I really want to support you or finish this conversation with you. But I can’t talk to you when you’re verbally attacking me. I will be in the other room when you’re ready to talk in a way that is less aggressive.”
Be kind to your partner even when you don’t want to be kind. Be kind even when your partner doesn’t deserve your kindness and especially when you’re too tired, sleepy, angry, hungry or stressed out, D’Angelo said.
“When it’s the hardest for you to be sweet, gentle and compassionate to your partner, reach into the depth of your heart where you hold all that love, adoration and respect for your mate and simply show kindness.”
We are the best partners we can be when we show up for our partner — when we are open to listening about our partner’s ideas, dreams and wishes, as well as stresses, disappointments and hurts, D’Angelo said.
Happy couple photo available from Shutterstock