When we picture our marriage, usually we imagine both partners being equally invested. Each person seeks out the other, says complimentary things, and does nice things to make the other person’s life better. In real life, that fairness often fades after the spark of newness wears off. Then we get to see who that person really is. And they get to see who we really are.
As I listen to friends talk about their relationships, eventually, the conversation turns to our partner’s shortcomings. How they didn’t hold up their end of the relationship bargain in some way: through what they said, what they didn’t do, or how they didn’t show up for us. All of our partners let us down in some ways at some times. After all, they are human just like us.
It can be difficult to figure out how to improve our relationships. Especially when we are focused on the part in the relationship that we can’t control and where we have minimal influence: our partner’s behavior. In truth, we can only control what we bring to the table. Instead of listing your partner’s faults, it might give you better ideas for fixing things when you focus more on your own contributions. You can change these. Of course, personal change is harder than letting our partners know how they let us down.
What are you contributing?
When your feel like your partner has let you down, think about what you did just prior to and in response to their behavior. Notice if you gave them feedback that might have made them feel criticized or defensive. Look at whether they felt like you were disconnected or didn’t care about them. Identify how you responded to them. They may realize that there are no real consequences because you will pick up the slack or bail them out when they let things slide. Listening to your complaints may feel like a small price to pay when they don't follow through with an agreement.
Some ways that you can improve the relationship without their help:
• Be kind in your honest feedback to your partner.
• Don't just focus on all of the ways they mess up. Give them a way to win by being clear about what you need.
• Look for their good intentions even if things don’t turn out the way they planned them.
• Give them the benefit of the doubt before concluding that they meant to hurt you.
• Act like a partner you want them to be.
• Show them love in ways that make them feel loved.
• Contribute your part and allow them to wrestle with their responsibilities even if something goes undone.
• Know your own boundaries and allow them to face reasonable failures when they don’t follow through on their promises.
• Initiate the things that are most important to you in the relationship. View it as how you make your relationship a better place for both of you.
We like to think of our partner’s choices as occurring in a vacuum. However, you need to be fair about what you are contributing. This is where you can have the biggest impact to change the relationship. I am not suggesting that you become a slave to the relationship. One of the most powerful things you can do is know where you draw the line and enforce it without making idle threats.
It still counts as having a good relationship if you initiate kindness and generosity. Most times, our partners will respond to your love by being loving. And isn’t that all we really want? To be in a loving relationship?
If you need help identifying how you can improve your relationship, check out these ways of working together here.