10 Tips from a Couples Therapist
- Be a team. You have a vested interest in your partner’s well being. That means the better they do, the better you do. And harming them is no different them harming yourself. Don’t do anything to intentionally hurt your partner. You’re in this together. Trust in your togetherness. Make big decisions together, find compromises that feel fair. If this is not possible, or is not what you want, reevaluate why you are in this relationship at all.
- Don’t try to change or control your partner. This includes telling them how to behave with others i.e. friends, family, work etc. or instructing them on how to be in the world. If they ask for your help or insight that’s another story. In that case share your opinion, but don’t decide things for them they should decide themselves. If you want to make a request for change, remember, a request is different than a demand in that it is something someone can say no to without fear of punishment. If you find you are trying to change your partner, it’s time again to evaluate if this is the right relationship for you, as it is now, and as they are now.
- Be a fan of of your partner. This doesn’t mean you always agree with them, or that you should become enmeshed. There is no relationship without boundaries. It does mean you would speak highly of them, and that you want the people you care about to want to get to know them. Put your attention on things you like about them. Being a fan means having respect for your partner. Seek out their advice sometimes, show them you value their perspective. Cultivate the I-thou way of perceiving your other half.
- Lean into polarity. Your partner is different from you. Lean into the tension of separateness to find aliveness, attraction, and passion. Imagine you are on a 3rd date. Flirt. Put effort into seduction. Take time to periodically let go of the roles that may have grown around your connection (i.e. husband/wife/parent/business partners etc.). Let parts of yourself out that don’t normally get expressed in your day-to-day personality.
- Assume positive intent. Trust your partner. Operate from the assumption that care is at the root of the way the relate to you. If you know your partner׳s core motivation is good, but the execution feels poor, open up to them, communicate your preferences, and set limits if need be. This way of approaching conflict holds empathy (because you know that ultimately they care), which will help prevent escalation and misunderstandings. If you are concerned that your partner is intentionally harming you, consider working with a therapist to get clear. If you are being possessive, it’s likely you don’t trust your partner, or you are acting out your own insecurity, or both. Either way, do the work to get clear. From here you can distinguish behavior from motive, and intuition from insecurity.
- Don’t expect your partner to express themselves the way you prefer. Get curious about how they express themselves (we are all expressing ourselves somehow). Watch closely. You can share your love language so they can work on learning it, but you’re going to need to know their primary love language, because it will always be there. The effort they put forth is more important than the mode of expression.
- Know your partner’s raw spots, defense mechanisms, and attachment styles. We all come into the world trying to get our needs met and avoid pain. This survival strategy is part of our personality. If you know the strategy it’s much easier to not personalize behavior. Also, this serves as a short cut to where they might need reassurance, and how you can support them. Knowing their raw spots and attachment styles is key. If you know their pain and core fears, you can be with them in those dark places and soothe their distress. This paves the way for strength and security as a couple.
- Befriend the unknown. Stay open, and let go of trying to know what the future will be. All things change. You can never fully know someone. Love deepens as the undiscovered layers of the other unfold. The paradox is that the more you can embrace uncertainty, the easier it is to feel secure and express commitment.
- Take care of yourself. It’s important to have a life outside of your relationship, and to take time for yourself. Time for you is time where you can center yourself and recharge. If you avoid alone time at all costs, make space to explore what you are avoiding in yourself. Also, take time to explore yourself. You have to know how you can be annoying (everyone is annoying) so that you can be mindful and own your shit. Explore beliefs that may limit you. This self-reflection paves the way for living more authentically and sharing vulnerability.
- Show your partner that you love them. We all need to know that we are cherished. Remember your partner’s inner child. Be gentle, be playful. Don’t be so serious you forget to be silly.