Core principle #1: It’s not about you
A seemingly paradoxical relationship axiom is that the more you convey (through action and speech) that the relationship is your priority, the more autonomy you will likely have.
Perhaps you fear — consciously or unconsciously — that you’re going to have to do everything your partner wants, that you will lose your voice and your autonomy.
But in fact, if your partner intuits and trusts that the relationship is a priority, the less insecure and anxious they will be about you spending time away.
Vice versa, no one likes to feel like a third wheel — that they are losing to your friends, work, or to a recreational activity. They will feel demoted and will secretly (or not so secretly) resent that perceived competition for their attention.
Core principle #2: Express interest in your partner’s perspective
I see this a lot in my office. One partner feels like their perspective doesn’t matter, like their only job is to tend to their partner’s emotions and whims.
If you want your partner to have a true interest in you, you have to convey that you are interested in them. You are more likely to get what you want if your emotional needs and whims are not always front and center.
It goes a long way to stop and consider where your partner is coming from, and even further if they see this effort toward empathy from you.
Tell your partner, “I’m trying to see if from your perspective” — and mean it!
Core principle #3: Have difficult conversations
When couples don’t have real conversations about what is bothering them, resentment builds.
The unfortunate thing about resentment is that you can’t sweep it under the rug.
It will come out one way or another, whether in an angry outburst, passive-aggressive behavior, or withdrawal. Instead of letting it build, have that difficult conversation as soon as you can (and ideally in person, not by phone or text).
When having such conversations, you will give yourself the best chance of being heard if you lead with the fact that what you are sharing is your perspective. You might begin with “I feel” statements, and only then follow up with any requests. A request helps your partner help you.
Core principle #4: Appreciate your partner and what they have given you
We have to acknowledge the good, or we fixate on the negative — how annoying our partner is, that they never do the dishes, help with the kids, etc.
This gratitude is an active practice, and it deepens over time. “Thank you for making coffee this morning” can evolve into “Thank you for being a great partner and parent.”
When you active appreciate your partner, you are putting money in the relationship bank, which you may need to borrow from when things are tough. It also helps you look at your partner in a better light.
If we are honest with ourselves, our partner does a whole lot for us. If we actively appreciate that, it’s likely the relationship will thrive.
Stan Tatkin observes that when we look for a mate, our relationship search is frequently backwards. Most often we look for the right person, when we should be looking to build the right relationship.
It doesn’t really matter how many interests you share or not. Upholding these relationship principles transcends interests and allows both of you to be seen, respected, and appreciated.
Then there is really no difficulty you won’t be able to handle.
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