Most times couples come to counseling hoping that their partner will change. What therapists know is that as one partner changes it definitely affects how the other partner participates in the relationship (in other words, when you change, your partner changes, too). Yet there is often a fear that if one gives up the fight their partner will just get worse. “If I stop nagging he will never change!” or “If I was to give in to her demands she would walk all over me!” And around and around they go. I am here to suggest an alternative! You, alone, can change the relationship. You do not need your partner to know or participate in the change process to get your relationship to a better place.
Ways You can Change Your Relationship
Take a big breath, this is going to be difficult to hear, but YOU are half the problem. It could be that you have certain expectations about how your partner should be. Some of those expectations are deal breakers but for the vast majority of couples, their fights are about negotiables. Yet as time goes on folks transfer what was negotiable into the deal breaker category. So Take everything out of the “deal breaker” category except for true deal breakers!
Know your non-negotiables and stick to them. For instance physical violence or chronic affairs can definitely be deal breakers in a relationship but chronic lateness may not be. That is not to say that you don’t set boundaries. For instance you may say, “I value getting to places on time. If you are more than 10 minutes late I will take my own car.” No fuss, no muss, no blaming. Your partner can decide to be late. You can decide to be on-time. When folks have stopped nagging or fighting about the negotiables it is really amazing how the other partner changes the irritating negotiable.
2) Notice what is working!
There are likely hundreds of things your partner is doing well! Take an inventory from morning to night of everything that is working. Really pay attention to them. Generally, couples fight about very few things but they fight often about them and they tend to consume the relationship.
I had one client who broke up over a situation that happened about 3 times a year. Yet they would fight about this situation for months afterward. It was a “negotiable” but the chronic fighting that happened afterward deteriorated all they had built together. “How can he be so pig headed? Doesn’t he see this hurts me?” “Why is she so rigid, I cannot deal with her drama!” Yet, when asked, about what he/she did do well they could name many things; they just didn’t dwell on what was working. To the extent that you dwell on what is working, is the extent that you will be satisfied in your relationship. As you tell your partner what he or she is doing well you can bet that those things will continue or occur more frequently.
It can become pretty easy to meet up with your friends and complain about what is not working in your relationship. Your friends only really know what you tell them and they are easily convinced that you need to bail if you give them the daily blow by blow. Rather, I suggest, to surround yourself with as many happy people as possible who have thriving relationships. When you see others happy in their relationships it can help change your own perception of your relationship. Just like “misery loves company” so does happiness! You don’t have the luxury of negativity in your life. Also your friends are very well likely to remember the fight you told them about long after it is over for you.
This can lead to doubt on their part, and doubt is contagious. It may be difficult for them to celebrate your new home or your five year anniversary if they are still remembering the last, worst fight you described in great detail during a night of cabernet and complaining. Brag about your partner. You’ll leave feeling better about your relationship and so will they! It is important to protect your relationship against the naysayers and critics. If you truly need to vent, find a professional counselor who will encourage and support your relationship not a person who will give you a high five or a “go girl!” when you complain about your partner. Ultimately, if you want a satisfying relationship, first start with changing yourself! Give what you want to receive. Is it fair? Maybe not, but in the long run you’ll get exactly what you want: a better relationship!