Being the best partner — 16 November 2003
How to be the best partner you can be

Most couples who come to couple’s therapy attribute their individual frustrations in the relationship to their partners’ failings. Though this may be their perception of the problem, the actual source is very different.

Identifying dissatisfaction in relationship is a necessary step toward regaining comfort. It is akin to responding to physical pain by securing medical care to obtain greater comfort and health. In physical pain, however, we are unlikely to assign blame to anyone else, while in emotional discomfort, we tend to blame others.

This stems from our childhood experiences. When we were young, our parents were responsible for assuring that both our physical and emotional needs were well provided for. They took action to alleviate our misery. We grew to believe that reprieve from emotional and physical discomfort comes from external source of a loving adult.

This expectation extends to our partners. If we are unhappy, it means that our partners are either at fault for causing it or failing to relieve it. This erroneous belief keeps us in a child-like state of escaping responsibility for our own health and happiness.

The statement, “I am unhappy because my spouse….”, is incorrect. The accurate statement is” I am unhappy because I….”. The onus of solving the problem lies within the person, not with others. There is no Mommy or Daddy who can kiss our wounds and make them feel better. As adults it is incumbent upon us to take action to improve our lot.

The partner who finds himself in a less than happy relationship is wise to abstain from reciting all the problems his or her mate has. Though two people create a relationship, each of them exercises control only over him/herself.

If you are unhappy with your job, you take action to improve your circumstances. You may elect to talk to your boss, change your hours, improve your pay, reduce your load, receive more help, etc. You do not expect your supervisor to guess that you are displeased and proceed to handle it for you.

Rather than figuring out what is wrong with our mates, or what we are not receiving in the relationship, we are well advised to concentrate on what is lacking in our actions and how we can improve our ways.

The first step is for you to ask yourself: “Am I providing for my partner what I miss most from him or her?” If you want greater appreciation from your mate, check to see how much appreciation you give to your partner.

Commonly, mates’ unmet needs are identical. If one partner feels lonely so does the other, when one person feels discounted so does the mate. The reason is, that unwittingly, (and sometimes knowingly), people respond to what they receive with matching conduct.

“Why should I be nice to him, when he is not nice to me?” This is a position that gauges one’s behavior in response to the others, a reactive stance, rather than a proactive stance of initiating the behavior that honors both mates. Kindness begets kindness; loving behavior is met with loving responses. Positive energy is welcomed and is usually reciprocated.

The solution to less than ideal interactions is to have each individual make the decision to be the best partner he or she can be. You make that choice to live up to your higher, healthier and best self because this is the right way to be. It enhances you and your relationship at the same time. This decision is not a psychological tool to elicit the responses you want to receive from your partner. It is the way to esteem yourself for keeping your commitment to love and cherish your spouse.

A relationship where one partner decides to be the best partner he or she can be is very likely to initiate a more successful union. There is no time limit to this behavior and it is not conditional upon any hoped for response. Since most people prefer to get along well, be loved and considered, it is easy to join a relationship culture that fosters this pattern of being.

Some partners claim that this idea may be fine, but their mates are not likely to stop criticizing, become more considerate or loving.
My response to this prediction is “All ice melts in the sunshine”. No matter how cold the relationship is, it will begin to warm up with sufficient kindness and time.

To have the best relationship for yourself:

  • Decide to be the best partner you can be.
  • Take the actions that support your choice and be consistently loving.
  • Do so without specific expectations of reciprocity. It is likely to occur in due time.
  • Pride yourself for acting as a best partner should.
  • In the rare occasion when no improvement in the relationship has occurred after an extended period of time, discuss it with your mate. If needed, seek professional help.
  • Relationships can begin to shift toward greater satisfaction for both partners through the initial efforts of one mate.
  • When both partners concentrate on being the best mates, their relationship can evolve to the highest levels of love and intimacy.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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