Being the best partner — 17 March 2005
To improve your relationship, make attitude adjustment

Here are some basic beliefs that are necessary in order to embark on improving or maintaining a good relationship. Without ascribing to these assumptions, your efforts for change may be frustrated.

1. Relationships need ongoing evaluation.

Couples often resort to couple therapy only after a long period of
unhappiness. For some, the damage done by long delays in
addressing the problems is serious enough that the road back is
daunting.

Even happily married couples are wise to keep tabs on their satisfaction monitor and deal with each arising issue before it begins to fester. Love and frustration occupy the same emotional space. A ratio of 85% love and 15% annoyance seems to be acceptable. When the hurt, anger, disappointments and resentments invade the love space and change the ratio, dissatisfaction with the relationship is felt. The goal is to be actively aware of any negative or painful feelings that arise within the relationship, talk about them and get a resolution that clears the negative feelings from interfering with the love quotient.

2. Almost all problems are resolvable by motivated mates.

Not infrequently one partner is highly motivated for change in the relationship, while the other mate is less interested in doing what it may take to accomplish this change. This imbalance in motivation weakens the chances for success of improving the love connection.

Whether a couple is in counseling or not, both partners should be invested in improving their relationship. Though it takes only one partner to initiate change, unless the mate joins in the efforts, not much will be accomplished.

Once both partners are clear that they have a treasure in each other and in their union and are willing to invest energy to preserve and improve it, hardly any problem is irresolvable.

3. There are no Perfect Matches only harmonious ones.

There are all kinds of myths about the ‘matches made in heaven’. This is a lovely metaphor as long as it is not taken literally. Matches are made on earth by individuals who choose to become life-mates. Since matches are not made in heaven, they can never be perfect. They involve two imperfect beings both of whom are lovable.

Some people ascribe the success of other couples relationship to luck, good fortune and finding the right mate. These beliefs are also magical and do not credit the partners with the maturity and practice they have developed to achieve the state of a harmonious relationship.

Concentrating on relating well to each other is a wise habit. Each partner should make it a personal goal to treat the partner with love, kindness and respect. If any of these feelings are not cemented enough, the goal becomes improving the feelings so that the behaviors will follow.

4. Your partner is the right one for you.

Partners sometimes wonder whether they picked the ‘wrong person’ to marry. They question whether personality differences, varied interests, and different life perspectives are the source of their unhappy relationship. These differences alone do not cause incompatibility.

People are attracted to mates who have qualities that they want to strengthen in themselves. They initially admire the traits, interests, attitudes and views that are different than their own because they find them enriching. It is only when the focused attention on the partner is reduced, communication ceases to be effective and the needs of each individual are not well met, that couples wonder whether their differences have become irreconcilable.

Some of the strongest marriages I have seen were between two very different individuals. The secret of success was that they kept each other’s views as interesting, not deal breakers. It is not about how different we are- it is about how we view these differences that matters.

5. A solid connection requires knowing that you matter.

When you feel valued in the relationship and you help your partner feel the same, your relationship will be unshakeable. The idea of being selected above all other possible partners reinforces each partner’s specialness. When it is maintained throughout the relationship, each person and the union thrives.

Most couples who end up breaking up speak of not feeling respected, trusted, valued or loved in their relationship. Hurtful behaviors that include belittling, shaming, criticizing, controlling, ignoring, or discounting, seriously damage one’s sense of worth. Not being considered and appreciated, respected and loved, inherently defies the purpose of being together. People, who violate their promise to love and to cherish, shake the foundation of the marriage.

Consider the following:

• If you have a good relationship, schedule to review it several times a year. One idea is to designate specific times such as: your anniversary, birthdays, or specific holidays to review your pleasure with the relationship and what needs to change. Speak lovingly.
• Thank your partner for last period’s honored request for change. Ask how you can love him or her better in the future.
• Accept your partner’s requests graciously, not defensively. It is not intended to criticize, only to improve your love.
• Speak of needed changes in your relationship not as problems but areas for improvement. “I will feel even more secure in our relationship when you include me more in parenting decisions.”
• Remember that the goal is a harmonious, loving connection- NOT a perfect marriage.
• Avoid comparing your relationship to other people’s unions. Appearances may be misleading and every couple needs to create their own satisfying style.
• Assure yourself that your choice of a mate is the right one. Except for extreme circumstances, people select well. Since much of the selection is intuitive, respect yourself in the choice you made and work to keep your partner feeling valued.
• Differences in personality attributes, interests and preferences can be seen as troublesome or as enriching.

• There is no given magic to a good relationship, but magic can be created with good mutual intentions and making each other feel precious.

March 13, 2005

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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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