7 Ways to Be a Better Spouse/Partner
Yesterday, I found out that a friend of mine is going through a divorce. The news of his pending divorce started me thinking about how fragile certain relationships can be, and about how important they are to our happiness and wellbeing.
I personally am a product of divorce. My parents split up when I was 7, and I grew up migrating back and forth between my mother’s house and my father’s apartment, never quite feeling whole, always missing whichever parent wasn’t there, and always wanting to be someplace else.
As I grew older, I watched most of my friends, and even my siblings, tear through relationships like they were pinatas, scattering unhappiness everywhere.
And yet, somehow, growing up in the midst of all this dysfunction, I’ve managed to hold my marriage together. In fact, I’ll go one better: I’ve managed to find the perfect woman for me. No matter what crazy twists and turns life brings me, I know I’ll be all right because my wife is as constant as the Northern Star, forever guiding me home. I’ve been with her for 10 years, married for 4, and every day I love her more.
Finding her was partly luck (or destiny, if you’re a romantic) because I certainly could not have planned to meet the perfect woman the way I did. But some of what it takes to build a wonderful relationship isn’t luck. So let’s talk about that part: the part we control.
In the simplest possible terms, relationship success boils down to 2 things:
1) Picking the right partner
2) Being the right partner
Of course, nothing is really that simple. We could spend 100 pages on each of these, couldn’t we? For the sake of brevity, let’s spend a few high-power minutes talking about the second item: being the right partner.
That’s not to diminish the importance of finding the right partner (after all, you could be the greatest guy or gal in the world, but you’ll never find relationship utopia if you’re with the wrong person). But once you find the right person, you’ve got to have the skills to keep that relationship in happy symbiosis, don’t you?
Here are 7 simple, actionable things that anyone can do to be a better partner, thereby vitalizing his or her relationship:
1) Pay attention to your partner:
When your partner is talking, pay attention to what he or she is saying. I’m as guilty of not listening as anyone, but I do try. If I’m listening to the radio or watching television or spacing out while my wife is trying to talk to me, I have the good sense to understand that I’m being rude. If you’re only 50% present in a conversation, you’re basically telling your partner that he or she isn’t worth your time.
Of course, there is a flip side to this: If your partner is constantly interrupting you when you’re in the middle of some other important activity, you might want to have a talk about that.
But let’s be honest: if we have a problem paying attention to our partner, we probably know it. Do something to fix it. Pay attention. Stop spacing out. Your partner is worth your time.
2) Watch your tone:
Have you ever snapped at your partner for no good reason simply because you were upset about some other unrelated thing? Or yelled at your partner for bringing up a stressful topic, even if he or she is on your side?
When your partner says, “Hey, why are you yelling at me?!” you say, “I’m sorry. I’m not mad at you. I’m mad at the situation.”
News Flash: You’re not talking to a situation. You’re talking to a human being.
Yes, we all deserve a little latitude from our loved ones when it comes to highly stressful situations. After all, no one is perfect. But a little common sense can go a long way when it comes to making sure our tone of voice is appropriate to the situation, the person we’re talking to, and the feeling we’re trying to convey.
I went through a period of time in my life when I’d let the stress of the day bleed out all over my relationships, snapping at people who didn’t deserve it. Most of the time, I wasn’t even aware of my tone of voice at all.
And I cannot tell you how much of a difference it made when I finally learned to use a polite tone of voice with my wife. Tone of voice can be like a weapon. Avoid the arms race.
3) The golden rule:
Treat your partner the way you’d like to be treated, in all situations, all the time. To do this properly, you have to understand what makes your partner tick, which brings me to my next point…
4) Consider what’s important to your partner:
Guys, you might not understand your wife’s desire to spend money on an endless supply of purses and shoes. And ladies, you might not understand your man’s desire to buy an endless parade of home theater equipment. But relationships are about teamwork, working together to help each other be happy.
This concept extends way beyond finances.
You are not your partner. Your values and priorities may differ. If all you can think about are your own priorities, you have a problem. Conversely, if your partner’s priorities are so far removed from your own that you cannot function as a unit, then you probably hooked up with the wrong person, but that’s a subject for a different article.
5) Remember that you and your partner decide the rules of a relationship:
The terms of your relationship are not decided by friends, parents, or co-workers. Yes, outside opinions can help you formulate opinions, but they cannot supplant the opinion of your partner. You’re not trying to please the world. You’re trying to please yourself and your partner. Never forget this.
6) Turn off the “understand me” impulse:
I know people who spend 10 minutes fighting about some innocuous topic, and then spend the next hour arguing about the motivations that caused the argument to begin with. We want to be understood, justified. We want our partner to understand we’re being reasonable, to comprehend our point of view even if it’s not shared. The key question is whether your desire to be understood serves any practical purpose or is instead a selfish assertion of ego. If the latter, let it go.
7) Reach consensus on the big problems quickly:
Not every battle is worth fighting, but the big ones are worth tackling quickly, calmly, and decisively, or else they will forever fester beneath the surface of your relationship, wreaking untold havoc upon your happiness.
When I first got married, I quickly came to realize that my wife and I had different priorities regarding money. To me, it’s very important to keep a certain amount of money in savings and to pay all our bills on time. To her, these things were not so important. Knowing that money is a leading cause of divorce, I kept looking for ways to calmly broach the topic until finally we reached agreement on how to handle our finances. Problem solved. We haven’t had a single argument about money in all the years since. The details of our compromise are not nearly so important as the fact that we saw the importance of reaching one.
Well, there you have it: 7 ways to be a better partner. And at this point, I’d like to turn things over to you. What tips do you have for being a better partner? Relationships are vitally important to all of us. And since we’re stronger as a blogging community than we are alone, your input is much appreciated. If you have a successful relationship, let your fellow readers know your secret!
January 10, 2008 Thursday at 8:59 pm