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7 Ways to Be a Better Spouse/Partner

mates.jpgYesterday, 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!

Categories: Relationships


22 Responses to “7 Ways to Be a Better Spouse/Partner”

  • Suhana says:

    Its a wonderful blog.Realy true,in this fast world,divorce has been popular for various reasons. Couples are not finding enough time to understand each other,thats the main reason they are opting to split.I came across a website which says “Get connected with your family”.Try out this site,you can upload videos,send messages to all your friends and family at once.You can also create family tree.I suggest a best place to show your love and care to your people.As people have become more tech savvy,i am sure they would reply back on this site than personal talks.Links is as follows

  • Mary says:

    As always, I love the article. Practical, straightforward, clear and true. It also gave me hope that I may find that ‘right partner for me’ one day. (I have to work on my explosions and tone of voice first, though!)

    The only thing I would tweak is:

    “3) The golden rule: Treat your partner the way you’d like to be treated, in all situations, all the time.”

    I would suggest this needs to be the Platinum Rule: Threat your partner the way (s)he would like to be treated…ie. If you prefer a person to be 10 mins late so you have some alone time, but your partner prefers people to be on time, don’t treat her as you want to be treated, but as she wants to be.

  • JohnPlace says:

    Great point, Mary. And in point of fact, that’s what I meant, though I should have been more clear.

    The rule is: treat your partner the way you’d like to be treated, if you *were* your partner. Which is why I mentioned that it’s important to understand what makes your partner tick if you’re going to do this properly… Truth be told, I like your wording a lot better because it’s more clear. So thanks!

    And thanks for the comments, Mary and Suhana!

  • The King says:

    One word – Compliment.

    Don’t just make up a compliment, mean it. I’ve seen that my girlfriend loves it when I will randomly tell her how beautiful she is and how lucky I am to have her. Everyone loves to feel loved and to feel special.

    Gotta say tho, that’s kinda advice from your other blog.

  • Ann says:

    I was married for 38 yrs and think the fact we never lied to each other had a lot to do with it.

  • JohnPlace says:

    Thanks for the additions, King and Ann!

  • The King says:

    Oops, sorry for the last line “advice from other blog”. I just realized I was thinking of another blogs.

    sorry about that.

  • JohnPlace says:

    No problem, King. :-)

  • AL says:

    I think a big part of making new relationships work is being smart enough to know what you need to change and what not to change. We all hate to change what we grew accustomed to. But the fact of the matter is with relationships comes a demand to change certain aspects of our selves or behavior. You don’t want to stick too much to these if they’re clearly wrong for your or offend your partner. But just as much, you don’t to be a “push-over”. So finding the balance here is a tricky thing that takes time to master.

  • Mary Paddock says:

    Hi John,

    I found your blog while doing a search on the law of attraction as it relates to Christianity. I’m personally not interested in “The Secret”, but my dear hippie/new-age/mother is and she is anxious to share it with me.

    Your article was so very well balanced and well expressed that I sought out others. I’m not done yet, but loved your American Zombie article enough to drag my husband away from his reading to read it outloud to him. The story about the horse fly made us both laugh until we cried.

    As for this article–well said. My husband and I have been together for twenty years. We both came into marriage with a fair amount of baggage–both from divorced families with a history of parental abuse. We both experienced that sense of being lost that you describe and ached with the feeling of being torn in two just to survive the shifting back and forth. We were absolutely sure there had to be a better way. Our biggest plus (other than romance and chemistry)was that we genuinely liked one another.

    Perhaps at some point in the future, you could write an article on how to stand up to your mother when you’re 42 years old.

  • Deb Harrison says:

    Great article and I agree with most of it.

    I have been with my hubby for 16 years (married for 9) and although I break golden rule 2 quite a bit when I’m stressed (and 6 but thats PMT for you), he accepts my tone is my temperament in the same way I accept his inability to take a hint without saying it outright.

    TBH that is be a golden rule in itself: you know you have a soul mate when you both forgive each others shortcomings.

  • JohnPlace says:

    Thanks for all the comments, everyone!

  • Cherie says:

    I loved your article especially in contrast to what you wrote about your childhood. Well done. The advice I would give is to keep God at the center of your marriage and don’t worry about things pray without ceasing. The other is to dance together. Whatever kind of dance you like, most of the time we go through a whole day withou looking into each other’s eyes or holding each other close, in dancing you have to. It’s great recreation and it spices up your love life – why? Because women LOVE to dance so guys take a lesson and please your wifey )

  • Muffin says:

    Great article!
    These tips really help. I’m personally going through a rough patch with my boyfriend and I noticed that each time we have an argument, our tone of voice will be raised and it became like we were accusing each other of various faults. And my boyfriend will always remind me to treat him the same way I want to be treated. I think that’s the most important thing in a relationship.

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