Good relationships don’t just happen. I’ve heard many of my clients state that, “If I have to work at it, then it’s not the right relationship.” This is not a true statement, any more than it’s true that you don’t have to work at good physical health through exercise, eating well, and stress reduction.
I’ve discovered, in the 43 years that I’ve been counseling couples, 3 choices you can make that will not only improve your relationship, but can turn a failing relationship into a successful and passionate one.
Take Responsibility for Yourself
This is the most important choice you can make to improve your relationship and bring passionate back into it. This means that you learn how to take responsibility for your own feelings and needs. This means that instead of trying to get your partner to make you feel happy, alive, and secure, you learn how to do this for yourself through your own thoughts and actions. This means learning to treat yourself with kindness, caring, compassion, and acceptance instead of self-judgment. Self-judgment will always make you feel unhappy and insecure, no matter how wonderfully your partner is treating you.
For example, instead of getting angry at your partner for your feelings of abandonment when he or she is late, preoccupied and not listening to you, not turned on sexually, and so on, you would explore your own feelings of abandonment and discover how you might be abandoning yourself, and what you might be doing that is blocking the intimate connection with your partner.
When you learn how to take full, 100% responsibility for yourself, then you stop blaming your partner for your upsets. Since blaming one’s partner for one’s own unhappiness is the number one cause of relationship problems, learning how to take loving care of yourself is vital to a good relationship.
Kindness, Compassion, Acceptance
Treat others the way you want to be treated. This is the essence of a truly spiritual life. We all yearn to be treated lovingly – with kindness, compassion, understanding, and acceptance. We need to treat ourselves this way, and we need to treat our partner and others this way. Relationships flourish when both people treat each other with kindness. While there are no guarantees, often treating another with kindness brings kindness in return. If your partner is consistently angry, judgmental, uncaring and unkind, then you need to focus on what would be loving to yourself rather than reverting to anger, blame, judgment, withdrawal, resistance, or compliance. Kindness to others does not mean sacrificing yourself. Always remember that taking responsibility for yourself rather than blaming others is the most important thing you can do. If you are consistently kind to yourself and your partner, and your partner is consistently angry, blaming, withdrawn and unavailable, you might want to look below the surface. Controlling behavior is generally a cry for connection, and when you can be compassionate about this, much can heal.
However, if your partner is unavailable for opening to learning with you, then you either have to accept a distant relationship, or you need to leave the relationship. You cannot make your partner change – you can only change yourself.
Learning Instead of Controlling
When conflict occurs, you always have two choices regarding how to handle the conflict: you can open to learning about yourself and your partner and discover the deeper issues of the conflict, or you can try to win, or at least not lose, through some form of controlling behavior. We’ve all learning many overt and subtle ways of trying to control others into behaving the way we want: anger, blame, judgment, niceness, compliance, caretaking, resistance, withdrawal of love, explaining, teaching, defending, lying, denying, and so on. All the ways we try to control create even more conflict, and they all create a disconnection with your partner. Remembering to learn instead of control is a vital part of improving your relationship.
For example, most people have two major fears that become activated in relationships: the fear of abandonment – of losing the other - and the fear of engulfment – of losing oneself. When these fears get activated, most people immediately protect themselves against these fears with their controlling behavior. But if you chose to learn about your fears instead of attempt to control your partner, your fears will eventually heal. This is how we grow emotionally and spiritually – by learning instead of controlling.
If you and your partner agree to these 3 choices, you will be amazed at the intimate connection you feel with your partner!
Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a best-selling author of 8 books, relationship expert, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® process - featured on Oprah, and recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette. Click here for a FREE Inner Bonding course: and visit our website.More »