Do you dream of being in a good relationship? Do you want more closeness and connection with your partner? Would you be willing to take the simple steps necessary to make this dream a reality?
We’ve noticed the most lasting and powerful changes occur when you want them badly enough to make the changes with or without your partner’s initial participation. Many people feel stuck when it comes to working on their relationships because they think that they need their partner’s involvement for change to occur. What if improving your relationship could be started by you alone and be equally effective?
In the twenty years we have been doing relationship counseling, we have found three basic behaviors that can have profound effects on a relationship. The good news is, these behaviors are all under your control. You no longer need to wait to get your partner’s agreement to begin the work. You can take the steps that lead to change on your own and you can begin immediately. Gone is the excuse that you cannot fix your relationship because you cannot get your partner to do the work which, if we are being honest, is normally code for “he/she won’t change.”
Let’s get right to it. Here are the three Simple Steps you can begin on your own right now:
1. Learn to Listen – You cannot have a productive conversation without a speaker and a listener. Think about it. Many conversations involve two speakers and no listener. To be successful, both participants in a conversation need to feel like they are being heard. Otherwise it becomes one person impatiently waiting for the other to stop talking so that they can get their opinions out. We all want to be heard and understood when we talk, especially if our perspective does not match that of our partner. Here’s an important secret: you never have to agree with your partner, but you do have to understand what they are trying to say. One effective way to let your partner feel understood is to repeat back what you heard them say. If you got it right they will continue talking and go deeper. If you didn’t get it right, you will know by their reaction. If you don’t understand your partner’s perspective, ask more questions.
2. Focus on the Positive – Keep your attention on the good things about your partner, not on the things that upset you. The good things in life, the things that are working for us, make us feel happy. When your partner comes home happy to see you; when you laugh together; when he/she brings home dessert… all these things make us happy. When your partner comes home grumpy, forgets to take out the garbage, leaves their dirty clothes in a heap, your focus shifts to the negative. We’re suggesting that you focus not on the things that upset you, but on something that you can be positive about in the moment. For example, if your husband comes home grumpy but remembers to bring home dinner, focus on the dinner, not his mood. This will accomplish two things:
• it will keep you in a positive mood
• and your partner’s mood will not deteriorate.
It might even get better.
3. Take Responsibility for Your Emotions – As therapists, we often hear the comment: my partner makes me feel … fill in the blank. No one makes us feel anything. The feelings come up as a result of our interpretation of what was said. Simultaneously, there is a bodily reaction, perhaps a sense of pressure in your chest or in the pit of your stomach. With this awareness, you can begin to gain control over these reactions. A couple simple steps to relieve the pressure include:
• take an adult time out so you can calm down. Tell your partner you need 30 minutes alone before you can continue the conversation.
• own your feelings by using “I” statements instead of blaming your partner. You will get much further in your communication with the statement “when you yell at me I feel worthless” than with the statement “you make me feel worthless.”
• take your attention away from your thoughts and allow it to be totally with your body. Sit down, take a deep breath, and put your full attention on any sensations you notice. As you sit feeling your bodily sensations, the pain and the negative thoughts will diminish.
Each of us has the power to improve our relationships. You can begin today to make your relationship dreams a reality. There’s no need to wait for your partner’s okay. Just pick one of the Simple Steps above and begin practicing. It will take time and patience, but the results are well worth the effort.
The Relationship Specialists, Marilyn Hough, LMFT and Chuck Schmitt, LMFT, are inspirational teachers who share their knowledge and skills to inspire others to live their best life. They have been working together for the last twenty years. They work with individuals and couples of all ages. For more information about improving your relationships check out their website at: www.RelationshipSpecialists.com. Sign up to receive their newsletter, learn more about their services, workshops and intensives. You can contact them at 503-648-4884.