Written by Ivette Moutzouris
Marriages and partnerships are hard work and many people enter it without exploring some of the necessary ingredients to make it work and thrive. Sometimes however it is life’s challenges such as having children, financial hardships or health issues that disrupt our once happy and connected partnership to the point where we are left wondering – “who is this person and do I want to spend the rest of my life with them”. Have you ever had these thoughts or doubts about your relationship?. It is not uncommon but I would like to suggest that you persevere and start to reflect on the aspects of the relationship that you would like to change as well as focusing on the parts that are functioning well or at least used to be.
The following is by no means comprehensive but it is a taste of the ingredients that you may need to invest into this sacred partnership.
- Your attitude = I encourage you to explore what it means to be working in a partnership. Does it mean that you always get what you want? Does it mean that you compartmentalise your life into different segments? Do you continue to behave the same way with your partner even if it is yielding negative results? In your opinion it is almost always the other persons fault?
I would like you to really understand what the word partnership means because your marriage is an important partnership like no other. I looked up the meaning of the word partnership and these are the synonyms for this word= collaboration, alliance, union, compact, fellowship and connection to name a few. You need to consider the fact that a marriage is not just about you and your needs, there is a significant other involved and their needs also need to be considered. You should not withdraw when it gets tough and hope things will sort themselves out…you need to get more involved in creating positive change. Now at this point you may think that yes you are willing to do this but your partner isn’t. May I suggest that even change from one partner can have a positive ripple effect so don’t feel discouraged if you are taking the first step. It is an indication to yourself and your partner that you value this partnership enough to reflect on its condition and move forward. You want to get it to a place where it was functioning better and hopefully beyond. Individuals in the marriage need to truly give, just like in work relationships it is healthy to consider and take on board the other persons views, desires, skills, strengths and so on. Your partner is not you and you are not your partner but together you can become a loving team that functions well.
- Communication = Connection. Again using the example of a work relationship what do you think would help the team members to feel included and valued? Maybe if they felt heard and believed that what they said and contributed mattered. This of course doesn’t mean that you always get what you want when you share but it does help create connection when you know the other person is willing to try and sees things from your perpective. Arguing is a negative form of communicating so I would suggest instead to try talking things through when emotions are not running so strong and when you can see that you other person is ready to listen. This is healthy communication. Also avoid playing the blame game, this is never helpful and is just puts your partner in a defensive position. It is much better to communicate what your needs are and how you would like things to be and how you are feeling instead of attacking. I know this is often difficult to do but nothing will change if you don’t share what is going on for you. Your partner cannot read your mind!!!
In regards to communication I also want to point out that there are various forms of communicating. Some people are better with words, others with touch and affection, and others communicate through their actions. This brings me to my next point which is to look out for what your partner is trying to communicate.
- Listen– You need to work on your listening skills in order to get to know your partner better. Listen to their words, observe their actions. Mindfully consider the other person. Are they trying to communicate something about how they feel, their day, their concerns? It is helpful to make time to pay attention even though you are dealing with another adult. We often make more time to listen to our kids or our colleagues and friends and encourage them to talk but we may not make time for our partners. Be humble. What I mean by this is listen even if you are struggling to understand or agree. If you take a humble approach you will learn more about your partner. You will learn about what motivates and excites them, what brings them down, what their values are, what their strengths are, what their hopes and dreams and expectations are, what their fears are. This then leads to better understanding which helps you to be a better partner as you respond to their needs.
- Patience/Perserverence – You are not perfect and neither is your partner which means that you will both need to be patient with each other as you explore healthier ways of partnering through the challenges of life. Helen Fischer, a renowned anthropologist, who has done extensive research into human behaviour and specifically human love, describes the various stages of relationship and the chemical changes that occur in our brains as a result of love feelings. Basically these initial chemical reactions stabilise but this does not mean that our relationship should be less meaningful as a result. We need to create meaning as partners and work to together through the various stages of life and use the years as an opportunity to explore and learn more about each other.
- Strengths– We also have strengths and weaknesses and too often in our relationships we focus mainly on what is not working. I am not suggesting to ignore this I am only saying that a lot more attention needs to be directed at what is good and functioning or what has been good. Try to reflect on this as you consider your partnership and share how you would like this to continue, that is, what you would like to see more of or like to continue. Remember we are talking about your individual strengths that you bring to the relationship (probably what helped to create initial attraction and attachment) as well as your strengths as a union. You are in partnership but you are also individuals and you need to acknowledge and celebrate both of these aspects of the union.
- Forgiveness – Forgiveness isn’t easy and can take a very long time but the truth is that we live in an imperfect world with imperfect people. We are not always going to get it right, in fact we are destined to make some mistakes along the way. Forgiveness is one way of working through those times and even if doesn’t result is a repaired relationship it will result in a freer, wiser self. I encourage you to work on presenting the best version of yourself to the relationship as well as helping your partner to be the best version of themselves. If we have this attitude in our relationship then surely positive and lasting growth and change will occur.
If you have issues working through some of the above I suggest that you seek help from a professional.
Alternatively below is a list of reading material that you may also find helpful.
Johnson, Sue. Hold Me Tight – Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Little, Brown and Company. 2008.
Fisher, Helen. Why We Love. The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. St. Martin’s Griffin. 2004.
Weiner-Davis, Michelle. Divorce Busting. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. 1992.