Being in an Intimate Relationship
Being in an intimate relationship can be hard and scary. Unfortunately none of us come with a manual on the best way to talk to us, or how we feel most loved. There is no magic cure or five step plan for healing relationships, but there are some things we could do differently to feel more in tune with our partner.
Own What Is Yours to Own, But no More Than That
It goes a long way with partners when we are able to take responsibility for the ways we may have hurt them. This does not mean that we were malicious or intentionally did something to hurt them, but by acknowledging how our actions affected them, we are telling them that their emotions and their experiences matter. Own what you did and apologize. It is also important not to take responsibility for everything that went wrong. Both you and your partner contributed to what did not go well, and taking the blame for everything will not resolve the real issues.
Stop Assuming and Practice Curiosity
Over time, we tend to recognize familiar patterns in our relationship and in our partner. We feel certain we can predict what they will say or how they will act next. But our partners do not follow the same path every time, even though our brains tell us they will. Next time, try practicing curiosity. Ask questions, give them the benefit of the doubt, listen.
Learn to Give and Accept Influence
Dr. John Gottman’s research has found that partners who are able to accept influence from each other experience less conflict and more satisfaction in relationships. Accepting influence means listening to their opinions, being willing to consider their perspective or ideas, and seeking to resolve conflict together, rather than as winners and losers. Maybe you also need to practice speaking up, voicing your opinion, taking up space in the relationship. It is important for the health of your relationship that both you and your partner are sharing and listening to each other’s opinions.
Practice Regular Check-Ins
Just as practicing curiosity contributes to fewer assumptions, so too do regular check-ins. This can be a weekly time you and your partner set aside to discuss how things are going in the relationship, or it can be a regular practice in your interactions. We all change over time, as do our relationships. What used to work well for the relationship may no longer work well. Try checking-in with your partner to see how they received the encouragement you were trying to give, or what they thought of the flowers you brought home. It never hurts to slow down and make sure you have a good sense of the other person’s experience, as well as your own.
It’s Ok to Take a Night Off
Working at your relationship is important and good, but you might need a break to just relax or have fun. Plan something you know you both like to do, or something that you used to do. What did you and your partner do at the beginning of the relationship, when you were feeling giddy about them and every experience was new? What did you do on your first date? What are ways you enjoy each other?
Contrary to what society may tell us, or what we expect from ourselves, we do not just inherently know how to be in relationships. We take our experiences from growing up, from our friends, from past relationships and even from earlier in a current relationship to inform our choices and behaviors. Some of those things may be good and healthy, and others may not be working. It’s ok not to know how to be in relationship with your partner. But you don’t have to stay there. You have the capacity to learn and grow and connect in deeper, more intimate ways.